Posted by: Randy Allgaier | October 9, 2006

Learning from the Amish

Has there ever been a more poignant lesson on life, love, grief, and forgiveness? 

A grieving grandfather told young relatives not to hate the gunman who killed five girls in an Amish schoolhouse massacre, a pastor said on Wednesday.  “As we were standing next to the body of this 13-year-old girl, the grandfather was tutoring the young boys, he was making a point, just saying to the family, ‘We must not think evil of this man,’ ” the Rev. Robert Schenck told CNN.

Just about anywhere, a deadly school shooting would have brought demands for tighter gun laws and better security, and the victims’ loved ones would have lashed out at the gunman’s family or threatened to sue.  But after the slayings of five children in a one-room schoolhouse, the Amish people in Nickel Mines urge forgiveness of the killer.The Amish look inward, relying on themselves and their faith, as they have for centuries. They hold themselves apart from the modern world.  The Amish also have been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack. Dwight Lefever, a family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness.

The money sent to the fund for the victims of the shooting will be shared with the Roberts family as per the request of the families of the slain Amish girls. 

What a legacy these people have left for our country.  What an example of true Christian love and charity- not the sort of vengeful and judgmental hate mongering that has come to exemplify the “religious” in this country thanks to the poor examples set by the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson.  Would any of these three men exemplify the forgiveness that the Amish have?  The answer is a resounding NO.

Too often in this country Christianity has become a bludgeon; a sword to swing with a swagger of moral superiority.  Thanks to that hateful and bigoted distortion of Christianity this has been how American Christianity has been identified.  That’s a shame- but the truth. 

How would this country be different if the political religious right practiced the sort of Christianity exemplified by the Amish during this horrible tragedy?  Forgiveness is so foreign to our way of thinking and vengeance is so commonplace that the Amish act of forgiveness became a news story itself.  Shouldn’t forgiveness be something that is not newsworthy but something that is commonplace in our society?

But in our world we have gone back to the Old Testament of an eye for an eye rather than to love one’s neighbor.  The Amish live and breathe the word of Jesus Christ as stated in the Sermon on the Mount.  That is their gospel.  While I am not a biblical scholar – I think that I would be more inclined to listen to those words than the words of the Old Testament meant to set the law for a nomadic desert tribe or of St. Paul who was beginning to teach intolerance in his zeal to convert.  It’s easier to manipulate and convert when you add a dose of moral superiority.

We live in a world that, through vengeance, the need to be superior and right rather than tolerant and understanding has become a world of violence. 

Margaret Bourke White once asked Mahatma Gandhi if nonviolent means would have worked against a man as evil as Hitler.  He said it would- there would have been set backs, but eventually the world would rid itself of that evil.

Imagine a world where we had the forgiveness and charity of the Amish and the world view of Gandhi.  We certainly are no where near that world in 2006.  I wish we were.


  1. Good thoughts Randy. I’d like to imagine myself being able to forgive in the midst of a tragic situation but I can’t. Violence is a crime and I find it unforgivable when it goes to the extent of killing another human being. (unless it is self protection) Yes…Justice should be served and the victims family must deal with their loss and grief while the legal system is our only recourse. Forgiveness is the Christian way….but when I hear of children drowned by their parents, shot in school, or a young man get tied to a fence, tortured, and left to die in the cold, women raped and beaten to death, road rage deaths, etc.etc.etc. I find forgiveness sooooo very difficult. Revenge will not bring back loved ones and we are left to rely on our legal system…..which is a sham, IMO. In a different time ….maybe I could be more forgiving. I’m not sure if I should feel the Amish are naive or I should envy them with all my heart and soul. My heart goes out to all of those who lost loved ones in this tragic situation.

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