Amish leader’s ‘burden’ to reconcile with the Jewish people

Bishop Ben Girod leads a ‘repentance mission’ to Israel to seek forgiveness and show support.

AMISH COMMUNITY elder Ben Girod 311 (photo credit: David Davenport)
AMISH COMMUNITY elder Ben Girod 311
(photo credit: David Davenport)
Late last year, a delegation of 45 Amish community members from the United States and Switzerland paid an unusual visit to Jerusalem to present to Israeli government and rabbinic leaders a declaration of repentance for the movement’s historic disregard for the Jewish people and its silence during the Holocaust.
Led by community elder Bishop Ben Girod, the group shed the traditional Amish rejection of modern transportation in order to make the visit and offer the statement of contrition and of support for modern Israel.
Handwritten in calligraphy on a special parchment, the declaration is considered by Girod the most important document issued by his Church in some 300 years.
The Amish came out of a pietistic Protestant movement know as the Anabaptists (re-baptizers), which arose in central Europe during the Reformation and also included the Mennonites and Hutterites. These religious communities were persecuted by the larger established churches for their faith and their application of the Believer’s Baptism, rather than reliance on infant baptism.
Many of their number emigrated to America in the 19th and 20th centuries due to its greater respect for religious liberties. Today there are an estimated 250,000 Amish in several rural communities scattered across the US, with some “New Order” Amish more amenable to modern technology while preserving the movement’s separated communal lifestyle and high moral standards.
Born in Indiana in 1944, Girod grew up in a conservative Amish congregation near Bowling Green, Missouri. In 1981, he had a dramatic encounter with God which radically changed his life. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and began challenging his fellow Amish to open up to the mainstream Evangelical move of God in our day, including the growing phenomenon of Christian support for Israel.
Girod has written of this experience in his book Baptized by Fire: The Gethsemane Way. But his message met resistance from more traditional elements within the Church. Today, he is an elder of an Amish community near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where he also heads the ministry “Anabaptist Connections,” working to heal and reconcile historic wounds and divisions shaped from past traumas in the Amish and Mennonite movements.
The declaration submitted by Girod and his fellow travelers asked forgiveness for the movement’s historic acceptance of Replacement theology and “for our collective sin of pride and selfishness by ignoring the plight of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.”
The document also states that the Amish will now “bless” and speak out strongly in support of Israel and the Jewish people.
The Christian Edition recently asked Girod to further expand on his efforts to bring about a historic change in the Anabaptist movement’s approach to Israel.
‘Christian Edition’: In your own narrative, what is the history of the Amish movement? How did it spring up and what were its main beliefs?
Girod: The Amish movement, beginning with Jacob Amman, had its emphasis on an outward mode of worship, a serious deviation from the original waters from which our early Anabaptist forefathers drank. Because we have lost the fire of evangelism, we have become the quiet in the land today. Even though we are internationally esteemed for our beautiful craftsmanship, we have become spiritually ineffective.
What is the history of the Amish movement’s interaction with the Jewish people of Europe and then America? Were your predecessors’ attitudes and theology philo- Semitic or adverse?
To my knowledge, there has historically been no Amish-Jewish interactions. The Amish have, rooted in their belief system, a deep-seated anti-Jewish attitude which may not always be verbally expressed, but it will be found if one searches it out.
Some of the small Protestant movements which emigrated from Europe to America, such as the Pilgrims, identified with the Jewish people as a fellow persecuted minority and adopted the ancient Israelite concept of a covenant community. Was this the case with the Amish as well?
No, not at all.
Did the Amish study their Bibles in Hebrew in that era, as did the Pilgrims?
No, the Amish never studied the Hebrew language.
Why did your branch of the Amish movement issue a declaration of repentance on your recent visit to Israel? When and why did your reconciliation efforts with the Jews start?
This has been a personal matter with me, after having encountered the Lord in 1981. I eventually discovered our serious error [regarding] our anti-Jewish attitudes, after which I carried for many years this burden, not knowing nor understanding why I was given this burden, especially after seeing I could not find any Amish nor Mennonites who would share my views.
When I finally took this leap of faith, in January of 2010, to assemble a group of Anabaptists to go to Israel on a repentance mission, I was showered with Divine favor in not only having others prepare the connections for us in Israel and Jerusalem, but God opened my eyes to numerous individuals among both Amish and Mennonites who carried the same vision, some of whom had also carried this same burden.
How important is this change in position to your particular following, and how is it being received in the wider Amish movement?
It is so important that without it the Amish nation will be at risk for God’s judgment on them. There is an awareness being spread abroad of our wrong Jewish attitudes; the scene is changing, albeit slowly.
How pervasive is this awakening to biblical Zionism within the broader Anabaptist movement?
It has enough influence to inflame the outspoken anti-Jewish proponents, which only serves to give [this awakening] more fuel where many are taking a closer look at it.
Does your support for Israel include recognition of the enduring nature of the land-promise to Abraham and his descendants?
The two cannot be separated.
Do you support Israel’s right to self-defense? If so, how does that reconcile with the traditional pacifism of the Amish movement?
The original Anabaptist position was nonresistance, not pacifism – a big difference when defined correctly. Yes, I support Israel’s right to defend itself.
Some in the Mennonite movement have veered away into very liberal positions and social activism, including pro-Palestinian advocacy and even dialoguing with figures like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What is your view on these trends?
This is extremely disturbing, for it also reveals just how far we have fallen from God’s perspective of the whole issue concerning the promise coming through Abraham for our day.
To deny the Jews is in essence denying the promise – something they [liberal Mennonites] have been blinded to, resulting in their arrogant support for the terrorists.
Many mainline Protestant denominations are now divided along liberal and conservative, Evangelical wings, with the former usually being more pro-Palestinian and the latter more pro-Israel. Are the same dynamics at work in the Anabaptist movement?
Shockingly, yes!
How do you see the future of the Amish movement evolving?
This question would require a book to fully answer it. Suffice it to say, however, that the future of the Amish, inclusive with the Mennonites, looks more promising than at any time in recent generations. An awareness of our fallen state blankets the whole Anabaptist nation these days, causing many to review our past and how it is affecting our actions today. This will now also include our Jewish connections.