I published my first inspirational Amish romance five years ago. I didn’t start out to write about the Amish. Quite frankly, it was my dear agent Mary Sue Seymour’s suggestion. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I did a great deal of research before starting that first book, To Love and To Cherish. The story grew out of a desire to explore their deep, seemingly unending capacity for forgiveness. As Christians, we’re all called to forgive, but the Amish simply do a better job.
Writing about these Christians became an examination of my own beliefs and how well they stand up in a non-Christian world. I was—and am still—committed to being as true to their world view as possible with my own limited outsider’s understanding of it. My readers adore the Amish world with its quilting frolics, gardens, home-cooked meals, and simple lives full of family, friends, and faith. I want to reflect that world as authentically as possible.
I don’t see eye-to-eye with every aspect of how the Amish live. However, when I write their stories, I represent their beliefs without weaving my own world view into theirs. I don’t judge.
Having explained all that brings me to the crux of this article. Some folks would like to pick and choose the parts of Amish life they find in these stories. Some have objected to story lines that reflect the patriarchal nature of Amish society. A reader wrote that she was riled up over Upon a Spring Breeze because the men were “mean” to new mother and widow Bess Weaver. They told her what to do. They expected her to act in a certain way. They talked to her father about her perceived transgressions.
I respect my readers’ opinions and their beliefs. I’m glad these stories make them think about what they believe. Most of us, Christian or not, generally have a world view that is a far cry from that of the Amish. Amish men and women have defined gender roles. Women are valued as wives and mothers. Behind closed doors, they express their opinions, but they acquiesce to their husbands’ decisions. They are able to submit nominations for church leadership positions and vote in church meetings, but they cannot become church leaders. Husbands are the public face of their households and their communities.
The Amish model their lives after Scripture. Regarding women, they specifically cite Ephesians 5:22-24.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
Now, I know I’m not the only woman who cringes at these verses. As Christians, we often want to pick and choose the Scripture to which we adhere or use to win arguments.
I don’t want to argue the merits of the Amish way of life (or these verses). I simply want to say that when I write these stories, I strive to reflect the Amish world view. Not mine. I have no right to superimpose my values on these stories. I do, however, hope that each story causes readers to examine what they believe and why. To not dismiss a story line because it doesn’t fit with a world view not shared by the Amish.
Donald Kraybill says this about husband-wife relationships in the book he co-wrote called The Amish: “In the privacy of the home, the softer side of patriarchy appears because the Amish see marriage as ‘a partnership in the Lord and the basis of a family whose function is to produce willing, responsible members of the believing family. In Amish eyes, both parents play important roles—the wife watches over the children and runs the house, while the husband takes the lead in earning an income and dealing with outside issues.’ As one Amish man put it, ‘The husband is the King and his wife, the Queen.’ In other words, within the family, the husband and wife share responsibilities and are mutually dependent on each other.”
In public, men have all the say, but at home they listen to their wives and rely on their input for decisions.
The feminist in me wants the women to have an equal say, an equal voice. Some readers want my adult female characters to run their own lives the way they would in the outside world. But the writer in me must be true to the Amish world view.
I love that Amish America blogger Eric Wesner takes the discussion a step farther when he examines the important question: are Amish women content in their roles? He writes, “Though there is not a lot of hard scientific data, evidence suggests there is generally a high level of contentment among Amish women.”
He cites an in-depth survey of Ohio Amish women that states “The women generally voiced deep satisfaction with their roles. All believed strongly that men and women are meant to have different roles to play in life, largely because of perceived differences in the sexes.”
Divorce is almost non-existent in Amish communities. Domestic violence, while it exists, is rare.
What I most want readers of my books to understand is that I don’t pass judgement. Nor do I hold myself up as an expert with the last word. I do frequently examine my own beliefs against Scripture. The Holy Bible is our manual. Not a work of fiction about one Christian denomination, even one that works as hard as the Amish to be true to Christian values.
And for the record, I rather enjoy the next passage in Ephesians (5:25-33)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Above all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body.
For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
As always, God gets the last word.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below. Remember to be kind!
To learn more about Amish life, visit Eric Wesner’s, Amish America blog at http://amishamerica.com/