The Ban and Shunning

Erik had a great interview with author Ira Wagler at his blog, “Amish America.” Ira is originally from Aylmer, Ontario, grew up in Indiana in the 1980s, and made the decision to leave the Amish as a young man. His book Growing Up Amish was recently published.

Amish Bonnet

One of the issues addressed in the interview is the practice of the ban and shunning. While most people associate these practices with the Amish, they are similar and probably derived from discipline and excommunication as practiced in the old churches, which includes mine, The Anglican Communion. The Book of Common Prayer is quite clear about excommunication. A priest may impose the ban of the altar on any parishioner who is unrepentant. The most prominent reason for excommunication is lack of charity with others, that is, a refusal to reach a reconciliation in a broken relationship. It was also imposed for those who are “notorious livers,” those who flagrantly engaged in a life of sin. This used to be interpreted as those who have intimate relationships outside marriage. The church isn’t as strict now about couples living together without benefit of clergy. The ban is more likely now to be imposed on someone who has caused a rift in the church, or on clergy who have been disobedient to the bishop. For clergy, usually just their license is removed and they may continue to attend church and receive the sacrament as a lay person. I’ve never known anyone to be refused the sacraments, but that is the purpose of the ban. It is meant for their own salvation, that they do not receive unworthily, i.e., unrepentant.

I am currently ex-license myself; the bishop did not approve of our decision to remarry, nor of the circumstances under which that happened. Despite our attempts to keep our private lives private, and despite our attempts to avoid behaviour that would lead to scandal, things were said in our communities that were speculative and untrue. If you have ever had false witness (gossip) spread about you, you know how much this hurts. It’s as if you have lost control of who you are in the community. This is why gossip is equated with murder by some of the ancient Christian writers; it murders a person’s ability to live and work in their home community. Gossip dresses up innocent people in outrageous garb, masking their own personality and efforts. The real scandal is that this became a scandal, and we left parish ministry because of it. I am calling it unfair and unjust, because it was.

Edward VI's Book of Common Prayer

The one difference between most bans and where I am now is that while Nicholas was angry and hurt, and wanted to leave the church at least for a while, I did not. (This led to another issue with the Anglican Church.) Although I was hurt by the gossip, devastated by the loss of my license, and could easily have become irrevocably bitter, I wanted to stay in the church. I wanted reconciliation and reunion. But I did not disobey my husband when he chose to take comfort in his former fellowship among the Orthodox. As much as I appreciate Orthodoxy, I could not renounce my priestly ordination. The Holy Spirit is never wrong.



15 thoughts on “The Ban and Shunning

  1. What can I say? I empathize with you. One of the main reasons I found the Anabaptist tradition so appealing was its powerful focus on simplicity. Still, life is not simple and what simplicity there is remains a foretaste of something fuller. I am divorced and Mennonite. My wife Anna is Roman Catholic. As a result of marrying me Anna can’t received Communion in her own church. The circumstances of the breakdown of my first marriage were excruciating. punitive ‘discipline’ and malicious gossip, exercised behind walls of secrecy.

    It is a strange paradox that as Christians we are called to be people of peace, yet the disciplinary mechanisms we use to preserve the ‘bond of peace’ are frequently less than peaceful. The use of coercive discipline in complex issues of relationships and painful breakdown is entirely counterproductive. These days, I am less inclined to pass judgement, but I think enjoy greater liberty as a result.

    God bless you Magdalena. Shalom, phil

    • Thank you for your kind words, Phil. The reaction of our church to divorce was horror and distancing, rather than pastoral care and empathy. I really should write a book on divorced clergy someday. We are expected to keep up appearances even as our spirits may be assaulted and wounded in a disfunctional relationship. Part of the problem in the Anglican church is a difference in opinion as to whether marriage itself is a sacrament. Thus “what God has jpined together let no man put asunder.” Bu thow do we know the God has joined these people? What if it is a mistake, a deception, an error? That is what annulment used to be about, but now, at least in the RC communion, annulment is a legal process, usually expensive. Anglicans don’t seem to know what to do with it, although, simply, it is the decision of the bishop that a marriage was undertaken in error.

