13 February 2012

Being Gay and Amish

Being Gay and Amish

Though the Old Order Amish church has historically maintained a strict difference between its cultural religious society and the rest of the world, it members are created human beings with all the same inherent traits of humans living in the larger society.
Social desires for love and companionship and familial bonds are just as evident amongst Amish people as they are in existence among Non-Amish people. Human character traits and capacities for thought, work, learning, and achievement all exist along with common human vices like greed, malice, ignorance and procrastination.

In North America, there is a created sense of wonder and nostalgic euphoria regarding the Amish because of their dress and manner of living connected with common ideals of family and home life. This sense of wonder attracts outsiders to embrace the idea that the Amish are somehow free of the maladies and distresses that have openly been expressed by wars and economic failures in our larger society. The family farming together, living close to the land, and operating on a slower speed of travel within a local area, are all socially attractive ingredients which contribute to this sense of wonder. Since the World Wars and the Great Depression effectively changed many things in the larger culture, pushing women into the workforce and causing mass migrations of people off farms and into the city, the Amish are often seen as the last remnants of better days. Some even would say that because of their austerity, they also have maintained a purity from the ‘societal evils’ evident in our modern lifestyles.  The music liberation and equality movements of the Sixties and Seventies basically left the Amish untouched and therefore ‘untainted.’

It is true that due to the many conservative and traditional standards of living upheld by the Amish, their society has been able to persevere and continue largely unchanged from the late 18th Century to the present.  Agriculturally and economically, the Amish have benefited from advancements in technology that they gradually embraced, but they have certainly been selective and careful.  Likewise, societal norms concerning lifestyles, education, healthcare, insurance and occupations have also been carefully adjusted to the times.  Fewer and fewer Amish men are able to maintain a living directly from farming, many children attend public or private schooling and church districts and regions pool finances for aiding members with large medical and insurance bills.

Relationship to members within one’s local community is still the highest priority amongst members of Old Order Amish congregations.  Obeying the order or Ordnung is simply the most obvious outward sign of that inner submission to the will of the group. Individualism expressed openly in contradiction to this Order is still cause for separation and seclusion.

Personal lifestyles are traditionally formed along the ‘man meets girl, they get baptized, then married and have children’ concept.  For a young man to have inward feelings contrary to this notion is totally unacceptable in the eyes of the local congregation because it simply goes against the traditional order.  Biblical defense of the order against same gender attraction is an evangelically influenced recent reaction.
In the past, men or women with same gender attraction simply married and bore with their ‘temptations’ buried inside them personally rather than individually stand out.

Today, in the larger society of ‘worldly English’ this coming ‘OUT’ individually from the traditional understanding has been increasingly evident.  Same gender attraction is not something new or the product of a perverse society converting people.  People are coming out individually demonstrating their honest same gender identity because society has encouraged individual liberty of conscience.

As the Old Order Amish continue to adapt their lives to influences surrounding them, they will hopefully also be able to embrace enough liberty of conscience to allow for same gender attraction amongst them.

That day has yet to come and is not now, so for any and all Amish people with same gender attraction, they have two choices.
1. Recognize their natural and personal attraction to same gender people and choose not to join the church with its prescribed heterosexual order of marriage.
2. Join the church, remaining closeted about their honest self and either remain unmarried or marry with themselves deeply buried inside their person, outwardly submitting to the Order.

Due to the predominantly segregated manner of living amongst Amish people, men usually participate socially with other men, and women with other women.  The traditional taboos concerning sexuality for anything other than procreation cause this segregation in almost all areas of life.  Sitting at a dinner table, sitting in worship, standing in line at a potluck, working together, playing Croquet together, singing together and socializing casually are all done in very segregated ways compared to most of these activities as done in the larger society.  This is particularly enabling for someone of same gender attraction because they are mostly with who they are comfortable with.  Due to this fact, I believe it is certainly possible for a same gender attracted person or ‘Gay Amish’ to grow up and remain fairly comfortable until the age of marriage.

Unfortunately, due to the continued insistence upon strictly man and woman marriage, Old Order Amish members are not at liberty to proclaim or live out a same gender attraction openly.  To say that there are no ‘Gay Amish’ would certainly be an error due to proven statistics concerning human characteristics.  For Amish parents who become aware of their child’s sexual orientation, the best thing they could do for them is to support and encourage them to deal honestly and openly before God and make the appropriate choice for their life before committing to marriage and the Order of the Church.

