I grew up in an Amish home and community in Indiana. Because I wanted to pursue higher education-and because the Amish frown on such education--I shifted with my community's blessing to the Mennonite Church, which is part of the same Anabaptist history as the Amish. From my personal experience and from listening to the views of my relatives, I know that "Ämish in the City" is unwelcome in the Amish community.
Through my work with the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, I help Amish leaders resolve conflicts they experience with governmental regulation and with American culture. We believe our work protecting Amish religious beliefs contributes to preserving religious liberty for everyone. All Americans who cherish this ideal will find this Ämish "reality" show offensive.
Growing up Amish, I learned that unpretentious, honest living of one's faith in all areas of life, not just on Sunday, is paramount. Amish assume truthfulness in all things--thus, they do not present themselves in any manner that is not real. Amish belief in this idea is so strong, for instance, that they object to swearing of oaths because they are committed to speaking truth always, not only under oath.
This belief in reality is also one reason Amish do not approve of photographs. Photos are not real. They are only an imitation and one often used to present oneself as better than one really is--which produces excessive pride. They also take the "no graven image" text in Exodus literally.
This means that, for the Amish, there is no way you can use television to present a "real" image of their lives. TV is not reality, so you don't utilize it.
Beyond these objections to the UPN program are other problems. First, our consumer culture emphasizes that an individual's choice is all that matters. As a result, individuals can choose to make spectacles of themselves on "reality" shows. UPN apparently has determined that matters of religious faith are in the same category as all other individual "consumer" decisions. But faith is not in this category, and "Amish in the City" steps over the bounds of respect for religious faith.
Second, to use an individual's decision to subject herself to public ridicule as a way to make fun of an entire minority group is a form of discrimination. Participants in this "reality" show are not representative of the Amish community. They are simply dissidents (probably only temporarily) who decided to go on a lark, or to make a few bucks.
We are told that the Amish youth who participated in the show will go through Rumspringa, the Pennsylvania German term for "running around." Rumspringa is Amish adolescent rebellion--experimentation with the outside world. The producers of this show would have the viewer think that "rumspringa" is a tenet of the Amish faith. It is not. It is practiced by a minority of Amish young people, but it is not condoned by the community. In fact, the church opposes it.
To portray this as representative of the Amish way of life is inaccurate. Amish are especially concerned about this misrepresentation. The real story here is that the Amish community gladly welcomes back young people who decide to rebel for a time. In fact, approximately 90 percent of Amish young people stay with the Amish faith and way of life.
One reason the producers may have gotten this so wrong is that they are aware that the Amish and other groups that are part of the Anabaptist tradition practice adult baptism. Baptism is a symbol of voluntary commitment to and membership in the church. Anabaptists believe that only adults are capable of making a decision to follow Christ and to commit to their community. Amish expect their children to make this personal decision; thus, they do not join the church until they are able to make that adult commitment.
The deepest desire for the Amish is that their children learn the way of Christ (as understood by the Amish) and commit to the church as soon as they are able to make an adult decision. If the children rebel for a time, they are still loved and welcomed into the community.
The Amish try faithfully to follow Christ in sincerity without drawing attention to themselves. They eschew publicity. Sadly, this show is just another intrusion into their world.
Constitutional rights protect UPN when it produces a show like "Amish in the City." But we consuming citizens can say, "Enough is enough" and refuse to pay advertising dollars for shows that are offensive and discriminatory.