In the Amish world, beards are the equivalent of wedding rings.
When a man gets married, he stops shaving his beard entirely. It grows for the rest of his life to show the longevity of his marriage.
But this begs an important question — what if an Amish man can’t grow a beard? The short answer is that this isn’t a problem because an Amish man’s marriage isn’t about growing a beard. Instead, it’s about not shaving.
To understand this difference, we have to take a look at the founding beliefs of the Amish as a group.
Understanding Amish Beards
In the 1600s, a strict, headstrong, and illiterate Swiss Mennonite named Jakob Ammann broke with the Swiss Brethren denomination and in what was known as the “schism.”
This schism permanently separated Ammann and his followers from the larger Mennonite and Anabaptist communities of Western Europe at that time.
The schism ran so deeply that Ammann and his followers left to the Alsace region of France, where they settled to be far away from the church that they helped fracture.
Ammann was famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for hardline beliefs that railed against the sin of pride, which is also considered the sin from which all other sins arise.
This included strict rules against what followers could do and wear, in addition to what they should believe.
Even before the schism, one particularly contentious view of Ammann’s stated that men should not shave their beards — ever.
The idea behind this belief was that your beard grew as a consequence of you being a man, so it was part of God’s intent that you grew a beard.
Shaving it, then, was a sin.
This trail of logic — even with the many leaps it takes from point A to point B — is still the foundational concept for why Amish men don’t shave their beards after they’re married.
(Interestingly, the Amish oppose long hair on the head of men, which sounds paradoxical to their support of long beards. But that’s for another blog.)
Compared to the extremism of Ammann’s other beliefs, which included the excommunication of liars, the social shunning of excommunicated individuals, and a general theme of sexism, Ammann’s anti-shaving stance wasn’t a point of contention or controversial in any significant way. It took a back seat to many other beliefs that Swiss Mennonites in particular found to be exceptionally offensive or egregious.
Then, once Ammann and his followers split from the Swiss Brethren, Ammann introduced more guidelines for beards. These included appropriate beard styles.
(Again, this sounds contradictory since styling a beard requires a sense of awareness and effort in your appearance, which is basically a sense of pride.)
This is also the time when Ammann rolled out strict regulations on dress, detachment from the rest of the world, and an embrace of a lifestyle that refused modern conveniences.
So, in other words, the concept of an Amish beard was one of many beliefs that got rolled into one, enormous split with the Swiss Mennonites.
However, even with the statements on the appropriate styling of a beard, the wording and ideology around the beard itself is not about growing a beard.
It’s about not shaving a beard.
That means that in the rare event an Amish man doesn’t grow a beard successfully, it’s not as big of a deal as it may seem.
As long as he’s not shaving, he’s following the strictures of his faith.
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