Today was my first day at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University.
It’s funny how things seem to come together. Several of the others in the class that I am taking are from Pennsylvania, home of the Amish communities, and I must ask my classmates to tell me their perspective on this expression of Christian Faith. (Mennonites come from a similar historical root as the Amish in that they all came to the USA as a result of persecution in Europe)
I’ve got up to Mark 2:23-28 in my reading of the Gospel, so this evening I spent some time looking at this passage, and asking what it might say to me in this place in my life, considering the subjects of peace and justice. I wrote some brief notes, and then decided to watch one of the videos I brought with me from the UK. I put on a BBC documentary called ‘Trouble in Amish Paradise’
Within a minute I realised that this film is talking about exactly the same issue that Jesus is dealing with in this passage in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is in a dispute with the Pharisees because his disciples are breaking one of the sabbath food laws. Plucking grains of corn as they walk through a field.
The Amish film focusses on two men with young families, both of whom are troubled by some aspects of their Amish way of life. They are both in dispute with their church leaders because they have started reading the Bible in English for the first time, and are reading things that seem very different to the High German translation that they use in their church services. So who should they obey ? The Church leaders or what they sense God is saying to them through the Bible ?
“Being Amish is all about following rules,” says one of them, “… and it’s got out of hand. Rules about the width of headbands, or how braces should be worn. You have to wear braces a certain way, and if you don’t, you get excommunicated. What’s more, the rules might be different for different church communities.”
One of his big fears growing up was ‘would he go to heaven when he died ?’ He was taught that he must obey all the church rules if he was to be sure of going to heaven.
Now that he feels free to look at the Bible for himself, he believes that going to heaven is not about following rules to the letter, but about a relationship with God.
The parallels between their situation and the Gospel passage really struck me, and then I remembered something that someone said in class today. In situations of conflict, or where people have very fixed views about something, there is a root cause of some kind of fear.
So I have the question for the Amish church leaders, and for the pharisees, and for all who want to exercise control through a system of rules – ‘What are you so afraid of ?’