I’ve been following this story for the last few months, and it’s a gentle reminder that even the most mild-mannered religions can have not-so-mild-mannered followers. Case in point: Amish man Samuel Mullet (which, by the way, is the most stereotypical Amish name I’ve ever seen).
16 members of Mullet’s community were just found guilty of a hate crime carried out against others in their community… after being persuaded to do so by Mr. Mullet. The 16 members — ten men and six women — face at least ten years in jail for the attack.
What did they do that was so heinous? Although not directly involved in the attack himself, Mullet persuaded the 16 to forcibly remove the beards of other men in their community.
Many Amish believe that the Bible instructs women to wear their hair long and for men to stop shaving after marriage.
In looking for the exact reasons and traditions behind this beard growing, hoping for a line in scripture that mandates it, I came across a question on the Amish Religious Freedom website FAQ. It made me realize why Amish beards look so unusual to me: They have beards, but not mustaches! The Scriptural rationale, however, is even stranger:
There are quite a few scriptures that mention beards in the Bible. An example would be Psalm 133:1,2. An Amishman does not shave his beard after he becomes married. A long beard is the mark of an adult Amishman. Moustaches, on the other hand, have a long history of being associated with the military, and therefore are forbidden among the Amish people.
Wait, what? Mustaches have a long history of being associated with the military?! The more I think about it, the more I realize that it might be true. (Now when Christians use the classic “Hitler/Stalin was an Atheist” argument we have a new rebuttal based in absolute fact.) It was the mustaches all along. Mustaches clearly lead to genocide. Excuse me while I go shave…
The opening sentence of the BBC report of the guilty verdict began with the following:
Members of an Amish breakaway group have been found guilty of hate crimes for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of community members.
Who knew that the Amish suffered from these kinds of breakaway groups! We’re used to hearing of Christian, Muslim, or even Mormon breakaway groups, but the Amish?! Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Amish ideology is a seriously flawed system, but on the grand scale of dangerous religions, I think most people would place the Amish fairly low down their list.
The prosecutors argued the victims’ hair was cut because of its spiritual significance in the Amish faith. The defense lawyers admitted the attacks did take place but argued they were internal family disputes and did not amount to hate crimes. The picture emerging of Samuel Mullet is one that is all too familiar: His followers and detractors paint him as an extremely charismatic but very strict man. Witnesses in the case said Mullet maintained absolute control over the settlement he founded two decades ago. Some said men were made to sleep in chicken coops as punishment. Court documents also show Mullet practiced “sexual counseling” for married women in his community. We’ve seen all of that before.
Part of the reason this case is so interesting is that it is very rare for crimes within Amish communities to ever be reported. In fact, a number of the victims of this crime refused to even press charges. Instead punishments are decided upon internally. This is one of those grey areas where I can’t really decide where I stand. There is an argument for leaving the Amish alone to live their lives the way they see fit. However, this underreporting of crime and internal punishment does not sit well with me. It leaves me wondering about the types and frequency of crimes that are never reported, the safety of those convictions and the ethical nature of the punishments.