At least the Sun is consistent

To my amazement, the Baltimore Sun continues to do something that must be really, really hard — offer virtually faith-free coverage of the Amish school massacre in Nickel Mines, Pa. The Sun did it the other day and now they’ve done it again.

It’s amazing. This new story is about the razing of the blood-stained school. Reporter Jonathan Pitts does note, quoting Bart Township Fire Company spokesman Mike Hart:

A crew of about 40 brought the building down in less than 20 minutes as a small group of Amish looked on. Later, workers with backhoes filled the gaping hole with topsoil.

“It’s not like the Amish to leave a permanent memorial,” Hart said. “They don’t believe in individual attention that way. One day the place will look like a pasture.”

Now, I bet there’s a reason the Amish don’t like to call attention to themselves. I bet there’s a reason they do not create memorials of this kind. I know the Amish are hard to interview, but I bet that someone in Lancaster County can fill in some of the details here. I am almost positive that there is a religious angle to this story. It’s up there. You think?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • ron chandonia

    I’ve gone round and round with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the same problem. First of all, they published a front-page story by a local writer, John Blake, called “Hope springs from moving on, survivors say”. Basically, it tried to show that the Amish behavior was just one instance of a universal human drive to put the bad things of the past behind us.

    A couple days later, they did publish a critical letter I wrote, but they gave it an odd title, and it appeared on the page opposite an op-ed piece on the Amish which made it sound as if their way of life is based primarily on reverence for Laura Ingalls Wilder. I sent yet another letter (below) which is supposed to be printed tomorrow. I won’t hold my breath:

    I do thank you for printing my letter about the Amish in the paper this morning, but I was very disappointed to see it printed under a heading (“Loving our enemies shouldn’t be rare”) that passed over the point I was trying to make.

    I criticized John Blake for his “universalism” because he (and by extention, the AJC itself) seemed to me to deliberately ignore the very thing which motivated the response of the Amish–namely, their very literal acceptance of the teachings of Jesus. Their fundamentalist faith, in fact, is the reason for their rejection of so many modern conveniences and conventions in favor of a simple, old-fashioned, way of life grounded in New Testament principles.

    On the page opposite “Readers Write” today, you did publish a piece on the Amish which could have represented their outlook more honestly. Jerry Ulrich’s piece was, after all, titled “Amish relay a profound message.” Again, however, it was anything but clear what that message might be. Ulrich did slip in a line which suggested it: “This human act of divine forgiveness both personified and embodied the very nature of the one they emulate.” But since nothing else in the article indicated who “the one they emulate” might be, I doubt any but the most careful readers would have gotten more from the piece than Ulrich’s admiration for the “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle the Amish exemplify.

    So what if most AJC readers never realize that the Amish are a band of Christians? Well, I’ll bet most of your readers know very well that the “God Hates Fags” crowd from Kansas call themselves Christian. It just seems so unfair that you cannot even recognize Christians who are anything but hateful.

  • americanorthodox

    The Lancaster paper had no trouble interviewing the Amish. As I said on an earlier post, the difference is that to the Lancaster reporters, the Amish are their neighbors — not some quaint cult.


    The Amish graveyard in Lagrange County, Indiana, where my grandparents are buried has the same size and shape tombstone marker for each grave. When my uncle was buried there in a wooden coffin, inside a wooden vault, his sons closing the grave was part of the burial, and I helped when they tired. One could see indentations at graves where the wooden vaults and coffins had obviously decayed. Death is not prettied up or made special, no matter how it occurred. I imagine that is true also in Pennsylvania.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Having lived in areas with Amish residents, and knowing people who have had even more contact with the Amish, the problem isn’t getting them to talk. They just won’t talk to strangers. But they do share their faith and values with people they know and trust. They can be quoted and their beliefs and values made known. If a reporter actually wants to get off his/her gluteous maximus and do the work. Of course if you just “phone it in” then you deprive your readers. Hey, newspapers, ever wonder why your circulation rates keep falling? (Hint: it’s more than just the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel not delivering my paper 5 days in the last two weeks, but that’s the only hint I’ll give you).

    A question I had that wasn’t answered in the blurb you provided is, will the old school be razed so a new school is raised? :) I’m guessing the reporter wasn’t curious about the potential future education of Amish children.

  • americanorthodox

    “Having lived in areas with Amish residents, and knowing people who have had even more contact with the Amish, the problem isn’t getting them to talk. They just won’t talk to strangers. But they do share their faith and values with people they know and trust.”

    Exactly my point.

    You’re never going to get anything from a paper but “Amish = quaint and bizarre” unless the reporters live near the Amish and know them. Never.

  • Frank D.

    I’m not sure how the ideas that the Amish are “isolated,” “difficult to interview” or “won’t talk to strangers” developed. My Amish friends and neighbors are none of these things. In fact, they are for the most part thee and me — without technology that ties them inescapably to the world, with unshakable faith.

    The important thing, mentioned here before, is that a reporter cannot sit in a newsroom and conduct an interview by telephone or by e-mail. He or she must go to the Amish and talk to them on their own ground. It helps if the reporter does his or her homework beforehand and understands something about their faith and faith-based practices before doing that. But it is not necessary to live among them — only to approach face to face and respectfully. It helps to do this in good times, too; not just bad.

    Understressed in reports, or so it seemed to me, were the principal reasons beyond Biblical admonitions why the Lancaster Amish can forgive and leave judgment in God’s hands: Absolute faith that the innocents who died are with God in a better place and that an eventual reunion with them is assured; absolute faith that God does not make mistakes even though His ways are not necessarily our ways and that we may not understand those ways until, through death, we go to be with Him.

  • Don Neuendorf

    In contemporary American terms the Amish truly are “bizarre.” Their evident hope in the face of tragedy – the love they displayed for the family of their enemy – and the calm confidence with which they faced death has to seem very bizarre to people who see the world through a television screen.

    It’s sad, but I haven’t seen much coverage that really even recognizes the size of that gulf, let alone makes a good effort to explain it.