Amish

Friday Five: Thanksgiving, missionary death, Jordan Peterson, hurricane heroes, homeless church

Friday Five: Thanksgiving, missionary death, Jordan Peterson, hurricane heroes, homeless church

Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!

I’ve been mostly away from the news this week, enjoying my favorite holiday.

If I missed any important headlines that I should have included here, by all means, leave a comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is an international story, so you might have missed it. The Washington Post reports from New Delhi on an American missionary who tried “to meet and convert one of the most isolated hunter-and-gather tribes in the world” by offering them “fish and other small gifts.”

Instead, the Post reports that “the tribesmen killed him and buried his body on the beach, journals and emails show.”

The story offers revealing insights from the journal as well as quotes from the missionary’s mother.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: As often happens, the words “Jordan Peterson” in a headline tend to attract attention.

Last week’s No. 1 most-read post was by our editor Terry Mattingly — the piece that he wrote to support last week’s “Crossroads” podcast. The headline on that: “Why is Jordan Peterson everywhere, right now, with religious folks paying close attention?” Here’s a bite of that:

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The Amish population is booming: Could their religion have something to do with it?

The Amish population is booming: Could their religion have something to do with it?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a fascinating story recently about the booming Amish population.

The trend piece — much to its credit — contained a fair amount of religion-related details that gave insight into what the Amish believe.

At various points as I read the feature, I found myself both (1) appreciative that the Post-Dispatch delved into the faith of the Amish and (2) wishing that the newspaper had unraveled the yarn just a little more. 

The lede set the scene:

LICKING, Mo. — The story of abrupt change in this small south-central Missouri town starts with the water tower. A giant baseball is painted on top as a fading reminder of when Rawlings was king.
As sporting goods manufacturing dried up, a $60 million maximum-security prison opened in 2000. The South Central Regional Correctional Center doubled the local population to more than 3,000 people.
“We just try to go with the times,” said Licking Mayor Keith Cantrell. “Whatever happens, we try to deal with it and go on.”
Unlike Rawlings, the prison hunkers out of sight, just west of downtown. Now, another group has settled that also appreciates privacy, only its members arrived under the shade of straw hats and black bonnets.
The Amish, who are undergoing exponential growth, have chosen Licking as one of many new settlements. Facing overcrowding and increased government pressure in more traditional areas, they broke new ground here in 2009, after buying an 800-acre ranch. They bought another large property a few years later.

Big question: Why is the Amish population growing? Hang on to that thought.

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Toughest church-states battles: When faith-healing doctrines lead to children dying

Toughest church-states battles: When faith-healing doctrines lead to children dying

Anyone who has studied the separation of church and state knows that there are all kinds of issues in this field that cry out for compromise -- but compromises acceptable to both sides are often next to impossible to find.

No, I am not talking about LGBTQ issues that pit religious liberty against emerging concepts of sexual liberty.

I'm talking about cases in which the religious convictions of parents -- specifically the belief that all medical issues should be handled through prayer and "natural" remedies -- lead to the death of children. Basically, courts are being asked to draw a line limiting parental rights, when it comes to a contest between faith and modern medicine.

As a rule, state officials are supposed to avoid becoming entangled in matters of faith and doctrine. However, there are limits. Here at GetReligion, I have repeatedly noted that state officials have the right to intervene when cases involve fraud, profit and clear threat to life and health. "Faith healing" cases pivot on whether a religious group's teachings represent a "clear threat" to believers, especially children.

A reader recently pointed me to a massive PennLive.com (Gannett newspapers in Central Pennsylvania) report that ran under the headline: "God's will vs. medicine: Does Faith Tabernacle beliefs put children at risk?"

I want to stress that there is much to recommend in this piece, including the fact that it places debates about Pennsylvania law affecting "faith healing" in the context of ongoing national debates about Christian Science, the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the traditions of the Amish and others. There are places where I would question the wording used by the PennLive.com team, but I still want to salute the research done here.

This piece is way better than the norm on this difficult topic. Here is a long, but crucial passage:

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Horse diapers -- yes, horse diapers -- spur useful Wall Street Journal data dump on RFRA

Horse diapers -- yes, horse diapers -- spur useful Wall Street Journal data dump on RFRA

Headlines don't get more provocative -- or clickable, to use modern lingo -- than this one from the Wall Street Journal (behind its strong paywall): "When Horse Diapers and Freedom of Religion Collide." 

