The GOP is Trying to Win the Amish Vote for Trump

Amish vote

Over at The Washington Post, Julie Zauzmer reports on the “Amish PAC,” an attempt by Republican operatives to get the Pennsylvania Amish to vote for Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

Amish PAC aims to win more votes for Trump in 2020 in a state both the president and the Democrats are desperate to win. Amish people tend to align strongly on policy with Republicans, who share their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But making voters out of the Amish, who forgo technology like television and the Internet and who believe fiercely in the separation of their religious community from government intrusion, may be a steep goal.

On a farm where eight Amish children in their traditional clothing were playing baseball, a young woman said sternly of those who would ask the Amish to vote: “We don’t really appreciate that.”

While she skillfully snapped lima bean pods off the bushes at her farm, another woman said about voting: “My husband never did; I never did.”

The same answer at market stall after market stall, where Amish farmers sell their wares: Never voted. Never wanted to vote.

But Ben Walters, who co-founded Amish PAC, says the tide is turning. He heard from more Amish people willing to vote in 2018 than in 2016; in 2020, he thinks, the numbers will be still higher. “Their votes would be so important, and there’s a lot of them,” he said. “Since 2016, every single year, it gets a little bit easier. We’re seeing more and more signs of progress. I think behaviors are finally changing”…

At Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Kyle Kopko and Steven Nolt — two of the foremost experts on the Amish — are studying the results of the PAC’s efforts. Nolt said he is skeptical the PAC can make much of a dent. “For a group like the Amish PAC, the key is — to what extent could a group like Amish PAC take that civic identity that’s here, and leverage that into registering to vote and actually voting?” he said. “There’s not a prohibition, [but] there would be a fairly strong, strong religious and cultural bias against [voting.]”

Read the entire piece here.

Steven Nolt probably knows more about the Amish than anyone else alive.  If he thinks that this effort will not “make much of a dent” it is likely that this effort will not make much of a dent.

Wendell Berry on Pope Francis and the Amish

Over at Modern Farmer, Corby Kummer interviews noted farmer and writer Wendell Berry about the state of family farming in the United States (or at least in Berry’s Kentucky neighborhood).  Here is a taste:

MF: Is the spiritual connection between farmer and farm being lost?

WB: I think that’s an immediate danger. This is dangerous territory now. I’ve been reading the Pope’s encyclical. It’s very impressive. As the issues arise, he faces them. He makes the connection between the biblical imperative and the local obligation of the farmer or land user.

The Amish, like the Pope, take the gospels pretty seriously. They’re pacifists, for one thing. Remember when the madmen killed children in their school? The Amish went straight and forgave the killer. The black people in Charleston did it too. The Amish have that capacity to take the moral imperative literally. I think they take stewardship with the same, and consequent, seriousness. They’ve asked the essential question about technological innovation: What would this do to our community, if we do it? That governs their discussion. They have done very well. They’re not perfect people. But that Holmes County example is right there to be seen, and mostly our agriculture experts don’t look at it, or can’t see it, or can’t recognize the goodness of it if they do see it.

MF: Do you see that connection being rebuilt?

WB: Our neighbor with a CSA was telling Tanya about his little boy who wanted to pick the cherry tomatoes, and did. To have your heart thus warmed is part of a farm’s income. Neighbors working together have an income that’s never booked.

The old way of neighborly work-swapping here involved much talk. Neighbors worked together, a matter of utmost practicality, with a needed economic result, but the day’s work was also a social occasion. Is this a “spiritual” connection between neighbors, and between the neighborhood and its land? I suppose so, but only by being also a connection that is practical, economic, social, and pleasant. And affectionate.

That whole thing of looking somebody straight in the eye and saying something—my goodness. “I love you,” right into somebody’s face, right into their eyes, what a fine thing. Who would want to miss it?

People who talk only to communicate are different from people who talk for pleasure. People who talk for pleasure, as opposed to people who talk to communicate, become wonderful talkers over the years. They have eloquence.

Valerie Weaver-Zercher on the Amish Romance Novel

Check out Valerie Weaver-Zercher‘s great piece on Amish romance novels at LA Review of Books.  Weaver-Zercher is the author of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels (John Hopkins UP).

I must confess that I knew nothing about Amish romance novels before I looked at Valerie’s essay, but I am now eager to read her book. I must also confess that I still have no real desire to read an Amish romance novel.  Sorry Valerie!  🙂

(OK–as I am typing this my 15-year old daughter is telling me all about Amish romance novels, although she claims she has never read one).

Here is a taste of Valerie’s essay:

In 2012, a new Amish romance novel appeared on the market about every four days. Sixty more were published in 2012 than in 2009, and 83 more than in 2002. The top three Amish-fiction authors — Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, and Cindy Woodsmall — have sold a combined total of more than 24 million books.

As a subgenre of inspirational Christian fiction, Amish romance novels’ commercial success has garnered the attention of The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, Bloomberg Businessweek, and ABC’s Nightline, most of which have pointed out their largely evangelical female readership. One blogger suggested that the readers are “non-Amish religious women who somehow wish they could be even more repressed by a traditional Western religion than they already are.” Others are more sanguine. A marketer for one of the Christian publishing houses characterized the readers of their Amish-fiction author as evangelical women in their 50s and 60s. “These are not hipsters,” he said. “They’re very Christian, very ministry-oriented. There is lots of church talk in line [at book signings]. It’s sort of that rural, Saturday Evening Post crowd.”

