Retracing the Blurred Boundaries of the Twentieth-Century ‘Amish Mennonite’ Identity

Mennonite Quarterly Review

Anderson, Cory. 2011.

85(3):361-412.

Research Points
  • A century-long case study of a 20th century progressive-leaning Amish sect demonstrates how material, ideological, and institutional debates express tensions between decentralizing and centralizing forces.

  • The Beachy Amish-Mennonite (A-M) Church originated between 1910-1940 from splinter groups breaking away from the Old Order Amish.

  • The Beachys adopted some timely innovations such as meetinghouses, vehicles, and Sunday school but maintained a decentralized, congregational polity like the Old Orders.

  • Their religious beliefs shifted towards more evangelical Christianity starting in the 1950s, with different congregations adopting these changes at varying paces, adding to tensions.

  • In the 1960s-70s, significant variation developed among the churches on issues such as technology use, dress standards, youth activities, and missions/evangelical beliefs, resulting in tensions that eventually led to divisions such as the Mennonite Christian Fellowship and Old Beachys.

  • In 1991, sermons at an annual Beachy ministers’ meeting raised concerns about religious drift; moderators responded by proposing an investigation. An elected committee of conservative leaders was formed and proposed standards on issues such as media and divorce/remarriage. However, they faced passive opposition from leaders preferring autonomy. A guideline against radio and television was eventually adopted in 1999 after much debate.

  • Leaders disenchanted with the committee’s failure to implement more standards rallied into three new denominations, the Maranatha A-Ms, Ambassadors A-Ms, and Berea A-Ms.

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