reviewed by Bill Klein
On October 2, 2006, a man shot and killed five school girls in a small crossroad town in Nickel Mines, Pa. The recent book Amish Grace was occasioned by that terrible event. I heard about the book from something Bill Moyers said during a PBS program. Moyers said he rarely comes across a book he cannot put down. Amish Grace fell into that rare category and moved him deeply. That was recommendation enough for me.
You may remember news of the children being shot to death. What you probably remember most about the horrible tragedy, though, was the forgiveness that came immediately from the Amish community.
Family members of the murdered children paid a visit that very day to the widow of the killer, offering her care and concern. Members of the Amish community attended the funeral service of the murderer, brought food to his family, sat with and prayed with them.
The public was puzzled by this behavior and by their immediate forgiveness. Being formed by a culture that nourishes revenge, few people outside the Amish community understood why and how they could forgive so quickly. Journalists claimed the Amish were cold and callous — that their lack of any instinct to seek revenge was just another sign they were a deranged cult.
What few people realized was that habitual forgiveness is at the heart of Amish culture. People wrongly assumed that if the Amish forgave then that undid the tragedy or pardoned the wrong (p.181). It did not. Their pain was as deep and real as anyone would experience in such a circumstance. But for them forgiveness is a habit learned from earliest childhood. It is rooted in the wonder of God’s forgiving love in Christ Jesus. They forgive because it is how people loved by Jesus behave. It is convicting to realize the Amish are puzzled by Christians who use faith to justify rage and revenge rather than allowing faith to inspire goodness, forgiveness, and grace (p. 183).
The authors point out that Amish culture is not perfect. They spent some time exploring the fairly common practice of “shunning,” wondering if and how it may relate to forgiveness. Not everything about Amish life is pleasant. But their forgiving attitude bears careful study on our part.
Bill Klein is pastor of Lexington Church, Lexington, Va.