  2. Magdalena,

    This is heartbreaking to read. In our own parish some years ago, there was a dearly loved minister, widowed his first marriage, and divorced from the second. the hierups /disciplinary procedure required him to set aside his role in active ministry. I cannot imagine how much of a double blow this would have been upon him in light of his other losses. From the anicdotes of my bible study leader, the gentleman displayed a graciousness, humility and faithfulness that I cannot imagine possible in light of what he must have been going through. He remained dearly loved by the parish, and many of the old timers remained in contact with him; he was often called to speak at functions etc in a lay capacity. has written some very thought provoking articles on the subject of marriage breakdown and how this plays out with all concerned, the members of the couple, their brothers and sisters in faith, their children, the role of the pastor and provision of sensitive, prudent pastoral care, the problems of side-taking and gossip etc. as one commenter has already stated, the mechanisms in place to sustain peace within the body are oft less than peaceful to say the least. I’ve several thoughts upon the double standards practiced by the Church in North America – gay clergy, yes? clergy who have survived marriage breakdown, no? Hmm… but something seems wrong with this picture to me.

    Massive reform seems in order tha the following are developedt

    1. pastoral hierarchical sensitivity re instances of marriage breakdown suffered by clergy
    2. the distructive results of gossip addressed and put out there front and centre; – that passage in the book of Ecclesiasticus – ‘many have fallen by the sword but many more have fallen by the tongue’ comes to mind, not to mention the fact that gossip, party intrigue and backbiting are right up there in the NT alongside murder, idolatry etc in terms of serious sin.
    3. Properly and clearly defined legislation concerning annolment, accessibility of and to this legislation, clear understanding of what it is and how/instances in which it can be executed, No fine print, breeches of confidentiality or onerous financial expense.

    We need to stop compounding the hurt inflicted upon sons and daughters of Christ in the name of doctrinal and procedural orthodoxy.



    • Oh my goodness, does the church ever need to effectively address this issue! Supposedly it is all in the hands of the bishop, but most bishops don’t want to burdened by it. The Anglican church here tried to set up a matrimonial commission, so any remarriages had to be reviewed and approved. This was largely ineffective. Most people found it too invasive. I know I could have sat down over a cup of tea with a trusted priest, and discussed the issues of why a previous marriage had ended, but for my private information to be written down and reviewed by a committee would have been horrific. And for clergy, to have a colleague one barely knows read that information is quite off-putting.When I told the bishop why my marriage to my ex-husband was ending I was so embarrassed I had to close my eyes and not look at him. (Before anyone gets scandalized, it was not something I did, but a choice he made with which I could not be expected to agree as a Christian wife.) When I left active parish minsitry, the matrimonial commission had been dissolved and it wa sup to the priest officiating the marriage to be satisfied as to the suitability of the remarriage. But we certainly need more training and guidance on it! I think we need to develop a theology of marriage and family life.

  3. Id like to invite everyone to read a blog post today of a woman who joined the old order Mennonite church from the outside. I’m extremely lucky in publishing her very first, and most likely last post on Amish Stories. A lot of work was involved in her getting permission to be even able to write anything on the internet, and permission was given by her bishop. So please stop by and read about a woman who gave-up her car and other worldly possessions for the person that she loved. Richard from Amish Stories.

  4. I was raised an RC, but my first husband wouldn’t marry in the church, so we were married by a justice of the peace. I had no spiritual awareness at that time and I was barely 18 and extremely ignorant. Especially in what to look for in a husband and what to be as a woman and wife. We divorced 5 yrs later and 2 yrs later I married my present husband. We were married by a Methodist preacher, but as time went on I began to wake up spiritually and I was concerned about my relationship with the RCC and God. Notice I did not say it the other way around, but I was at least on my long journey to the Truth. So, early in our marriage we tried the RCC again, and asked to be married in that church. My family was close to a priest who specialized in divorce and remarriage and he said we had to have an investigation by the church, including questioning our ex spouses, if they could be found. We submitted. First of all, I was not considered to have ever been married, as they did not recognize my first marriage. My daughter from that marriage was, well, evidence to them of my sin. So, I was free to marry according to the RCC, and eventually they said my husband was free to remarry because he had never been baptized and neither had his first wife. That was the “loophole” they came up with. Baptism = member of church, no baptism = no member. Nothing about a person’s true spiritual condition. So, my husband spent 6 months studying with a priest to join the RCC and then we were remarried when I was 6 months pregnant with our second child. The priest who married us complained bitterly to us that he disagreed with our being allowed to be married, but he said it was not up to him. We had to have confession before we married and I was told I had to confess how many times I had sex with both husbands. It was very unnatural this confession. Anyhow, we just could not connect to the RCC for reasons we could not understand then. We soon began to be pulled to a Quaker meeting and to reading the Bible, about which, I knew very little.

