A special guest visited with curious Moniteau County residents Aug. 13 to explain what life is like as a member of the Amish community.
Sam Shetler, an Amish man living near Boonville, was the second speaker of a four-part series through the Friends of the Library to share a different form of life with his audience.
Taking the curiosity others may have about this particular lifestyle, Shetler tackled topics involving work ethic, education and governmental ideologies. First and foremost, he began with the history of his ancestors.
"Most of our forefathers come out of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany," Shetler said. "When our forefathers moved to Pennsylvania, they had their own language."
Shetler said these forefathers meshed into their new surroundings enough to mix this language into 10 percent German, 75 percent Dutch and about 15 percent English. This conglomeration is called Pennsylvania Dutch.
A series of wildly unfortunate events led the Amish to migrate to the United States. When the Lutheran church moved away from Catholicism, Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Latin into German. This was so the Word could be read by everyone, not just the elite and majestic court.
After the translation was complete and the scriptures were studied thoroughly, a group of religious persons understood that young children do not need to be baptized. Appropriately, these followers were named the "anabaptists."
"We don't have anything against baptizing, or anything like that," Shetler said. "We just knew that when Christ said, 'Whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' Faith comes first, then salvation comes with that."
The refusal to baptize their babies "caused chaos" between the Catholics and the anabaptists, Shetler said. But there was another point that causes a bit of an outrage against the anabaptists.
"After Luther translated the texts, (they) read the testament as saying church and state needed to be separate," Shetler said. "When our forefathers read that, they clearly cut church and state as separate.
"The church had zero military or government backing," he said. "We believe that Christ was a harmless lamb and that He was willing to give his life for us and we are His followers."
The church, Shetler said, should be as harmless as a dove.
It was at this time a distinct line between "rules" and "principles" were set. Shetler explained fully that principles are never to be bent, as they simply cannot be.
"It's like the law of gravity," he said. "You don't walk outside your house one day and start floating. Gravity never stops and will never stop. The same goes for principles."
Rules, however, can be followed as long as they are for the common good. This understanding means if the anabaptists needed to follow a governmental rule, they would as long as it glorified Christ and helped outsiders. But this thought process still did not deem welcoming to Europe in the early 1500s, Shetler said.
"They stood for the true word without any government backing," he said. "What followed is in the late 1520s or so, when the anabaptists started to really get loud, whoever was in charge at the time decided they needed to be wiped out. So they got all the leaders, put them in prison and tortured them in some of the most gruesome ways you could think of.
"The anabaptists were fiercely persecuted and hunted like dogs," Shetler said.
Two centuries of being driven from country to country, numerous kings and leaders promised the anabaptists peace as long as they didn't mind being slaves to these prospective countries.
"That only worked so long, really," Shetler said. "The queen and other members of the court would convert, so they were banished again. Being non-resistant was another thing that caused a lot of persecution."
Being non-resistant meant "if they were smacked upside the head, they wouldn't smack them back."
"A lot of countries didn't like the anabaptists being non-resistant because if another country were to declare war on us, if everyone was an anabaptist, then that country would go under," Shetler said.
"I mean, that makes sense from their perspective," Shetler realized.
Then came the glorious 1700s, when the anabaptists "heard of some country somewhere across the ocean that didn't persecute people for what they believed."
"Now we know that as freedom of religion," Shetler said. "That country was the United States."
It was then the anabaptists crossed the pond into Pennsylvania. In the past 20-30 years, the followers, now known as Amish, have moved widely across the entire nation.
Unlike other major religions, the Amish do not meet at one central location. This is out of remembrance and respect for their forefathers, as they could never have church in one set place in fear of being persecuted.
"We are all very thankful for the government we have today," he said. "I think we can all agree that there's some corruption, I don't think that's ever going to go away. We know there's some bad people in the government, but we also believe there are some really, really good people in there. So we thank God for the government we have and the country we live in and for our freedom of religion."
Voting and taxes
"We do not vote outside of our community," Shetler said. "This is because we firmly believe in keeping the church and state separate we believe in the quiet of the land and appreciating what we have."
As for taxes, Shetler said he was surprised at how many non-Amish did not think the Amish paid taxes.
"We pay sales tax, property tax and income tax," he said. "But we don't pay into social security."
Shetler said the Amish have a pool of money saved up for retirement. Insurance is also paid in a different way. If a barn is burned down, the minister of the church and two other members are selected to assess the damage and property. Once a dollar amount is set, the church pays 75 percent of the cost to repair the loss while the family in question pays out the rest. Shetler made it clear that the Amish take great care of each other in their communities.
Amish students attended public school until about the 1950s, Shetler said.
"Then drugs and everything that came into that started creeping into the schools more and more," he said. "So we wanted a better environment for our children."
Today, the Amish teach their students in grades one through eight in one-room school houses. After the eighth grade, a different form of college begins.
"There's a time and place for college, but I think most of us would realize it gets overdone," he said. "That isn't to say we are against it. I wouldn't want to go to the hospital for a heart attack and have some 18-year-old who didn't know what he was doing practice on me. College is sometimes necessary."
What the Amish do instead of higher education is something they call "puppy work."
"We do hands-on experience," he said. "A younger would work with an elder by getting experience and as the leader figures out they're getting better, they go up the ladder that way."
At first, the government did not appreciate the Amish not attending public schools. Shetler said a number of parents were incarcerated for allowing truancy. But "they got it worked out and they were unbelievably good to work with," Shetler said of the government. One of the compromises the entities came to is the Amish must pay school taxes in lieu of attending public education systems.
The basis for modernism revolves heavily on the aforementioned rules versus principles.
"It doesn't matter who we are," Shetler said. "Black, white, pink or blue: Principles are principles."
As principles are principles, rules can always be changed. This applies from community to community.
"I come from the strictest form of Amish, the Swartzentruber family," he said. "Ten years ago, the only time we could use our phone was for strict emergencies. Now that's not if we forget an umbrella and have to call our wife. A strict emergency is if we cut our hand off. So ten years ago, we could only use the phone to call the doctor or the veterinarian. Today, phones get used a little more. We can use a neighbor's phone, or some of us have a little booth at the edge of our property."
Convenience "at the tip of your fingers" is something non-Amish have been more than used to. This fast-paced and easy lifestyle has never appealed to the Amish, though.
"This creates laziness and dependence as a nation," he said. "Technology has made a lot of people lazy. We're trying to keep a work ethic and our community effort strong."
When work needs to be done, the Amish form what's called a "frolic."
"When we have a barn raising, we all get together in a frolic and work together," he said. "It makes us need each other, and we have so much more fun this way."