Amish Shunning

Amish shunning is the use of social exclusion as method used to enforce Amish church rules.

Contrary to popular belief, Amish shunning does not end of all social interaction, but it does involve rituals that remind the wayward of their sin and seek to bring them back into fellowship.

Imagine that you have joined and then left the Amish Church and you have now been shunned.

When you are shunned:

  • Amish members may no longer eat at the same table with you. This means that when you attend an Amish gathering like a wedding or funeral, you must sit apart from the Church members when food is served.

  • Members may not do business with you. This can be a real hardship if you buy from and sell to your Amish neighbors.

    There have been a few lawsuits over the church denying the ex-member a right to make a living. Of course, lawsuits are forbidden by the Ordnung so this just shows that there is no repentance.

  • Members may not ride in your car. If you visit your family they are forbidden to ride with you, even though they are allowed to ride with their “English” neighbor.

  • Members cannot receive anything from you. Friends and family can help you by giving you money or things that you need. But they are forbidden to accept anything from you.

    For example, if when visiting your Amish family, you want to serve a glass of water to your parents, you must leave it on the table for one of your younger siblings to give to your parents. Since your siblings are not yet members of the Amish church, they are not yet bound to the rules applying to shunning.

Amish Shunning is based on Biblical teaching. In his letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul writes:

“9 When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn't talking about unbelievers [ie. baptized Amish members or outsiders] who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.

11 What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian [ie. baptized Amish] yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-12 New Living Translation)

Therefore, non-members and outsiders are not candidates for Amish shunning.


The media tends to depict Amish shunning as an example of a domineering Amish church inflicting unfair and harsh punishment on its members. But compared to the practices of some sects and cultures, Amish shunning seems quite mild.

Some ultra-orthodox Jewish congregations, for example, go so far as to hold funerals for former members who decide to marry outside the religion.

Scientology shunning, called “disconnection”, forbids its members from interacting with a "suppressive" person. No calls, no letters, no contact.

When a Jehovah Witness is "disfellowshipped"(shunned), all members including immediate family drop all contact. A disfellowshipped relative “should be made to appreciate that his status has changed, that he is no longer welcome in the home nor is he a preferred companion."

In some cultures and religions violators of doctrine can be put to death.

Tame in comparison, Amish shunning is used as a tool to convince the wayward ex-member to come back into the fold.

Controversy in the Church

The history of Amish Shunning is one of controversy. In 1693 shunning is was a central issue that led Jakob Ammann to split from the Mennonite church.

Punishment for disobedience, in Ammann’s eyes, was too lenient. Mennonite shunning practices had grown soft. He sought a return to more conservative Anabaptist doctrine.

Over the following years there have been many Amish church splits over shunning. Usually, these disagreements concerned when and how to lift the shunning edict. Some Amish churches lifted the “Bann” if the ex-member joined a higher (more liberal) Amish congregation and became a member in good standing of that church.

The more conservative Amish congregations insisted on “strict shunning” (streng Meindung). This meant that the Bann would be lifted only if the ex-member reconciled with the congregation that originally ordered the shunning.

When do you face shunning?

Amish Shunning occurs after you leave the church. This means that you must first have voluntarily taken the vows of baptism and become a member of the Amish church.

The Amish place a high value on voluntary adult baptism. After all, the very foundation of the Amish church is rooted in the 16th century Anabaptist movement.

This Protestant movement promoting the doctrine of adult baptism on the grounds that only adults can accept and declare their faith on their own behalf caused a split with the state church. The Anabaptists were hunted down, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes killed for not recanting these beliefs.

Therefore, the baptismal vows that you make before God and the congregation are viewed as a binding commitment to obey God and the teachings of the church for the rest of your life. Submission to the authority of the church is absolutely essential in preserving the Amish culture.


There are two ways for you to leave the Amish church:

  1. Voluntarily – by deciding on your own that you no longer wish to lead the Amish lifestyle. By leaving the church after making a vow to follow and obey the church for a lifetime, you are breaking your vows.

  2. Involuntarily – when you break your vows of baptism by disobeying the rules of the church or flaunting the authority of your Amish leaders and refuse confess and see the error of your ways, you will be eventually tossed out of the congregation. (excommunicated)

Either way, you are now an ex-member and you are subject to Amish shunning.

Young people who decided not to join the church and never took the baptismal vows and are not members of the church are not candidates for shunning. Only ex-members are shunned.

Ultra-conservative groups like the Swartzentruber Amish are more strict. If you leave before joining, church leaders might pressure your parents into making you unwelcome in their home even though you are not "officially" shunned. This is done to both protect the rest of the household from your influence and force you back into the fold.

Effects on the Family

Shunning takes its toll on the emotions of your Amish family. If you are shunned and your parents do not treat you according to the rules of the church, they also risk excommunication.

So expulsion from the church can lead to a lifetime of estrangement from your family and friends.

However, the Amish leave a back door open so that if you see the error of your ways and repent, you can be spiritually and socially accepted back into the church.

Bottom Line

Shunning gives power to excommunication. Say that you were tossed out but not shunned. You were allowed to go on functioning socially in the community as if nothing happened. Church discipline would have much less impact on your life.

But Amish shunning means that you will lose the support system to which you have grown accustomed. It means that you must now seek that support elsewhere.

You will find it hard to replace a social networking system that has flourished for centuries and a system on which you have relied for your entire life. As time passes and you have a hard time fitting into the outside world, you may find that your reasons for coming back might out-weigh your reasons for leaving.

Clearly the custom of Amish shunning is a very effective means of enforcing church doctrine, retaining members, and convincing the wayward to come back into the fold.

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