Amish Grace & Pop Culture

Film depicting Nickel Mines shootings questioned (Cindy Stauffer, Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, 03/01/2010) ran frontpage in south central PA the day after Donald Kraybill, one of the authors of Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, spoke for the Emerging Scholars Network in partnership with Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ (click here). If you are unfamiliar with the Amish and you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to begin by

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher (Jossey-Bass, 2010).

How should followers of Christ respond to this popular culture depiction of the Gospel, academic research, and a minority group which desires as a people of God to be separate from popular culture?

Should we

  • contend that certain forms of media can never do justice to events/material such as what is found in Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy
  • post comments on the film’s website and other locations which encourage dialogue
  • stand up against what appears to be a misuse of film rights to the title of a well researched book, it’s content, and those whom it represents
  • turn the other cheek by neither entering the public fray nor watching the film
  • watch/discuss the film
  • watch/discuss the film only after we’ve read up on the Amish or are led in consideration of the film by someone who can provide insights regarding the Amish
  • seek to produce more films/documentaries closer to the facts/truth, e.g., The Amish: Back Roads to Heaven (which ends with a brief summary on the Nickel Mines tragedy), The Amish: How They Survive, The Amish: A People of PreservationThe Amish (American Experience)
  • other?

Note 1: InterVarsity’s work with Christian scholars in South Central PA did sponsor a showing and discussion of The Amish (American Experience) in partnership with the Elizabethtown Public Library. It was our privilege to have Donald Kraybill, who served as an adviser to the PBS program, take questions regarding not only film production and content, but also others regarding the Amish and the Nickel Mines shootings. Thank-you Donald!

Note 2: Amish Grace on IMDB.

Revised: 11/11/2013, 10/23/2014, 8/6/2016

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Devin Thomas commented on March 5, 2010 Reply

    Tom: Most of David Weaver-Zercher’s work on the Amish focuses on how the minority group is mediated / appropriated / otherwise used by dominant North American cultures, whether for intellectual, aesthetic, or economic gain.

    I’m said that Dave (by virtue of the fact that they’re adapting his own book) won’t be able to weigh in on the adaptation of “Amish Grace” by Lifetime TV. Having not seen the movie, I’m tempted to make a few observations, but I’ll limit myself to one.

    There’s an ancient phenomenon called palimpsest wherein manuscript pages or scrolls from an early book were scraped clean and used again. Although the purposes was to remove ALL of the original ink, some of it still remained, leaving a shadow of the original beneath the new.

    I think that’s what’s happening here, with the TV movie “Amish Grace” — we’re taking a story that’s largely without an “English” storyline and writing our own story upon it — a story that’s all about how to forgive in the midst of a tragedy like this, when that’s not even close to the dominant narrative that played out for the Amish that the film supposedly depicts.

    The authors of the book talked with a number of Amish people after the tragedy, specifically about HOW they could extend grace and forgiveness to someone who so coldly took the lives of their children. All the Amish seemed confused by this question: “You mean some people actually thought we got together to plan forgiveness?”

    That’s clearly not the route the movie takes — which, in my opinion, is fine (at least on one hand), since it teaches us a lot about how dominant North American cultures are still trying to wrap their heads and hearts around this completely Other form of living.

    However, I’m concerned that — like most major network or Hollywood adaptations of religiously themed material — that the Lifetime film will eviscerate any reference to Anabaptism and especially the radical nature of Christ’s call.

    Sorry to have written a novel!

    Angela commented on March 22, 2010 Reply

    Having watched the film for review and interviewed the executive producer, I think you should watch & discuss the film.

    Will it present Amish theology & doctrine accurately? No. That’s not possible within the scope of 2 hours or 200 hours. Films are not meant to teach doctrine, but to entertain – in this case, with a purpose.

    The purpose of the producers? To let the world see that this extraordinary act is what Christ really mean when He taught His disciples to pray “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    Let’s celebrate the fact that this story is being told on national television, and that it will air many times, and perhaps those who have a hard time with forgiveness will find the courage to do the hard, but right, thing.

  • Tom Grosh commented on March 23, 2010 Reply

    Devin and Angela, Thank-you for your feedback!

    Angela, I’ll be hosting a film discussion of “Amish Grace” and would love to read/watch your film review and interview of the executive producer. Would you mind posting the link and/or forwarding it my direction?

    Question: Part of the film discussion will explore ‘the purpose of film.’ If it’s ‘solely’ to entertain, is it able to accomplish (or should it attempt to accomplish) the laudable purpose of the producers, “To let the world see that this extraordinary act is what Christ really mean when He taught His disciples to pray “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.””?

    Thomas B. Grosh IV commented on April 5, 2010 Reply


    Amish Grace is now available on-line at

    Devin Thomas commented on April 6, 2010 Reply

    That’s a good question, Tom. Some of my co-workers were discussing the film today. I tried to explain to them (having not yet seen the film but having gleaned — I think — a great deal from trailers, various reviews, etc.) what the filmmakers are doing: placing in the mouth of an Amish character the frustrated questions and angry, vitriolic words that were often uttered by the “outsiders,” the English who stood beyond the peculiar religious community without understanding.

    To my knowledge, the Amish didn’t ask these kinds of questions or utter those words, reared in a community where such radical forgiveness is part and parcel of living in obedience.

    These observations, to my mind, raise again the question posed by Tom above: what was the PURPOSE of the filmmakers’ posturing in this way? Why choose an adaptation style that places the questions of outsiders in the mouth of a (supposed) insider? To generate empathy? To give more weight to the questions and objections?

    I doubt that a viewing of the film will resolve these queries for me, but I look forward to conversing with Dr. Kraybill and others. Thanks, Tom, for providing both of these forums to continue this fascinating discussion!

    Micheal Hickerson commented on April 7, 2010 Reply

    I’m just guessing here, but a standard strategy for mass-market movies and books about unfamiliar cultures is to create a main character who stands in for the audience. That’s why children and journalists appear so often as protagonists: they voice the “entry level” questions that the audience is expected to have about history, culture, practices, etc., without interrupting the plot for straightforward explication. Perhaps the producers thought that the mainstream audience couldn’t relate to a main character who didn’t express those emotions and questions.

    Placing those words in the mouth of an Amish mother doesn’t seem to have gone over well, though – perhaps the main character should have been Dr. Kraybill! 🙂

    Jon Daley commented on April 26, 2010 Reply

    I had heard about this story, but hadn’t heard about the criticism of the movie.

    (note, I think the movie just has two more days on mylifetime, if you’ve been procrastinating)

    Our family watched it the other day, and it did inspire some good questions and discussion with our children.

    I liked the scene in the corn field the best, where there was at least one good quote in the conversation between the leader of the community and the reporter.

    “conditional forgiveness is not forgiveness at all”.

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