And unlike the audience for reality series like TLC’s Breaking Amish or the Discovery Channel’s Amish Mafia, readers of these novels don’t want to see their Amish wasted, tattooed, touring sex museums, swearing, or packing heat. They want chaste heroines, tender heroes, devotional content, and maybe the suspense of a family secret or a forbidden Amish-English love. Amish romance novels offer readers three dimensions of chastity: chaste narratives about chaste protagonists living within a subculture that is itself impeccably chaste, refusing seduction by the car, public-grid electricity, phones in the house, higher education, and modern fashion. Despite the suggestion by some that the appeal of Amish fiction must lie in the arousal of coverings coming off, or suspenders being suspended — hence the coy industry term “bonnet rippers” — most Amish novels are as different from Fifty Shades of Grey as a cape dress is from a spiked collar. A line from Cindy Woodsmall’s When the Heart Cries is about as erotic as it gets: “The longer he stood so close to her, the stronger the need to kiss her lips became. But he was afraid she might not appreciate that move.” Readers frequently express appreciation that Amish novels are “clean reads,” and that they can leave them lying around the house without worrying that one of their kids might pick them up.

Evangelical women aren’t the only ones looking for chaste fiction for themselves and their daughters, as the Gordonville store’s shelves attest. No one knows for certain how many Amish people are reading Amish fiction, but, as I discovered while researching my book about Amish fiction, more than a few stray Amish readers are doing so. So if Amish readers are encountering fictional versions of themselves in the pages of Amish fiction, will they begin donning evangelical habits of romance and language of faith?

How does a culture change when outsiders launder its most cherished values and practices — community, tradition, simplicity, and Rumspringa — and sell them back to the people themselves? 

Is it possible for a genre of fiction to re-dress a people?

One final thought:

I hereby declare Valerie Weaver-Zercher and David Weaver-Zercher the first couple of academic Amish studies. 

The Amish on "The American Experience"

Tomorrow night (Feb. 28) the PBS series “The American Experience” will focus on the Amish.  Here is a description:

An intimate portrait of contemporary Amish faith and life, this film examines how such a closed and communal culture has thrived within one of the most open, individualistic societies on earth. What does the future hold for a community whose existence is so rooted in the past? And what does our fascination with the Amish say about deep American values?

You can also preview the show and watch “bonus video” here.

Last night Messiah College screened an advanced showing of “The Amish.”  (I was unable to attend).  The documentary features historical interpretation (of the talking head variety) from my friend and  Messiah College colleague David Weaver-Zercher.

Check it out.

The Amish Way

Check out Christianity Today’s interview with my colleague David Weaver-Zercher, co-author of The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World.  Here is a taste:

Your book points out that an Amish education is limited to eighth grade, so there are no Amish Bible scholars, at least none with degrees from theological schools. Is it a fair criticism to suggest that Amish interpretations of certain Bible principles and passages are simplistic?
I would not call Amish approaches to the Bible simplistic. Rather, they are both traditional and pre-modern. That is, their biblical interpretations are firmly rooted in their community’s history of interpretation, and their conclusions have not been affected by modern and postmodern interpretive methods. My colleague Steve Nolt says that the Amish sometimes take a “wisdom” approach to reading the Bible, finding particular applications through metaphorical readings of the text. One example is [the passage], “God separated light from darkness,” which the Amish interpret to mean that the church and world should be separate. In general, they demonstrate a pre-modern, non-systematic, non-literal interpretive approach that is more akin to medieval allegory.

Authors of Amish Grace on Lifetime’s Portrayal of Nickel Mines

Did you see “Amish Grace” last Sunday? The movie was based on the 2006 Nickel Mines Amish school shooting and took the same title as the best-selling book on the subject. It appeared last Sunday night on the Lifetime Movie Network and starred Kimberly Williams-Paisley. I did not see it.

On Faith
, a website sponsored by Newsweek and The Washington Post, is running a short piece by the authors of Amish Grace reflecting on how the movie captured the spiritual dimensions of the 2006 shooting. According to the authors, which include my Messiah College colleague David Weaver-Zercher, the movie misses the point. Here is a taste:

Scapegoating may be irrational, but it’s understandable and also very common. Perhaps that’s why the upcoming movie on the 2006 Nickel Mines Amish school shooting, set to air this Sunday on the Lifetime Movie Network, adopts that story line. The movie’s trailer portrays an Amish mother showing up at the deceased gunman’s home the day after the shooting to “confront” his devastated wife, holding her responsible for her husband’s deeds.

Only it didn’t happen that way. True, Amish people did show up at gunman Charles Roberts’ home within hours of the shooting that left five girls dead. They also visited his parents and parents-in-law, all of whom lived within a few miles of the West Nickel Mines School.

But the Amish people didn’t go there to express rage or sling blame. They visited the Roberts family because of their compassion for his kin–victims of the tragedy who were also suffering immense emotional pain. One Amish neighbor consoled Charles Roberts’ father with a hand on his shoulder and four simple words: “We love you, Roberts.” A few days later, at Roberts’ burial, parents of some of the Amish girls he had killed showed up and hugged his widow. It was, said one Amish man, “simply the right thing to do.”

Read more of the article here.