From rumspringa to language to identity, here are the lies you’ve been told

Myth #3: Those who exit are “ex-Amish” or no longer Amish.

The term “ex-Amish” is widely used to refer to those of us who have exited the Church, but there are many problems with that label. “Ex-Amish” implies that we’re no longer Amish, and that’s false. A change of clothes doesn’t erase our Amish identity. “Nonpracticing Amish” or “culturally Amish” are terms that accurately represent those of us who are outside the Church. “Amish” is a culture, language, religion, ethnicity, and minority group.

The belief inside the Church is that one must remain religiously Amish for life. Rejecting the religion is the equivalent of rejecting our entire culture and history. Referring to someone who exits as “no longer Amish” goes hand in hand with shunning them. It’s part of the punishment to reinforce that one no longer belongs in the fold (or tribe).

The vast majority of Amish who exit call themselves “ex-Amish”, and to a lesser extent “former Amish”. This is often due to the fact that negative experiences drove them to leave and they don’t see anything positive about our culture—or not enough to want to be identified as Amish. “Ex-Amish” is a badge of pride (“you, the Church, don’t control me anymore”). At the same time, “ex-Amish” or “former Amish” is often used because they’re unconsciously buying into the belief from the Church that they’re no longer Amish simply because they’re no longer wearing Amish clothes, etc. They, like the Amish inside the Church, don’t understand that there’s a difference between religion and culture.

Myth #4: All the Amish are the same.

I use the term “traditional Amish” instead of “Old Order Amish” to refer to those of us who prohibit electricity, cameras, and cars, among other things.

“Traditional Amish” is what the general public understands as simply “Amish”—or most often thinks of when they hear or see things about the Amish. The “Old Order” label isn’t used by us in our language; neither did we invent that label. We refer to ourselves as just “Amish”.

There are many groups who spun off from the Amish who include an adjective with the word “Amish” as part of their group’s identity and to separate themselves from us traditional Amish. Such spin-off groups include Beachy Amish and New Order Amish, who are more materialistically modern and theologically different from traditional Amish.

To make things even more confusing, there are groups within the traditional Amish who also identify themselves as “[adjective]” Amish. E.g., Swartzentruber Amish and Swiss Amish. They aren’t more modern or liberal than the range of traditional Amish but want to be identified as other than just Amish.