    • It seems that the church turned what should be have a joyful and affirming moment for you and your husband into a legalistic burden. The priest should have chosen to pass your marriage ceremony to someone who wanted to do it; he was using the occasion to make a point at your expense. I don’t knopw about the RCC, but Anglican priests have always had the conscience clause – we don’t have to officiate weddings if we think the couple should not be married. (This can be carried to ridiculous lengths, with priests refusing baptisms of a baby because he/she doesn’t think the couple should be together, or that they are living in some way he/she finds unacceptable. Some of the more conservative priests will not attend the ordination of a woman, or join in the eucharist if a woman presides.)

      I am not saying that there can’t be standards and procedures for reconciliation within the church, but they need to be pastoral rather than punitive. As for asking about your sex life – that was so out of bounds. I would have answered, “None of your d**ned business!” First, your previous marriage would be considered irregular, but not illicit; and all you were asking for in terms of the second marriage was a blessing for what the state had already allowed. Second, from a celibate, such a question is only going to appear prurient. If there were any suspicions in his mind that you needed to confess something about your intimacies, he should have asked something along the lines of, “Is there anything about your intimate relations that make you uncomfortable?” You could then say as much or as little as you felt appropriate. Confession is for your benefit, not to stasify a legal requirement. I know some RCC priests will disagree and say I don’t know what I am talking about, but I studied theology in a major Catholic university, and I do know what I am talking about here.

  5. I never went through an annulment for the very reason that I didn’t want to stand before a Tribunal and be subject to the questions of celibate bishops and priests savoring over the gory and prurient details of one’s sex life. There is no use in that. If I were ever to be RC again (which would be never) I wouldn’t have to worry about an annulment because that man has since passed away 11 years ago.

    • Somehow, it does offend one’s modesty, doesn’t it? I could discuss the marital problems with someone I knew and trusted, but no modest woman wants to stand in front of some men she doesn’t know and talk about something so personal. I think one of the problems with the matrimonial commission here was they expected everything to be presented in writing, following their format. Howver, this is a province with a functional illeteracy rate of at least 50% of adults. If the couple were willing to present their case, there was a good chance that the priest would have hours of extra work helping them prepare. They met only a couple of times a year, as I recall, which meant you might have to submit your application up to nine months in advance of the wedding date.

  6. Did you make that bonnet?

    Didn’t you say there were some theological tensions with your Bishop, but that since resolved? I may be misremembering this.

    I thought Nicholas went from Anglican to Quaker. Did he stop in Orthodoxy, or do you mean “Orthodox” as in an Orthodox Anglican?

    • I made about ten bonnets a month ago! Are you needing photographs or an actual bonnet? Let me know; I’m happy to send a bonnet to you, or photos. Theologically, the bishop and I are very close, but politically, there are still issues. And of course that drives me crazy, because I am not a political person. I have that ridiculous simplicity of mind of the highly intelligent, so I suppose I am only interested in what is Truth, not in how it plays out in the marketplace. Nicholas was Orthodox for several years, when he lived in Ontario, before he was received back into the Anglican Church, and for about a year after we left our parishes, he went back to Orthodoxy. It was not successful, and I think he considers himself more Quaker than anything now, although we are a long way from an organized Meeting. The English church, despite its forced allegiance with Rome, has always been a separate, Orthodox Church. Kings and archbishops wrangled over the nature of the relationship to Rome for about five hundred years, until Henry VIII, who was educated in theology and church history, finally had enough power to say to the Pope, “Enough.” I know his interest in setting aside one wife for another gets all the attention, but it was a long-standing issue between the crown and the see of Rome.

  7. The priest who made me confess was saying that my sexual activity with both my first and second husband before this ceremony was fornication. He didn’t ask me any details, just how many times did I fornicate – like I knew! He felt the church was making excuses for us to marry. Catholicism in practice differs from area to area and most catholics don’t know much at all, if any, about all those by laws ( 1600 or so, can’t remember exactly.). I was taught every single day from 6 yrs old until 17, but in those early years especially. We had these cathecism books we had to memorize and we had an hour of catholicism crammed down our throats every day. And I remember almost none of it. I have an excellent memory and can remember many things at even age 2 and 3. I think God blocked it out!!

    • Joanie, I didn’t want to even give those clergymen a chance to ask anything: details or otherwise. I also was a product of the Catholic Church and the Catholic education system, which included catechism.

    • I’ve been holding tha tin prayer lately. I do feel I am still called – I just need a place to exercise that call.

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