March 23, 2012
Why Amish chose to forgive their Madoff
Monroe L. Beachy pleaded guilty last week to defrauding more than 2,700 individuals and organizations to the tune of almost $17 million. He’s looking at up to 20 years in prison.
Beachy was a prominent member of the Plain Community in Ohio’s Amish country. While his investment fraud was a Ponzi scheme, like Madoff’s, The New York Times reported that it looked nothing like the house of cards that was Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities:
Why the different treatment? The distinction can’t be only that Beachy was a leader in his community—Madoff was too. There seems to be a religious motivation behind the Amish reaction, but the NYT doesn’t explore it.
As a religion reporter in Southern California, I didn’t have much opportunity to report on the Amish. Los Angeles has the bright lights; the Amish eschew electricity. So I lack significant knowledge on the topic, but my sense is that forgiveness is central to Amish religious practice, maybe even more so than it is in Christian theology.
Think back to the 2006 Amish school shooting. The community response was not condemnation and retributive justice but forgiveness—and fast. As recounted in “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy”:
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that Beachy’s swindle didn’t cripple his community just like Madoff’s did. But, it seems, the Amish believe that the damage would be even greater if they didn’t quickly forgive Beachy and try to move on.