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.
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.
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.