Shunning is a religious practice most commonly associated with the Amish. The Pennsylvania German word for shunning is "meidung," and no one wants to be on the wrong side of a shun!
Another closely related term is the bann (what actually happens to someone when they are shunned, they are banned). Shunning is a form of social punishment where a member of the community is avoided by other members of the church for violating Amish rules and beliefs, known as ordnung.
Jessica Sullivan a doctoral student at Western Michigan University, describes shunning in her dissertation:
The practice of shunning, in both literal and symbolic ways, is intended to stigmatize those who are disobedient and reinforce the moral boundaries within the community for both the deviant and other members. Stated differently, shunning in Amish
society is a type of solitary confinement from friends and family, in an attempt to purify and preserve the Amish faith. Shunning is often applied, then, to members of the community who refuse to join the church through baptism, which is interpreted as a rejection of the community. It may also be applied to those who have been baptized into the church but lost their way (i.e., violating rules), according to the Ordnung. Also at risk are those that do not respect the decision to shun another, which are most often immediate family members of a shunned individual.
Personally, I have come across many different variations of shunning, from strict shunning in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to some Amish that don't shun at all. Some Amish may impose a "weak shun" of just welcoming a transgressor into their home for a meal but seating them at a separate table.
💌 An Act of Love
Shunning is seen as a way to maintain the purity of the community and to discourage members from deviating from Amish values and practices. Shunning can be imposed for various reasons, including disobedience of church rules such as hooking up to electricity, marrying outside of the Amish faith, leaving the church, or engaging in behavior that is deemed immoral or un-Amish.
One Amish man describes shunning not as a punishment but as "an act of love." The hope is that the shun will steer the wayward in the right direction.
Shunning is an act of Love
While shunning can be a difficult and painful experience for those who are subjected to it, it is also seen as a way for the community to uphold its beliefs and traditions.
🕰️ Shunning is Changing
A century ago, or even 50 years ago, shunning was a core element of the Amish church. But as the Amish have gradually changed, so have the Amish views about shunning, at least among some.
Some Amish churches will now impose a shun for just a limited time, like a year. Other Amish churches will not impose a shunning at all if a the person leaves the Amish church to join another Christian church, like the Mennonites or Beachy Amish. I've personally seen this among the Amish of northern Indiana.
And, yes, there are still plenty of conservative Old Order Amish churches that practice full-blown shunning.
❓ Shunning FAQ
Each community is different but if a church member shows genuine repentance and seeks to make amends, most Amish churches have a mechanism for returning someone to the church.
Some Amish, even conservative ones, are not comfortable with shunning and will no shun a family member in some instances.
🗞️ Shunning in the News
Shunning was a big part of the 2012 trial of breakaway bishop Sam Mullet. He imposed shunning on some community members, but other Amish bishops wouldn't honor the shun, viewing Mullet as too extreme. Mullet was accused of lashihg out in revenge by sending followers to attack Amish in other communities.