Can a New Layer of Leadership Save Sectarian Practice? A Decentralized Denomination’s Experiment with a Central Committee
Institutional conflict, Conference, Division, Internet, Divorce and remarriage, Woman’s head covering, Boundary maintenance
The Beachy Amish-Mennonite bishop committee was established at the 1991 annual ministers’ meeting as a conservative response to uncertainty about religious practices across the denomination. The committee was tasked with developing 18 concerns from the meeting into a denomination-wide standard of practice. While majority support was forthcoming for this statement, leadership from some influential, moderate congregations worked against the committee for two reasons. First, the congregation’s leaders wanted a think tank-style advisory committee, not a committee that made and enforced regulations. Second, these congregations feared being ousted due to eventually falling out of conformity. Due to this opposition, the committee began rotating members and the initial goal of a standard of practice was lost, except a prohibition against television and radio that was ratified in 1999. The committee was an institutional focal point that allowed conservatives and moderates to express their goals, and when the moderates gained control, some conservatives took independent initiative to establish a constitution, to which congregations voluntarily adhered. This eventually turned into the Maranatha Amish-Mennonite and Ambassadors Amish-Mennonite denominations.
An earlier version of this paper received second place in the graduate school class for the Mennonite Church USA’s Historical Committee’s John Horsch Mennonite History Essay Contest in 2010. A truncation of this version was then published in the Historical Committee’s bulletin as the following: Anderson, Cory. 2011. “Congregation or Conference? The Development of Beachy Amish Polity and Identity.” Mennonite Historical Bulletin 72(1):12-15.
Anderson, Cory. 2019. "Can a New Layer of Leadership Save Sectarian Practice? A Decentralized Denomination’s Experiment with a Central Committee." Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 7(1):54-99.