Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monroe Beachy: Amish insist on going it alone

AS HOT WIRES LIKE "Religious liberty" and "conscience" flare between religious conservatives and President Obama, there is a another religious issue being played out in the Amish village of Sugarcreek south of Akron. It swirls around the arrest and indictment of one of Sugarcreek's leading Amish citizens, Monroe L. Beachy, a man in his 70s, who has been accused of running a Ponzi scheme that has stripped its investors' savings of $16 million. The victims included charities, congregations and some of his own relatives.

In a lengthy story in Sunday's New York Times, the case details the clash between prosecutors who are sworn to uphold the law, and the Plain Community of Amish who insist their members' faith is being trampled by the insensitive state. They argue that they can privately handle the case in their own way without secular society butting in. It is a classic tale of church and state, which has so dominated the GOP narrative these days.

At stake, the Amish witnesses maintained in bankruptcy court, was nothing less than religious liberty, no matter whether Beachy was guilty or innocent.The Times noted that "many of Mr. Beachy's investors have said in court that it is more important to forgive him than to recover their money." Creditors said the court's way of dealing with the alleged scheme's "downfall could not be squared with their faith or with his."

They further asserted that by leaving the Plain Community to its own protective framework of religious imperatives in the Beachy case, they would achieve "worthy goals that would be less expensive and be based on Christian principles of love and care for the needy and the poor". It also would sustain "religious forgiveness and repair the tarnished testimony and integrity of the Plain Community."

They failed to discourage the prosecution. The Beachy trial is scheduled for later this month.

Meantime, how coincidental this is in matters of faith! I'm sure you can see a certain connection with the argument by the Catholic church and other religious conservatives that faith and conscience trump all else in the lively debate over contraception and other forms of birth control (slide rules excluded, for whatever convenient reason of conscience!).

It will be interesting to see whether Rick Santorum, who is recklessly opting for sainthood if not the presidency in his travels around Ohio for the Republican primary, will take a moment to stop by Sugarcreek to describe his version of America's dictatorship.

Unfortunately, it may take a while for the Alka-Seltzer to settle his nausea over President Kennedy's speech on church and state more than a half-century ago. In mauling JFK's words to serve his own out-of-control jeremiads, it can easily be documented that not even sainthood awaits him. He is, and probably will continue to be, America's most passionate liar.

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