Rumspringa is one of the most well-known qualities of Amish life. Because of TV shows that play off of the ideals of Amish beliefs, rumspringa has gone from being an arcane concept to a socially understood rite of passage in Amish life.
But what is rumspringa exactly? What does it allow? Why does it exist? And most importantly, does it have an impact?
We’ll answer those questions and more in this post.
Let’s start with what rumspringa is.
What Is Rumspringa?
Rumspringa is a time in the life of an Amish teen when they get to experience things outside the normal boundaries of Amish strictures.
This could be nearly anything that they are typically not allowed to do. Often, it tends to include the typical teen experimentation with alcohol and marijuana.
But aside from this, it could also mean experiencing driving a car — although not on the road — or using modern technology like laptops.
The entire point of rumspringa is to give an Amish person the ability to see what the rest of the world has to offer.
Then, once it’s over, the rumspringa participant gets to make a choice — stay Amish or join the rest of the world.
Most Amish choose to stay. This choice may happen for a variety of reasons, but all of them can boil down to one main point.
Choosing to leave the Amish means leaving your friends, family, and finances behind.
In that respect, we have to ask another question — is rumspringa fair?
Is Rumspringa Fair?
This question requires two answers because there are two ways of looking at it.
First, we can look at rumspringa on paper. A proposition that allows an Amish teen to choose whether to stay in the community or leave for the world is a fair proposition.
After all, the Amish are Anabaptists, and Anabaptism is based on individuals choosing to join a denomination.
In practice, however, this answer changes.
In practice, rumspringa is at best an empty gesture and at worst a strange display of what life could be like if someone decided not to be Amish.
But the catch is that the person in question already has friends, family, and money in the Amish community. Choosing to leave, even after rumspringa, results in excommunication or shunning — called meidung.
This means the excommunicated can no longer see, speak to, or otherwise engage with friends or family.
In other words, the excommunicated is entirely alone.
This is made even more complicated by the fact that the person experiencing rumspringa is already out of school by Amish standards. Amish learn until eighth grade, and then they’re relegated to their families to help work.
This means an ex-Amish person enters the non-Amish world with the equivalent of a middle school education — often worse.
In other words, rumspringa absolutely allows Amish teens to choose whether to join the church or leave.
But if they choose to leave, they have no home, money, support, or even education required to live in the modern world.
There is some level of forgiveness available. Depending on the community, someone who opts to leave the church may be eligible to return within a certain timeframe.
But this is not a 100% guarantee for every community. And even so, the end result is the same — meidung.
In practical terms, that’s not a choice at all.
That leaves us with a final question: Who chooses to leave after rumspringa?
What Makes an Amish Person Leave after Rumspringa?
As we’ve noted up to this point, the choice to leave the Amish church after rumspringa is an enormous, impactful decision.
It not only guides an individual’s life, but it also affects the friends and family of that person in an irreversible way.
So if the side effects of rumspringa are so bad, what has to happen for an Amish person to choose to leave?
One possibility is to embrace the side effects of leaving the community. Amish teens may disagree with their community and its bylaws just as much as a non-Amish person disagrees with their own religion or upbringing.
While this may not always lead to meidung, it could. This is especially true if the Amish person in question is aware of what may await them on the other side of excommunication.
Another possibility is a history of abuse. While the Amish are known for their mild manner and a general quaintness, they’re still an insular society — and that comes with all of the negatives about insularity as well.
Amish communities have been shown to have rates of abuse that would make it reasonable to posit that an Amish teen would leave, given the opportunity.
However, this probably isn’t likely in the more rural areas with an Amish presence. Believe it or not, Lancaster PA is one of the more integrated areas with an Amish presence. There are more rural spots with far, far fewer people and, as a result, fewer options.
If these two options sound extreme, it’s because that’s the kind of choice it would take for someone to truly leave the Amish community and endure the effects of meidung.
If someone weren’t feeling an extreme need to leave the Amish way of life behind, then they probably wouldn’t.
They would probably stay and follow in the footsteps of their family.
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