Premiering on PBS February 4, 2014. What is it like to be cut off from your faith and your family? The Amish: Shunned follows seven people who have chosen to leave their closed and tightly-knit communities for the outside world, knowing they can never return. Each has paid deeply for their decision. Estranged from loved ones, these former Amish find themselves struggling to make their way in modern America.
To the Amish, shunning is an essential tenet of their faith, a way to maintain the strength and viability of a tight-knit community, and a way to help protect them from the onslaught of modern culture. Forms of shunning vary between different groups of Amish, and even between families, but the practice exists to remind church members who break their vows of their disobedience in the hope of winning them back. It is an agonizing decision for parents, relatives, and friends to sever ties with loved ones whom they believe to be eternally condemned after having made the decision to leave.
Many who leave face challenging obstacles: no birth certificates or social security numbers, language barriers since English is not their primary language, and the lack of a support network in the outside world. Young people who leave know that their families will disapprove, and some, particularly from stricter communities, run away without saying goodbye to avoid a painful confrontation. They shoulder the burden of knowing their families will wake up to an empty room and the realization they may never see their child again -- in this life or the next.
In 2012, American Experience presented The Amish, an in-depth look at the history, beliefs and traditions of the insular religious community. But that film barely scratched the surface of the concept of shunning, one of the faith's defining characteristics and most controversial practices. Having spent two years building trust with several Amish people in various communities, the producers of The Amish set out to find individuals whose stories would portray the breadth and variety of shunning. What they found was that the reality of shunning was much more complicated and heartbreaking than they could have imagined.
Revealing the pain of those who leave and the suffering of those left behind, The Amish: Shunned is the story of people confronted with difficult choices. Whether out in the world for weeks or decades, the former Amish people featured in the film struggle to create a new sense of community. Interwoven with their stories are the voices of staunchly loyal Amish men and women who explain the importance of obedience, the strong ties and traditions that bind them together, and the heartbreak they feel when a loved one falls away. Through its sympathetic portrayal of both sides, the film explores what is gained and what is lost when community and tradition are exchanged for individuality and freedom.
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