Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

October 2, 2007

Authors describe Amish faith, forgiveness

One year ago today, a Nickel Mines, Pa., man walked into an Amish schoolhouse, took several young girls hostage and then shot them, killing five and seriously wounding five.

Immediately after that event, three men who have studied various aspects of Amish life were receiving calls from the media.

In the following days, questions turned from the usual lifestyle of the Amish to questions about faith and forgiveness.

And now the three men — Goshen College professor of history Steve Nolt, David Weaver-Zercher, associate professor of American religious history at Messiah College, and Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at Young Center of Elizabethtown College — have written a book that explores why forgiveness is a necessary part of faith for the Amish.

“Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy” is focused not on the Amish themselves but on how their faith in God requires forgiveness — a central belief of the Amish.

“The Amish folk, whomever we interviewed, didn’t want the focus placed on them,” Nolt explained. “There was a message they wanted communicated.”

And the message is that to be forgiven, God’s people must first forgive.

“From the Amish standpoint, the centrality of forgiveness is their whole way of life,” Nolt said. “Theologically, they believe their forgiveness by God is dependent on forgiving others.”

Kraybill said, “I was surprised that the Amish were surprised by the forgiveness (element of the) story. They didn’t understand how distinctive their style of forgiveness is.”

The Amish community forgave the gunman, Charles Roberts IV, and embraced his family. Amish families attended Roberts’ funeral, offered help to his family and even channeled money to them.

And according to the authors, not forgiving was never a question for the Amish.

Zercher-Weaver, a 1979 NorthWood High School graduate, said that what makes forgiveness seem easier in the Amish community is that forgiveness is part of their communal life. “They all work together to make forgiveness a possibility,” he said.

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