The Amish & Drugs

National news (1998-99) has brought to the world's attention the fact that some Amish youth have sold drugs at Amish young people's gatherings. While the number of people involved seems very small, the news nevertheless came as a shock to many who felt the Amish live in an isolated, perfect world where everything is ideal. Such a place does not exist, anywhere.

For those of us who know the Amish, this news did not come as a complete surprise. Indeed, there has been talk of the "drug problem" for months among some of the Amish. Many certainly did not realize the extent or seriousness of the problem. Some probably buried their heads in the sand. Like parents everywhere, they were shocked and disturbed. The young men involved, it seems, were not church members at the time. Rumor has it that one of them was not even living at home.

None of this is to belittle the problem. But the Amish do not live isolated from the world around them. There is more and more interaction with the rest of the world. The Amish are not immune from the "world's problems" any more than they are immune from disease or exempt from paying taxes or obeying the law. In fact, some of the Amish were pleased that the law had caught these young men and that they would be punished.

I found of even more interest the reaction of the media. Headlines screaming the word "Amish." Imagine a headline reading "Catholic Drug Dealers Arrested." Even the local Lancaster newspapers checked in with a "humorous column" on the public perception of drugs and the Amish. To their credit, a sensitive editorial was also printed.

TV reporters came to us wanting the "Amish reaction." I told them it was probably about the same reaction any parents or community have. Some of the sleazier TV news magazines, frustrated that no Amish would talk to them on camera, supposedly asked some local people to dress up as Amish and comment on the situation.

Jay Leno on the Tonight Show had several comedy sketches on the Amish drug lords, playing off America's stereotypes of the Amish.

"What was the worst Amish crime until now?" Jay asked an "Amish police chief."

"Cow-jacking," replied the fake Amishman.

The Amish, I believe, are deeply saddened that something of such seriousness and concern to them has become the subject of jokes and comedy sketches. What kind of reaction would Jay Leno get if he joked about young people dying from drug abuse in America's cities?

So my concern is more in the way the rest of us reacted to the Amish drug story. Some of us wanted to believe that the problems in our society could never invade the "ideal" Amish world we imagined. (Perhaps some of the Amish believed this as well.) But our illusion was shattered.

The sad fact is that we wanted to project onto another group of Americans our hope that family values, morals, and religion do still exist in some corner of our land. If our society has to look that hard to find a glimmer of hope, then we have a much larger problem than the Amish do.


Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou (1998)


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