Mennonites and Amish are often discussed as though they are interchangeable, particularly in popular culture.
But their major differences do, in fact, make Mennonites and Amish distinct from one another.
However, this isn’t common knowledge. As a result, many tend to wonder: Are Mennonites also Amish?
In short, no. Amish and Mennonites are different from one another in several key ways.
But why is this question asked? And what are the exact reasons that Mennonites are not also considered Amish?
We’ll answer those questions (and a bit more) in this blog.
First, let’s start by taking a look at the history of Amish and Mennonites to understand why they’re separate.
1. Mennonites Predate the Amish by More than 100 Years
The first reason why Mennonites are not also considered Amish is that Mennonites, as a Christian denomination, predate the Amish by more than a century.
The term “Mennonite” was first used in the mid-1500s to describe someone who followed the founder of the Mennonites, Menno Simons. Mennonites were at first exclusively Dutch, as Simons himself was Dutch and lived in the Netherlands for most of his life.
While this isn’t a 100% definite start to the denomination, it’s at least a good indication that the followers of Menno Simons were gaining such recognition that society as a whole considered them to be their own group.
Conversely, the Amish have a more narrowed beginning date to their group. This is because the Amish began when founder Jakob Ammann made a massive break with the Swiss Brethren, essentially the Swiss version of Mennonites.
This break, called “The Schism” in Anabaptist history, occurred when Ammann had such a vitriolic disagreement with the Swiss Brethren that he invoked his power as an elder to excommunicate the elders with whom he disagreed.
Then, those elders excommunicated him and the elders who agreed with Ammann.
While it’s not completely certain who struck first — although Ammann is noted as being a harsh authoritarian who believed in excommunication as a punishment for even mild infractions — the result was indisputable.
Ammann and his followers were no longer members of the Swiss Brethren.
So they left Switzerland, and soon Ammann’s followers became known as the “Amish.”
The name persists to this day, invoking the surname of a hardline individual who emphasized simplicity as a form of holiness and comfort as a form of vice.
As a result, Mennonites cannot be considered Amish because they’re actually older than the Amish themselves.
Still, this is just one reason why the two denominations are not the same.
Another reason is their belief system.
2. Mennonites & Amish Have Different Beliefs
While Mennonites and Amish are both Anabaptists, their belief systems are quite different when it comes to the day-to-day living of their members.
Mennonites tend to be significantly less conservative than the Amish when it comes to everyday life, even for the more rigid Mennonite denominations that use horse-and-buggy transportation (like the Amish). This is because Mennonite denominations are more varied in their beliefs than Amish denominations.
The most conservative of Mennonite denominations will often wear simple clothing, though still “flashier” than Amish attire. This includes monochromatic undershirts, plaid overshirts, jeans, boots, and suspenders for men. It can also include simple dresses, coverings, and sneakers for women.
On the flip side, more modern Mennonite denominations are practically indistinguishable from conventional society at large. They drive the same cars, use the same Internet providers, purchase smartphones, and more.
The Amish are entirely different.
Amish generally break down into three major denominations, denoted by the colors of the tops of their buggies: black toppers, yellow toppers, and white toppers.
Black toppers are generally the Amish who have somewhat integrated with mainstream culture. These Amish are common in areas like Lancaster, where they may live alongside and interact with non-Amish people. These Amish sometimes also bend the rules of Ammann’s original vision, and they may make use of solar panels, electricity, and even telephones — so long as none of those luxuries are located in their homes (but barns are okay).
Yellow toppers are more conservative, taking extra measures to ensure they don’t use electricity. They almost exclusively eschew modern conveniences that their black-topper kin may utilize, and they often live in more rural and secluded areas than black topper Amish.
White topper Amish are, by far, the most conservative, rigid, and isolated of the Amish denominations. These Amish are so dedicated to lives of simplicity that they refuse to even paint their barns. The men only wear one suspender to keep their pants up because that’s all they need, meaning two suspenders is technically a luxury in their eyes. These Amish truly live off the land, and if they’re far enough removed from conventional society, they may also be the closest to living “off the grid” that you can find in the modern world.
As a result, you can think of Mennonites and Amish in varying degrees of refusing the modern conveniences of the world.
The most worldly of Mennonites will accept most of the modern joys that life offers. More conservative Mennonites may take care to dress more simply or even refuse to drive cars.
The most worldly of Amish is still leagues more conservative and separate from the most conservative Mennonite. The most conservative Amish is, in many ways, living in a different century.
Still, even with this reason differentiating Mennonites and Amish, there’s one more reason that Mennonites cannot be considered Amish — diversity.
3. Mennonites Are Much More Diverse than the Amish
Mennonites and Amish differ significantly in the ethnicities and ideologies of their participants.
Mennonites are evangelical to a certain degree, meaning they participate in global events like spreading their beliefs and helping in major disaster areas.
As a result, there are Mennonites in places like Kenya, China, Afghanistan, Russia, and the United States.
The Amish, on the other hand, are reclusive and “cut off” by the nature of their general beliefs against modern conveniences.
As a result, Amish are almost exclusively white Americans — even when someone makes the exceptionally rare choice to join the Amish church.
This means that Mennonites have a surprisingly rich tapestry of backgrounds and ideas that they trade among one another.
The Amish, on the other hand, are so consistent in their faith, families, and ethnicity that they’re considered “ethnoreligious” — one of the few groups of people in the entire world who are so uniform in their backgrounds that it’s safe to say there is no significant variation among its participants.
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