Amish facial hair is notorious for its appearance — a full-grown beard with a clean-shaven upper lip.
For most of the world, this is considered a “different” look. After all, why would you only shave a small part of your face and leave your beard grow as long as it can?
The answer goes back to the founding of the Amish and their views on military service.
In a nutshell, the Amish don’t grow mustaches because mustaches were once a symbol of office in the German military. The Amish are non-violent, and they’ve objected to violence since their founding. Refusing to grow mustaches was a way to distance themselves from military lifestyle.
However, this is only a short answer. There’s also a long answer, which includes a lot more detail and history as it pertains to the Amish themselves.
- The founding of the Anabaptists
- The founding of the Mennonites
- The schism of the Mennonites
- The creation of the Amish
- The traditions of today’s Amish
So if you’re curious, here’s the long answer for why the Amish don’t grow mustaches.
We’ll start in the 1400s with the founding of the Anabaptists.
1. The Founding of the Anabaptists
Anabaptism is a branch of Christianity that is distinct from Catholics and Protestants. Anabaptism’s main point of difference is that its followers are baptizes as adults, instead of infants.
Anabaptism has its roots in 1400s Europe, where radical Christian thinkers laid the foundation for the Reformation in the 1500s.
Once Martin Luther symbolized the start of the Reformation by nailing the 95 Thesis to the door of a cathedral, Anabaptists started to place themselves into the public light more prominently.
Still, Anabaptists never quite garnered the same attention as Protestants. This is mostly because Anabaptists were (and are still) few in number by comparison.
But Anabaptism still attracted its share of followers throughout mainland Europe, particularly in the country of Holland.
By the 1500s, Anabaptism gathered small pockets of devotees. Around that same time, they also faced the brunt of violence that came from splitting from Catholicism and even disagreeing with Protestants — they were persecuted for their beliefs.
And the Anabaptists fought back. Even as Anabaptist followers began splitting from one another and forming their own sub-denominations, they essentially stuck together and struck back at those who struck them.
Then, in 1496, a man named Menno Simons was born in Holland.
2. The Founding of the Mennonites
Menno Simons was born to a small Dutch family with very little money and one chance at a successful life — the ministry.
Simons participated in the Church as much as he could growing up, and he eventually became ordained as a Catholic priest.
His brother, Pietr, chose a different path.
Pietr joined a Dutch community of Anabaptists. Naturally, they were being persecuted, and they answered violence with violence.
One particularly grim day of violence saw Pietr and his Anabaptist peers storming a Catholic monastery. They killed the inhabitants and took it for themselves.
Then, the Catholics took it back. The ensuing bloodshed saw the end of many Anabaptists, including Pietr himself.
Menno Simons received news of his brother’s death at the hands of the Catholic Church and renounced his priesthood. He then joined with the Dutch Anabaptists, became re-baptized himself, and started preaching an even more radical idea than Anabaptism itself — non-violence.
His followers took to it surprisingly well, agreeing with him that the example of Jesus spelled out in the New Testament called them to be peaceful, even in the face of violence.
Even though Menno Simons never called his followers “Mennonites” while he was living, the Mennonites were born.
As time progressed, Menno Simons passed away and his followers were left to find their own path through the world. This resulted in more Mennonite denominations, many of which still exist today.
But there was one denomination that broke away from the Mennonites almost entirely, causing a massive rift in the small church’s European community.
This event is known as “the schism.”
3. The Schism of the Mennonites
Jakob Ammann was born in the mid-late 1600s to a family of tailors. He was illiterate for much of his life, but he was also a devout follower of the Swiss Brethren — essentially Swiss Mennonites.
We don’t know much about Ammann’s childhood because there’s not much about him in general. When he was born, he was just a simple tailor among other tailors, and there was nothing particularly special about him.
Then, he started gaining prominence in his local community of Anabaptists.
While there are few (if any) notes about Ammann directly from his own perspective, there are a number of surviving historical documents that discuss Ammann. Many of them are negative, describing Ammann as a headstrong, problematic individual with a strong emphasis on punishment and a zealous devotion to tenets that he seemed to invent on his own.
This became even more apparent as Ammann reached new levels of prominence in his own community, even when that prominence was in opposition to the existing Anabaptist leadership.
Eventually, the strain became so much that Ammann and his followers migrated to the Alsace region of France, an area that is largely isolated from mainland Europe by mountain ranges and deep valleys.
They eked out a modest living as farmers, but still kept in touch with the greater Swiss Brethren church.
Then, tensions between Ammann and other church leaders reached a boiling point.
In one particularly contentious meeting between Ammann and his piers, a council of 12 church leaders met and discussed the rules of their congregations. Ammann is noted as being exceptionally hardline in this meeting, going so far as to dictate how men could grow facial hair.
His main point here was that no follower of his should ever have a mustache. Mustaches were grown by pompous, proud members of the German military. Ammann wanted nothing to do with them, even in passing association, and demanded his followers to shave their upper lips as a separation from this idea of pride and violence.
Comparatively speaking, this was a minor point of contention during this meeting of Mennonites. But as tensions grew and disagreements intensified, the Mennonite church leaders took a vote to excommunicate Ammann.
Ammann then took a vote to excommunicate the other leaders.
Both sides got up from the table, travelled back to their home congregations, and understood themselves to be a broken church.
Today, this break is called “the schism.”
4. The Creation of the Amish
Technically speaking, “the schism” created the Amish. They were no longer Mennonite, and the Swiss Brethren did nothing to change their customs or names in the wake of the break with Ammann.
So, this is recognized as the moment that the Amish were born.
Free from the contentious ideologies of his religious competitors, Ammann took full reign over his followers and emphasized his most important doctrines. Excommunication (now called “meidung” or “shunning”) and shaving were among those doctrines.
His followers listened, and they grew in number from the sheer size of their families.
Eventually, Louis XIV of France ordered all Anabaptists to leave Alsace under penalty of death. This is the point in history where we lose track of Ammann, but we know that his followers persisted.
Then, over the next few decades, many of them left Europe to cross the Atlantic.
They arrived in New York City and Philadelphia, gradually migrating west. Many settled in the areas that are now central and southern Pennsylvania.
Today, they’re still there — in addition to places like Ohio, Virginia, and Indiana.
5. The Traditions of Today’s Amish
So let’s get back to the question at hand — why don’t the Amish grow mustaches today?
The answer is that the Amish are a deeply traditional, strict, and closed community of individuals whose existence is based on the idea of being “in the world, but not of the world.”
This means that the Amish, by their choice and example, continue to re-live the lives of their forefathers, despite modern conveniences.
One of these examples is the choice to shave their upper lips. At this point, this is done more out of tradition than any pragmatic example. There’s no facial hair that designates someone as a member of the military these days.
However, tradition is perhaps the most powerful part of the Amish way of life. It’s why they have different schools, education requirements, and places of worship.
In other words, Amish men originally didn’t grow a mustache so they could set themselves apart from concepts like pride and violence. Today, they do it because of tradition.
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