Sunday church service in Amish country is more than just triggering hymns, reading biblical passages, and coming home an hour later for a football game or a nap.
It’s an all-day affair: a host family welcomes church members (between 20 and 40 families) into their home to worship them and have fellowship with each other from morning till night. The church is a fortnightly activity; each meeting takes place at a member’s home and is a key ritual in the Amish community that values communication in person.
New research from sociologists at the University of West Virginia suggests that this face-to-face interaction, along with mistrust in preventive medicine, led to an “excess of deaths” among the Amish population in 2020.
This year’s mortality rate rose above the reference average from 2015 to 2019, with the largest rise (125%) in November.
The researchers, led by Rachel Stein, an associate professor of sociology, analyzed obituary information published in an Amish / Mennonite journal to examine excess deaths in this segment of the population by 2020. Their findings are published in the Journal of Religion and Health.
“Taking several years of historical data, we can create an average death rate,” explained co-author Katie Corcoran, an associate professor of sociology. “By 2020, when the pandemic began, we identified the number of additional deaths that occurred above this average. We call the excess deaths.”
The team stressed that these deaths may or may not be directly related to COVID-19; however, the excess mortality rates among the Amish / Mennonites reflected the general waves of COVID-19 infection in the United States. Researchers did not access official death certificates (which do not indicate religion / faith) and obituaries usually did not have the cause. death.
The information was taken from The Budget, a weekly correspondence newspaper published in Ohio aimed at the Amish and Mennonite communities.
Stein, who grew up in the Amish country, decided to explore the impacts of COVID-19 after noticing many community members not practicing social distancing at the onset of the pandemic. In addition, the Amish do not use modern technology, such as electricity, and tend to distrust preventive medicine, lifestyle choices rooted in their culture and religion.
“There has been a lot of minimization of the severity of COVID,” Stein said. “There is the perception that COVID is like the flu. If people get sick, people get sick and eventually get over it.
“I don’t want to convey that not all Amish take COVID seriously. This is not true. There are certainly groups of Amish who perceive COVID as a real problem and have had affected people affected by it.”
The law of God surpasses the law of man
Co-author Corey Colyer, an associate professor of sociology, sees the team’s findings through the intersection of religion and government guidelines.
Colyer believes that policies set by government entities can leave behind a bad taste for members of religious communities who have a history of persecution.
“Mandates banning the church can counterproduce,” Colyer said. “We picked it up in letters to The Budget. Amish, Conservative and other Anabaptist menishites have collective memories of persecution.”
Colyer explained that when the Anabaptists were formed in the Counter-Reformation, they were heavily persecuted and even rounded up and executed in Europe.
“When this pandemic hit and the state banned worship, they didn’t take it lightly,” Colyer said. “They don’t see it as a ‘babysitting state’ or a government that goes beyond its limits. They see it as persecution. Any attempt to reduce practice and religious gathering interferes with their sacred affairs.
“When states intervene and say,‘ You cannot come together for the Church, ’” they say, “Well, there is the law of man and the law of God. We will follow God’s law. “
The study suggests that, in general, many groups complied with government guidelines that limited religious meetings to March and April. But many resumed church services in the summer.
When government restrictions eased further in the fall in Ohio, it was when investigators observed the largest rise in excess deaths.
The next few days, weeks and months will remain problematic from a public health standpoint in these communities, as most members will not practice social distancing or get vaccinated, the research team said.
The researchers stressed that the Amish should not be distinguished. Its methodology could be applied to the study of other religious groups and the impacts of COVID-19. They noted that in some countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, Muslim and Christian obituaries can be clearly distinguished. There are also Jewish newspapers in the United States and around the world that report on obituaries. An unrelated study (Connelly, 2020) showed how COVID-19 decimated a Jewish community.
In the end, all human beings, regardless of race, religion, or creed, can succumb to the virus.
“COVID does not respect doctrinal boundaries,” Colyer said. “Many of the Amish believe that God will protect them. Evidence suggests that COVID does not care if you are Amish or English, Christian or atheist. The consequences are the consequences.”
University of West Virginia
Citation: Research finds “excess deaths” in Amish and Mennonite communities during pandemic (2021, June 23), retrieved June 23, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-06-excess- deaths-amish-mennonite-pandemic.html
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