Amish Shunning, What's It all About?

I talked a little about shunning in my interview with Josh. More specifically, it was in an answer to a reader's question below that post. Always be sure to read the candid comments.

I admit it! At first, I generalized this practice. Thought I understood. Then I discovered how complex the practice is among Amish. Just as the Amish cannot be generalized, shunning is broader and deeper than most outsiders think.

In my December 12 post It's Sad. Breaks my Heart, I share about a married Swartzentruber Amish man who is desperate to leave. He's held by fears - intimidating consequences to himself, his wife, and kids. As a Church member, he and his family must be shunned for leaving the fold.

And the Amish name names! His name - as his wife - will go on a list. The list is distributed to others preparing for Church membership so they know who they must shun. They use the 1 Corinthians 5:11 admonition as basis for this practice.

A new runaway, Harvey, joined us on Christmas Day. This Harvey is 21-years-old and had joined the Amish Church early - at 17-years.
Consequently, by leaving he is entirely shunned - by his family and Church, which includes the entire settlement.

"I'm the first one to leave my settlement," Harvey told me. His dark hair already cut short. His dimples and politeness, "yes, M'am," irresistible to this Mom.

"Aww, I'm sorry," I replied to him, putting my arm around his shoulder for comfort.

So what happens when a member in the settlement
  • talks to, 
  • eats with, 
  • rides in a car driven by, 
  • takes an object directly from the hand of a former member?
The rule-breaker is put in the bann (temporary shunning)!

Now this is the way it's supposed to be. But what's suppose to happen and what does can differ. Some "rebel" Amish will still talk to a shunned person.

What about those who leave - like Mosie, our son-in-law Harvey, Josh, Monroe, Sarah - and they haven't joined the Amish Church?

Technically, they aren't shunned - their name isn't on the list - but, family members may choose to shun for a period of time. Rolling your eyes in confusion yet?

In the higher - progressive - orders such as New or Beachy Order Amish, it's a misconception that individuals who decide against baptism and Church membership are automatically shunned. For the most part, if a person chooses not to join, his/her decision is accepted (though not approved of) and the family/settlement accepts the individual. If the individual joins the Church and then leaves, he/she *may* be shunned as a last resort. More probably, it'd be a verbal disapproval or condemning look.

Amish say they'll welcome the wayward back. Even if shunned. As long as that individual makes public confession and apology.

When asked what about the Amish they wish would change, overwhelmingly all the ex-Amish I know said, "Shunning."

See more about this painful practice in PBS TV's The Amish: Shunned. I know the PBS producer and she told me all about this sequel to her first documentary in which I, Mosie, my daughter, husband, and Harvey appeared at Levi's birthday. Also read my friend John's blog, amishshunnedandfree

What do YOU think about this practice? Does it have Biblical grounds? Could you shun your child if you believed he/she was turning away from your perception of Truth? Leave your comment or story below in the "Comments."

(C)Copyright, Brenda Nixon. 2014.


  1. I don't think I would be able to shun my child, It breaks my heart just thinking about it. I find it very interesting that most of the divisions I've found in the Amish occur over shunning. Isn't that the reason we have Amish and Mennonites? Great Post!

    1. Thanks for your comments Amy. I don't think I could shun my child either but in the case of the Amish they think they're doing the right thing to obey the rules of shunning & as a method of winning back their wayward child.
      Actually Mennonites were on the scene first (broke from the original Anabaptist movement). Then Jakob Ammon (in the Anabaptist movement) felt, among other things, that shunning was Biblical and that the Anabaptists should enforce it.
      I was talking the other day with a gal who grew up horse & buggy Mennonite. When she left, she said some of her Mennonite relatives shunned her and some did not. Go figure.

  2. i had a very vague idea of what shunning entailed until i saw the young lady on the PBS show that went back home. for her, being shunned and living w/o ever getting to see her parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews was too difficult. it's different for us english. we can live in michigan, nevada, oregon - far away from family - but we still have the option, privilege, freedom to go home and visit. the idea of forever shunning one of your own children, even if you think the initial act is for their own good, seems cruel on so many levels. in the PBS special they highlighted a woman who left the Amish, got married, and had a bakery. watching the emptiness of her home knowing that no extended family would ever visit - that's a hard thing to contemplate.

    1. Appreciate your comments Anonymous! I can't imagine the emotional torture of shunning.
      When our "son" Mosie lived with us we could see his pain and sense his abandonment issues due to his family shunning him for leaving :-( It broke our hearts.
      We've become extended "family" to many who've left the Amish. Just tonight our "son" Monroe came for dinner & a "mom" haircut. haha When he was leaving, he reached out to hug me. "I'm glad you're in our lives," I said.
      "Me too," he replied.

    2. I was very fortunate. At 12 years old, I told my parents that I would never be Amish. Instead of an expected explosion, my Dad calmly said "That's ok,as just being Amish won't get you to Heaven. All I ask is that you accept Jesus and become a Christian."

      I have often wondered if perhaps he had an ulterior motive in being so calm about my decision. That motive being, if I got a car he would have transportation, since I never joined Church and therefore never got shunned.