Yes, I wonder if the late Immanuel "Worlds in Collision" Velikovsky would appreciate the humor.

True to its general form of getting the story straight, the WSJ piece sets forth the conflict between the town of Auburn, Kentucky, wanting to keep its roadways clean(er) and the Old Order Swartzentruber Amish, whose theological conservatism precludes diapering horses:

Horse diapers have been thrust into the debate over religious freedom.
Two Amish men in Auburn, Ky., filed a lawsuit last month saying a city ordinance requiring horses to wear equine diapers -- bags designed to catch manure -- violated the ability of Amish residents to exercise their religion.
The ordinance, passed in 2014, broadened an existing law mandating the removal of dog waste in public places. The new law, which the city said was spurred by complaints from neighbors about horse manure, requires a “properly fitted collection device” to be placed on all horses walking on the street.

What could have been an occasion for lowbrow comedy turns out, in fact, to be a respectful and frank discussion of the merits of an ostensible public health law, as well as competing efforts to defend individual religious freedoms -- specifically the free exercise of religion.

Members of the town’s Amish community have refused to comply with the ordinance, saying equine diapers violate the community’s religious standards. That stance has landed many of them in court, or worse.

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'Twas their gift to be simple (and celibate), but now the Shakers are all but gone

'Twas their gift to be simple (and celibate), but now the Shakers are all but gone

If you have studied the history of religion in America -- part of my double-major as an undergraduate and then my master's degree work in church-state studies -- then you will have run into the fascinating movement called the Shakers. Trust me, there is more to these believers than their influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement and, well, L.L. Bean.

The Shakers are in the news right now for reasons that are easy to understand, but a bit harder to explain -- if you care about the details.

The best report I've seen on this topic so far (combining elements of several other news stories) ran last week in The Washington Post with this headline: "One of the Shakers’ last three members died Monday. The storied sect is verging on extinction." It's a solid report, but does contain a very interesting and important hole. Meanwhile, here's some key material at the top of the story:

Sister Frances Carr died at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine, “after a brief battle with cancer,” according to a statement on the community’s website. It continued, “The end came swiftly and with dignity surrounded by the community and her nieces.” Carr was 89.
Carr was a member of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, a Christian group formed in 1747 in Manchester, England. They earned the name the Shakers when critics began calling them “Shaking Quakers” because of “their ecstatic and violent bodily agitation in worship.” ... The Shakers eventually abandoned this particular dancing-style worship, but the congregation adopted the term, according to the Associated Press.
The religious sect moved to the United States when Ann Lee, one of its leaders (known as Mother Ann) who was imprisoned in England for her views, fled to the New World with eight of her followers in 1774. Eventually, the group established its first American community in New Lebanon, N.Y. Slowly, it blossomed into 18 communities across the Eastern United States, including locations in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Massachusetts.

The last remaining Shaker community is at Sabbathday Lake, with two members.

Now, if you know anything else about the Shakers -- other than about their music (think "Simple Gifts") and furniture -- then it is probably a rather logical reason for the movement's decline:

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Washington Post digs into the nitty-gritty of how the Amish offered forgiveness

Washington Post digs into the nitty-gritty of how the Amish offered forgiveness

For those with long memories, Oct. 2 was the 10th anniversary of the massacre of several Amish school children in Lancaster County, Pa.

Lots of news outlets did anniversary stories about the event. As I’ve scanned a few of them, I noticed the Washington Post interview with Terri Roberts, mother of the man who murdered five girls and injured five more.

What I noticed was how the reporter got access to survivors –- and their parents –- that I hadn’t seen other mainstream reporters get. Unless you have major contacts inside such a community, first-person interviews with the Amish are notoriously tough to find.

Yet, here were several such interviews, all on the theme of how do the major players of such a drama deal with each other when the son of one of them has done the unforgivable?

NICKEL MINES, Pa. — A single word in black cursive font hangs above a large double-pane window in Terri Roberts’s sun room. It says “Forgiven.”
The word -- and the room itself, a gift built by her Amish neighbors just months after the unimaginable occurred -- is a daily reminder of all that she’s lost and all that she’s gained these past 10 years.
The simple, quiet rural life she knew shattered on Oct. 2, 2006, when her oldest son, Charles Carl Roberts IV, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse on a clear, unseasonably warm Monday morning. The 32-year-old husband and father of three young children ordered the boys and adults to leave, tied up 10 little girls between the ages of 6 and 13 and shot them, killing five and injuring the others, before killing himself.

