Amish people in North America are recognized by their beards and bonnets but those symbols rarely make headline news.
All that changed this fall in Ohio when some malicious Amish men attacked several Amish bishops in their homes at night and sheared off their beards. In Amish land the beard is a symbol of adult manhood. All men are expected to grow one when they are married. Even bachelors will begin sprouting a beard if their chances of marriage look slim.
Church leaders cite various Old Testament Scriptures (Leviticus 19:27, 21:5; II Samuel 10:4,5; Isaiah 7:20; Isaiah 15:2, Jeremiah 48:37) as well as the example of Jesus as reasons for raising a beard. One Amish church manual admonishes men to wear a beard, “because God created us that way and to differentiate in a very positive way between men and women.” Older men tend to grow long beards with little trimming. The Ohio attacks were assaults on the personhood and the religious identity of the victims. A shorn beard is shameful and not easily regrown.
The “barbers,” members of a renegade Amish group, deliberately targeted leaders in the mother settlement who had spoken out against the shocking behavior of Sam Mullet, their maverick leader. Mullet had been estranged from the large Holmes County Amish community about 15 years ago and moved his followers to a remote area of Jefferson County in eastern Ohio. In recent years Mullet has clashed with local law enforcement several times. Members who escaped his cult-like group have reported sexual abuse and physical violence against adults who disobeyed his orders. The FBI is now reportedly investigating the attacks.
Amish on Amish violence is very rare. In fact that label is hardly appropriate for these beard-cutting incidents because Sam Mullet’s behavior contradicts basic Amish teachings especially those regarding retaliation and violence. He also maintains no ties with other Amish groups. Typical of cult leaders, he demands complete obedience and considers himself invincible not only from his followers but from the law as well. His use of “religion” and the Amish label to justify behavior has shamed and embarrassed thousands of decent Amish people across the country.