    3. Sadly that selfish motive exists in all walks of life, however since you say he asked you to accept Jesus and become a Christian I'd rather doubt that. My experience with the Amish was that they didn't discuss Jesus and salvation, rather they had much to say about their doctrines. I don't know your community but in my family circle the Amish declared themselves the only ones with a chance of heaven.
      Malinda Borntreger Meeks

  3. I would not be able to shun a family member or anyone else. If the purpose is for them to return to the fold, I don't think shunning is going to get them back. However, the "fear" factor may get them back.

    I know I've mentioned something about this before, but here goes. While I don't agree with the practice, I get it. Other faiths also practice their form of "shunning" although not to the same extent as the most extreme forms of shunning that you included in your article.

    For example, where I was raised, it was called being put "on discipline." One of the scriptures that supported the practice is Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." The going to tell him between you and him alone was the pastor calling you aside and telling you. If you admitted to the "offense/sin" you were put on discipline. This meant you'd go to church, sit in the pew, and that's it. You don't participate in special activities, zip, nothing, nada, for the amount of time your discipline was imposed for. Most times it also meant others in the congregation would interact with you very little, as it they would "catch" whatever you had been put on discipline for. As for only having the conversation between you and the pastor, that conversation would be announced to the church so that all would know your status. Aside from the "big" sins that you could be put in discipline for, the following were also reasons:
    1-A woman trims/cuts her hair.
    2-A woman wears pants
    4-Dating an outsider
    5-Wearing clothing that was too similar to the "worldly" fashions
    6-Men wearing shorts
    7-Etc, etc
    When I was older, I asked the pastor's wife, "Why is it that all/most of the "don'ts" seem to apply to women only?" She told me that I should ask the pastor.

    As with the Amish, this practice differed from church to church, within the same denomination. Not exactly the same as the Amish, but some similarities.

    My hope and prayer for the Amish, as well as the others, is that they will come to the reality that we are "saved by grace" and that they'll be able to have that take over the "fear factor" that so many experience.

    As always, enjoyed your blog, Brenda!

    1. Humans make rules about outward appearances but the only place I recall Jesus mentioning clothes was where he said to take no thought about what we wear, that the heathen run after such things.
      Malinda Borntreger Meeks

  4. P.S. I apologize for going long on the comment, but you always have a way of stimulating discussion. Must be the teacher in you. = )

  5. I definitely know, I would never be able to Shunn either on of my Children, it sounds and in my opinion is cruel, It would just break my heart, it's bad enough to have one of them upset with me over some thing as it is and I don't believe that God intended for anything like that to happen.

  6. Brenda, first i want to thank you for being there for all the ones you have reached out to during this transistion, no it is not an easy road, and Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him,and its only in him and thru his grace alone,can one remain strong. I'm a mother of 10 and a g/mother of 39, some i've not seen or been a part of. the family birthday parties, holidays etc continue on, no, i'm not included, i'm shunned for choosing to follow jesus after a very real encounter with him during a season of depression.oh how awesome the moment was that forever changed my life. is my husband on the same page??? No...he's not altho he seen the transformation come upon me the night i met jesus, but he will side with the church and the children and our former friends, before he would breathe a word of what he knows is truth, the differance is in knowing jesus or having him in your heart, for once he gets your heart theres no turning back. his word is the only thing that speaks truth and life, and our strength cometh only thru him, JESUS!!! And i stand on his promise of......You and your entire household SHALL be saved!!!! Do i miss my family and friends??? Yes i do!!! And i could say lots and lots more. But god has given me a new family and all there good intend's are nice and appre, but will never fill the void of physical family, for god never intended for families to be severed, those who walk with him. so my family will always remain in my heart as a mother and g/mother. My heart goes out to all the ones who are walking the road or persucution and condemnation. Stayed focused on jesus for what we are going thru is not close to what he suffered for our freedom. Shunning is from satan, and he's defeated, Jesus has got us covered and washed by his shed blood. Amen Standing for Jesus in Ohio.

    1. Your comments are insightful and hopefully will help educate some of my readers. Thanks.
      I know another Amish couple who are likewise divided except it is the man who left and his wive who sides with the church and settlement.

  7. What a Valentines day message, haha

  8. Brenda, this is a great post.

    I think this exemplifies the most basic rule of life: you can't give what you don't have. Those people who do not have love in their hearts can't give love. Those who have never felt or understood grace cannot give grace. Those who have never felt the Son shine on their face cannot reflect that Son into the world.

  9. I am trying to help my fiance find his birth family he was born andrew swartzentruber 2/13/1969 wooster ohio?his mothers maiden name was hershberger adopted at birth, name was changed to michael.he has brown hair blue eyes was born with a problem with his feet that was corrected over time. Please anyone that might know anything email amyflinner@yahoo.com Mike would love to find his birth mother

  10. Looking for birth mother or family I was born Andrew Swartzentruber 2/13/1969 mother maiden name hershberger. I was adopted out at birth wayne co children services. Brown hair blue eyes. would love to find birth mother. If anyone has any information please email amyflinner@yahoo.com

  11. Brenda - although shunning a child is a very difficult thing for us to understand, I believe it also happens in evangelical Christian circles sometimes when a child makes a lifestyle choice that is clearly against biblical principles. Children who choose to live with a partner without marriage; children who "come out" as homosexual or lesbian; children who are alcoholic or drug users; children who flout the law and are jailed - many of these are shunned by otherwise loving Christian parents. Praise the Lord that "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

  12. The difference is that THEY both or individually decide not to communicate with one another because of a disagreement. Their church does not tell them or the whole congregation to shun and then enforce with punishment.