This week’s Quaker video: “You’re a Quaker? You mean, like, Amish?” It’s something all Quakers have heard. Max Carter, professor of Quaker religion studies at Guilford College, tells us about the differences between Quakers and the Amish.
Are Quakers Amish? That’s a question that almost everyone who goes to Guilford College (where we’re filming this today) gets. A number of my students will say when they find out they’re going to a Quaker College, “Will we have to ride a horse? Will we have to give up electricity? Will we have to wear gray?”
What I often tell my students is the main difference between the Quakers and the Amish is that the Amish drive their own buggy; Quakers drive others buggy.
Are Quakers Amish?
The real answer is that there’s a spiritual connection between the Quakers and the Amish. There’s no organic connection between the Quakers and the Amish.
The Amish grew out of the radical reformation, the anabaptist movements of the 1500’s and 1600’s, out of southern Germany, the Alsace area of France and Switzerland in response to the protestant reformation, and a desire to take those reforms further, to create the “true church” of adult, voluntary believers who accept the discipline of the church and associated themselves around the gospels especially and lived out the meaning of the gospels in plainness, in simplicity, in adult baptism, and pacifism, or what they would call “biblical nonresistance.”
The Quakers emerged out of the English Civil War period a century later. Similar desires to restore original Christianity—it was a restorationist movement too—but there’s no organic connection with what was happening on the continent.
How Quaker Used to Dress
The reason so many people make the mistake of equating the Quakers with the Amish is the Amish dress the way that Quakers used to. The Amish came into the American colonies in the early 1700’s on the invitation of William Penn and other Quakers to Pennsylvania for religious freedom. They came as German Peasant stock, dressing like German Bauern would dress, and they looked at their Quaker neighbors and saw them dressing in their broad brim hats and bonnets and plain clothes and said, “works for us.”
The Differences Between Quakers and Amish
But there are very significant differences between the Amish and the Quakers. The Amish, for example, believe in separation from a fallen world. A fundamental theological understanding is to be separate. “Come out from among them and be ye separate.”
Quakers have followed William Penn’s dictate of “loving the world with weaned affections,” to be “in the world but not of it,” so Quakers have not been as separate from the world.
The Amish have a theology that is still fairly Calvinist without the pre-destination. Quakers have a theology that is more open to the possibility of understanding one’s salvation in this life. The Amish will not talk about eternal assurance or the ability to know in this life whether one is in reconciliation with God.
And quite importantly, the Amish do not allow women to speak or have authority in church. Quakers from the very beginning have always seen the spiritual equality of men and women. So if you go to an Amish worship service, which is 3 and a half hours in German, women will not speak a word, unless they’re singing a hymn. There are no women in authority, no women in leadership, and that just isn’t the case among Quakers.
There are also a variety of differences in terms of form. Quakers do not use the outward forms of baptism and communion typically, and those are very central to Anabaptist and Amish understanding. The importance of baptism as a sign of entering into the church as an adult, and the importance twice a year of the Lord’s supper, foot washing as well.