The story of how the Amish gathered around the Roberts family is well known. But what happened after that?

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Bracing for Trump, Clinton TV: Are Americans as cynical as the French about morality?

Bracing for Trump, Clinton TV: Are Americans as cynical as the French about morality?

If you hang out with lots of #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary people, either in digital or analog life, you know that one of the things pushing them toward despair right now is the knowledge that in the near future the White House will be turned into a reality TV franchise.

Anyone who lived through the Clinton years (or checked out the book) knows what that was like. And does anyone doubt that -- win or lose -- Citizen Donald Trump will find a way to increase his brand's profile via opinion and entertainment screens large and small?

Can you imagine the lurid advertisements the Democrats could run about Trump's private and business affairs if they were running a candidate other than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

This brings me, logically enough, to that Washington Post feature that ran with this headline: "2016 is the year of the messy private life -- and the year when it no longer matters." As best I can tell, the goal of this story was to ask two painfully valid questions:

(1) Is this the year when Americans finally achieve the maturity of the French and and admit that the moral lives of politicians don't matter?

(2) How are so many evangelical Christians rationalizing their support for Donald "You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass" Trump?

As you would expect, the emphasis is on the second half of that equation:

HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio -- In this deeply conservative part of Ohio, full of cornfields and horse-drawn Amish buggies, people know all about Donald Trump’s two very public divorces, his extramarital affair with a beauty queen who became his second wife and his five children from three marriages.

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Next on religious-liberty beat: Orthodox Jews organize against their former high schools

Next on religious-liberty beat: Orthodox Jews organize against their former high schools

An important intra-Jewish dispute in the New York City area has been featured in parochial papers like The Forward and The Jewish Week, as well as in mainstream local news outlets, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the PBS-TV “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” broadcast.

What happens next? Follow-up coverage should examine a significant religious liberty angle that’s  been downplayed or omitted in media accounts.

Three years ago, graduates of yeshivas operated by the strict Haredim or so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews, including Hasidic groups, founded Young Advocates For Fair Education (YAFFED.org). Their legal advisor is Norman Siegel, former executive director of the New York City Liberties Union. These Jews complain that their limited high school educations left them ill-equipped to support themselves as adults, and demand that the city and state education departments enforce laws on minimum school standards.

Last year YAFFED organized 52 parents, former students and former teachers to send officials the names of 39 New York City yeshivas where, they contended, boys receive inadequate general education. The officials promised an investigation but no progress has been reported. The campaign gained traction this year with two crackdown bills introduced in the state legislature in January and then in May.

Though state law mandates basic course requirements for religious as well as public schools, Haredi leaders strongly resist change, seeking to perpetuate their traditions and protect youths from secular influences. News accounts indicate politicians go along.

YAFFED Executive Director Naftuli Moster and Johns Hopkins University Professor Seth Kaplan co-wrote an op-ed in the Forward titled “Why Do Jewish Leaders Keep Ignoring Ultra-Orthodox Education Crisis?” They pleaded with non-Orthodox communal organizations like the UJA-Federation of New York to take up the cause.

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Generic, very modest Christians walk across America for some vague reason

Generic, very modest Christians walk across America for some vague reason

This is one of those posts where readers really need to be able to see the art that ran with a specific newspaper story, but that isn't possible because of copyright issues.

So let's start off by saying that you need to go take a look at The Denver Post story, the one with this headline: "Family ends hike across America at Union Station on Saturday."

OK, so you surfed over and looked that the photograph. What did you see?

With that in mind, here is the top of the story:

With 45-pound packs on their backs and a lifetime worth of tales, an Alabama family strode in front of Union Station on Saturday afternoon, marking the end of their walk across America.
Cheerfully sporting a broken collarbone, Jennifer Sunde said it was her idea to embark on the American Discovery Trail with her husband, Chris, and 18-year-old daughter, Katlyn.
The trail is more than 6,000 miles long and connects cities like Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs with national and state forests, parks and historical sites. The motive of the trek was to spread love and encouragement to whomever they met along their journey while enjoying the sites.
"We are Christians," Sunde said. "We're told to love one another, so we wanted to show everyone that someone out there loves you no matter your religion, social status, class and so on."

Once again, think about the photo. Again, what did you see?

Describing the family, The Post team went with this:

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