Perhaps the question should be: do the Amish use electricity? Or will the Amish use electricity? The Amish can use electricity.
An Amish person might run afoul of their church rules if they do, but they can. The Amish are not, like most plain people, by definition, a cult. While the Amish bishop wields a lot of power, they rarely can stop someone from not following a church rule. This is similar to other churches. For instance, a Roman Catholic can use birth control or eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but they would be run afoul of church mandates.
So, back to the original question about the Amish and use of electricity.
💡 Electricity and the Amish
The Amish had been around for almost 200 years before the first electric light bulbs began being perfected in the 1870s. In the 1800s the Amish were difficult to distinguish from other groups based on appearance. Most everyone wore clothing of the era, traveled in horse-drawn carriages, and didn't have electricity. The Amish were seen as an austere group with many eschewing ornate carriage, conveniences, and worldly influences that started to become more plentiful in the industrial revolution.
Most Amish don't believe that there’s anything inherently "wrong" with electricity. Electricity is not viewed as something "evil" or "immoral." Electricity does not violate their "religious beliefs." Instead, it is the items that electricity powers that cause problems with the Amish. For instance, if electricity could only be used to power a toaster, you would probably find a little objection among the Amish!
But electricity can be used to turn on radios, TVs, computers, internet, and all sorts of other taboos. That’s why the Amish turned against electricity and the public grid. Being self-sufficient and keeping the outside world at bay is part of the Amish ethos. The grid brings the outside in, which would not be in keeping with Amish lifestyle.
FUN FACT: Many Amish accepted electricity in the 1800s when it was used only to power lights.
The Mennonites are a much larger and theologically diverse church than the Amish. The most conservative horse-and-buggy Mennonites generally do not use electricity.
As more and more electric-powered objects came about that the Amish found objectionable, they began to pull away from electricity and by the 1920s most had done away with it
Frankly, I like the candles , kerosene lamps, and oil lamps for light better than electric, there's just something very soft and soothing about it. For the Amish, though, it's about maintaining a separate lifestyle from the rest, keeping the Amish way of life intact.
Retired Elizabethtown college Professor Donald Kraybill in his book, The Riddle of Amish Culture: "the Amish are tested daily by the temptations of modern life."
But not all Amish… To this day, several groups embrace electricity in varying ways:
🛋️ Amish Communities That Use Electricity
Old Order Amish
This group uses electricity the least, but I've been to Old Order homes where diesel generators powering an inverted were present. I was able to charge my laptop at one Amish home using this method!
There are a few amish communities that "push the envelope" when it comes to electricity usage. Partridge, Kansas is fairly liberal. The Electric Amish in Kentucky & North Carolina also work off an honor system. You can also expect some New Order Amish to have a device or two connected to a small generator.
This Amish community is more progressive than others, they consider themselves Old Order Amish, but electricity is used in limited amounts to power some basic appliances. (As an aside, this is the only Amish community I've visited where I've met Amish who have attended college...most Amish stop education at the eight grade).
New Order Amish
New Order Amish are a much smaller group than the larger Old Order Amish, but they are more progressive on some issues and items. Some New Order Amish do have electricity, usually using a generator and inverter. This method of electricity limits what can be powered. A generator allows the Amish to cherry-pick which items they want to use electrically and which ones they don’t without being part of the power grid. For instance, you would be highly unlikely to find a television, radio, computer or anything like that in a New Order Amish home, but electric fans are popular in the summer. Electric washing machines are also popular.
The Electric Amish
There are a very small group of Amish living in a few communities in Kentucky and North Carolina known as the Electric Amish (There is also a rock band by the same name, listen to he Electric Amish here). They consider themselves horse and buggy Amish, but have electricity flowing into their home and are selective about how they use it. It’s an “honor system," there’s nothing really stopping somebody from having a television set or computer or a hot tub, but church norms will dictate they don’t, and most follow the church rules. You can read more about the Electric Amish of Crofton, Kentucky here.
☀️ Solar-Powered Amish
Solar power is really catching on in some Amish communities. If you drive through the large Amish community in Grabill, Indiana, or Daviess County, Indiana, or some places in Ohio, you will see many Amish homes with solar panels.
In this way, the Amish can tap into electricity without tapping into the public electric grid. Like a generator and inverter, they can cherry-pick which items they want to electrify. Solar is seen as a more natural, less grid-connected way to get power, especially in Pennsylvania's Pennsylvania Dutch country. So there is an increasing embrace of solar among all groups of Amish, except for the most conservative. Solar-powered electric fences among Amish farmers are popular.
🐝 Electricity Exceptions for Amish Businesses
As a whole, the Amish are a very entrepreneurial culture, and some Amish recognize that they can’t compete with other businesses and workshops without electricity. So in some Amish businesses, especially in tourist-heavy areas, you will find electricity-powering credit card reader machines, lights, automatic doors, farm equipment and any other amenities needed. There are some Amish businesses that will have computers and electrically charged power tools, but when the Amish business owners come home, those items are nowhere to be found. The temptation to let technology creep into the home would probably be too much for many. And Amish leaders as a whole reluctantly accept this dichotomy and passively permit some businesses to tap into public power sources.
🔋 Batteries Use Among The Amish
Of course, batteries are a form of electricity. And in my experience, the vast majority of Amish rely at least on some battery energy sources, the most popular use probably being flashlights. Battery-powered headlamps and weather instruments are sometimes popular also.
So let’s get this back to the original question: can the Amish use electricity? The better question is, do the Amish use electricity? And as you can see the answer is yes. Even the most conservative Amish may say that they don’t use electricity, often overlooking battery sources.