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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Shunning

A few years ago I read some of the books by Beverly Lewis (like: The Shunning (Heritage of Lancaster County)) set among the Amish people of the middle 20th century. I was familiar with the Amish and had a vague understanding of their customs and beliefs, but I learned quite a bit more reading a few of these. Not great literature, but interesting stories.

One thing I learned about that I knew nothing was the pracitice of "Shunning". From what I remember, if a baptized (baptism happens as adults) member of the Amish community makes a decision that is counter to Amish customs or belief, they can be "shunned". The shunning means the rest of the community (including all family) are not to have ANY communication with the shun-ee. I'm sure the fear of shunning helps keep most of the Amish on the straight and quite narrow way they've chosen (as does a desire to please God).

Do you think this sounds a bit harsh? A bit manipulative? Lacking in Christian Grace and freedom in Christ?

What if I told you there were other groups of Christians who did pretty much the same thing not based on their religious beliefs or practices, but on their educational choices? Would you believe me?

What if I told you that homeschoolers sometimes do this to others who have been committed homeschoolers but have chosen to send their children to public or private school?

Well, can I say that I was suprised, and yet not surprised, when I heard that this had happened to a friend of mine? She was a VERY committed homeschooler, but her family (led by her husband) decided to send their children to public school a year ago. I don't know all the reasons why, but they are their children and it is their choice to make. Apparently, she noticed pretty quickly that she was "dropped" as a friend by a few of her close homeschool friends (or is that "friends"?).

At the end of the year, this friend and her husband decided that homeschooling was best for their family after all (or at least for now) and they are planning on homeschooling again this year. Oddly, and much unlike the Amish, these "friends" have continued to shun her!

I don't know which makes me angrier - that they shunned her in the first place or that they continue to shun her. It all sounds quite graceless, loveless and legalistic to me.

Seems to me that as homeschoolers we should be all about supporting FREEDOM of CHOICE in schooling - unless we aren't actually interested in freedom, but more interested in being homeschooling purists/perfectionists. Good Gravy - save us from ourselves!

Have you seen or experienced this within your local or online homeschool community?

Last fall, I ran across an excellent series of articles that certainly speaks to this issue called "The Curse of the Standard-Bearer". I've seen this curse running through the homeschool community and was swayed a bit by it - more than a bit, sadly. It can affect they way we parent, the way we educate, the way we behave, and the way we love others - all negatively. I encourage you to read at least the first article (I doubt you'll be able to stop there).

After recognizing this in myself (through reading this and a few other situations that contributed to this awareness), I feel like I am much freer to be myself IN CHRIST. And freer to love others as they are IN CHRIST.

While I don't agree, necessarily, with all the reasons the Amish might choose to shun a member, I do know that as Christians there is a time to seperate ourselves from those who have chosen not to repent from a habitual and grave sin. However, I do not think you can make an honestly biblical case that sending your child to school is a sin and certainly not one over which to seperate ourselves.

Not wanting to leave you with the impression that I have a beef with the Amish, here is a simple explanation of the practice. Notice the reason they give for shunning is to encourage a quick repentance in the straying member:

Do the Amish practice shunning fellow church members?

The term "church members" means those who are baptized as adults and voluntarily commit themselves to a life of obedience to God and the church. Yes, those who break their baptismal vows are shunned by the Old Order Amish. Belonging is important and shunning is meant to be redemptive. It is not an attempt to harm or ruin the individual and in most cases it does bring that member back into the fellowship again. Actually, the number of members excommunicated and shunned by the Amish is small.

The Biblical basis for shunning is found in these two verses:
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a one (I Corinthians 5:11)

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and of fences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Romans 16:17)

The families of a shunned member are expected to also shun them. Families shun the person by not eating at the same table with them. The practice of shunning makes family gatherings especially awkward.

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TwoSquareMeals said...

As someone who will most likely end up homeschooling but is currently sending her children to preschool, I already feel the need to defend my choice to the homeschooling community. Certainly none of the homeschooling moms that are my friends seem to shun me for this choice, but I still feel some invisible pressure to defend it to the broader homeschool audience because of the attitude I pick up from reading Christian homeschooling literature and informational websites. (Don't worry, I have NEVER gotten that vibe from you, and I really enjoy the insights and information about homeschooling that I receive from reading your blog.)

As for the Amish...if their intention in shunning is to bring about quick repentance, that seems pretty in line with what St. Paul teaches the Corinthians and with what the early church did. Perhaps our churches would benefit from taking sin (real sin, not the sin of sending your kids to public school) a little more seriously.

I think homeschooling, like any alternative choice Christians make, has the risk of becoming a source of pride and a snare of legalism.

Emily said...

Thank you for bravely bringing this topic to light. It's good to be reminded of how we are (and are not) to treat others.

And thank you for the article link!

RachelFlybaby said...

Everyone has their own timetable. Imposing the 'perfect' school choice on others, doesn't work any better than being imposing the perfect curriculum.
I've heard both viewpoints. You can probably guess which one I prefer!

Thanks for bringing this up in such a gentle way, Kerry!