What We Can Learn About Engaging Culture From…the Amish?

This weekend, I watched a video in which seven pastors described the notion of “engaging culture.”  I was disappointed with the whole thing.  The conversation didn’t go anywhere, and no specific guidelines for this ambitious task were set out.  (Instead, they debated the morality of using an AC/DC song in a church service to make a point.  For half an hour.)

But it led me to wonder how churches could make a better impact on their communities.  How can we shake off our bad reputation and show people that, even though we are not perfect, we are striving to be morally upright people who love our neighbors because we believe God desires that sort of life?  Has any religious group done this?  Maybe.

I started thinking about the Amish.  They don’t “engage culture.”  In fact, they believe that they shouldn’t be connected to other cultures, at all.  (Which is why they don’t use electricity – it connects them to the rest of us.  They actually don’t have a problem with electrical power, in itself, and they sometimes make their own electricity – but, I digress.)

Do people respect the Amish?  At first glance it would seem that they don’t.  People like to make fun of them for not allowing their pictures to be taken, or for holding on to old, simple ways instead of embracing new technologies.

And, they are not perfect.  Crimes take place in Amish communities – even very violent ones.  They’re human, after all.

And, yet, real hatred of the Amish is uncommon.  People will rant and rave about how annoying Evangelicals are, but such offensiveness is not reserved for the Amish.  It is assumed that the rare criminal acts amongst the Amish are exceptions to the rule, and people don’t call them a community of hypocrites.

Isn’t that odd?  They are nowhere to be found in the so-called culture wars, but they have made a positive impact on it.  When Evangelical Christians show up in movies they are always cast as the villain of the story, but the Amish always turn out to be wise and good in their films.  How did they do that?  (Also, hipster college students seek them out for beard-grooming advice.  Probably.)

A friend of mine (who is a good person to put up with my odd conversation) suggested that the Amish present no threat to the average non-believer.  He’s on to something.  Downtown Ft. Worth is home to some very caustic individuals who violently scream at every passerby telling them to accept Jesus.  I’ve never heard of an Amish doing that.

Now, you might criticize my thoughts by saying that the Amish aren’t really showing anyone their religion – they’re just living it out.  But, the Amish don’t really see it that way.  First of all, they do involve themselves in charity work that shows others that they care about them and don’t simply shut themselves away from outside problems.  Furthermore, as we learn from Amish researcher, Erik Wesner, they do believe in spreading the Gospel – even though they don’t intend to make everyone Amish.  (If you’re a Christian, do you want others to join your faith, or your denomination?)  Wesner reminds us of what The Amish Way teaches:

Amish relief workers did not expect to convert others to the Amish way through such brief contact, even if their work was deeply appreciated.  Their service was an end to itself, not an effort to proselytize.  In fact, some Amish view the notion of seeking converts to one’s own church as prideful.  They hope that their Christian witness will lead others to deepen or renew their own faith rather than become Amish (The Amish Way, pp. 43-44).

Fascinating.  Is that a good approach to evangelism?  I think they present Christianity well to the world even though they don’t “engage culture.”

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)