Book Review: Amish Grace

When a gunman entered the West Nickel Mines School in October 2006 and killed five Amish girls, the world was stunned not only by the heinous act but also by the reaction of the Amish community. Before their little girls were buried, the Amish community was offering its forgiveness.

Why? Or, more to the point, how? How could they so quickly offer forgiveness while still gripped by the raw emotion of the event?

Amish Grace offers the conclusion of three scholars (Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher) who have studied the Amish extensively — and it is deceptively simple. The grace exhibited by the Amish, the authors say, “emerged from who they were long before that awful October day.”

The ensuing chapters explain who the Amish are through glimpses of life in Old Order Amish communities and bits of the history of the Amish as the church. It’s fascinating to read about such the community’s church structure or the ways they have adopted technology despite the popular myths. More interesting, though, is the explanation of the theology espoused by the church that will allow its members to ride in cars, but not own them, to mention just one instance that might seem incongruous to outsiders.

The heart of the book, though, is the second portion which delves into the concepts of forgiveness as practiced by the Amish and in the delineation between forgiveness and pardon. It is this section that gave me new insight into Jesus’ admonition to forgive another not seven times, but seventy times seven as forgiveness is defined as both a decision and as an emotional transformation using the example of an Amish father who finds he must forgive the gunman each time he becomes angry at what happened.

It’s a great read and would be an excellent resource for lessons on forgiveness. There is a discussion guide and additional resources available at the book’s web site.

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