God doesn’t make any junk and our sexual attraction is an inherent characteristic of our individual person as a gift from God.  No one tells another who they love or don’t love, it just is in you to love whom you love.  Men do not learn to be attracted to women, they just are or they’re not.  Women do not become attracted to men, they just are or they are not.  People can learn and be told whom they marry, but years of evidence prove what becomes of those type of relationships.  God is Love and when we are truly open to his leading in our life, then we can truly love another person as we should.  Who are we to judge another persons capacity for love?

Being Amish and Gay also requires a certain dealing with and coming to grips with terminology.  So many people, especially conservative Christians automatically connect being ‘Gay’ with being ‘promiscuous, unruly, effeminate and sexually divergent’ people. It is important to understand that these characteristics are specifically personified onto the ‘Gay’ label by prejudiced haters of same gender attracted people.  Truly, there are many people who live and commit acts which fit this description, but those acts do not make them ‘Gay’ for doing them, because many ‘straight, heterosexually identified’ people commit such things regularly.  The term ‘Gay’ originally meant ‘happy and free’.
Today, it is broadly applied to those members of society with same gender attraction who may express their identity ‘happily and freely’.  When a couple of young girls publicly kiss one another in the company of their school friends, they are labeled as ‘Gay’.  When two men walk hand in hand down the boardwalk along a public beach, they are labeled ‘Gay’.

Amongst same gender attracted people, being ‘Gay’ simply refers to one having same gender attraction, but does not specifically judge or classify that person to any specific list of actions, dress, occupations, clothing, hairstyles, colors or musical tastes.  These stereotypical associations are based on generalizations that are certainly not all encompassing of everyone who has same gender attraction.  Certainly amongst Amish conservative and traditionalist society, many of the common ‘Gay’ things are not even known or participated in.  An Amishman with same gender attraction will most probably look and act just like his fellow ‘straight’ Amishmen. Being Gay and Amish is not defined by whether a man is more feminine or a woman more masculine.  It is not defined by whether a man shows the ‘typical’ signs of being ‘Gay’ like what is often stereotypical in the larger society.
A person is Gay if they have same gender attraction, regardless of what religious or social connections they have been brought up living in.

Another area of challenge for someone who is Gay and Amish, is the issue of religious belief and fellowship.  Unfortunately, due to the strong prejudice amongst conservative Church people, being openly gay bars one from continued fellowship with them.  Finding an affirming church that recognizes a same gender attracted person as being legitimately Christian still, is very hard to find amongst Conservative Christian fellowships.  Many liberal Christians have seen through the prejudice against Gay peoples and have embraced them openly, but for an Amishman to find comfortable worship there, he must participate in many unfamiliar worship practices. Many modern and liberal Christians would automatically assume that if a person is gay and desiring to be in church, then they must obviously be in harmony with liturgical worship concepts, women in ministry and having uncovered heads, multiple bible versions, instrumental music, casual dress and modesty standards, higher education, differing occupations and entertainments, ornamented living, and alcoholic consumption.  These departures from traditional Christian principles are not necessarily automatic with being openly gay.  For someone Gay and Amish, these issues of faith and practice must individually be deciphered.  In a real sense, departing from the Old Order community of faith to live an openly gay life and yet still maintain a Christian consciousness will require many spiritual and religious practices to be individually interpreted. If an Amishman or Amishwoman who is gay, determines to live a celibate life, it may be possible to remain single and continue within the Order of the Church.  This is a personal sacrifice one must truly be convinced of doing.

Ironically, there have been many openly Gay people from the larger society, who for various reasons, have been attracted to and attempted to live within the confines of Old Order society.  Many times these efforts have been successful for periods of time, but those individuals often continue to struggle with understanding how to balance their honest and personal identity within the controlling aspect of community order.
In recent years, some plain dressing Conservative Friends (Quakers) have become more welcoming to openly gay people who share a conservative Christian faith and desire to live accordingly.

Overall, for someone to be Gay and Amish, they must simply recognize their personal and individual value as someone created by God, given the ability to love, naturally knowing that their attraction to the same gender is how they were born.  Then, they must choose to either embrace these facts through living and sharing their love with another, or continue to refrain from acknowledging something which differs from the community Ordnung and consciousness.  It is our hope that any and all who desire to deal with this issue of being Gay and Amish in their lives would find the grace and strength to be honest with themselves before God and choose to live healthily and happily.