by David Weaver-Zercher
Originally published as an Op-Ed piece in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sunday, October 8, 2006.
When I first learned of the Nickel Mines school shooting, two hours after it occurred, I quickly went online. The news reports were still sketchy at that point, and were sometimes simply wrong (were there six dead, or were there three?). The shooter had not yet been identified, even in general terms. Who was he? What could possibly be his motive?
As the news reports grew more detailed, the killer’s identity emerged: Charles Carl Roberts, a local truck driver, a father of three, a non-Amish person. It was then that I realized something significant about my own thought processes to that point: not once had I entertained the notion that the shooter might be Amish. It’s not that I hoped he wasn’t Amish. It’s rather that it didn’t even cross my mind that he might be, an assumption rooted in my close acquaintance with Amish people and culture, in particular their commitment to nonviolence.
To be sure, the Amish commitment to nonviolence shows occasional cracks and fissures. Domestic violence marks some Amish households, self-violence (suicide) tracks near the national average, and cases do exist in which Amish church members actually committed murder. But the Amish appetite for violence pales in comparison to that of the larger world—and I’m not just talking here about Muslim jihadists.
The Amish predisposition toward nonviolence predates the work of Mahatma Gandhi by 250 years. The Amish would be quick to note, however, that even they didn’t invent the notion. They would refer you instead to Jesus Christ and his willingness to suffer at the hands of his enemies. They might also quote some of Jesus’ words: his Sermon on the Mount (“whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”); his matter-of-fact assertion about his followers (“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight”); and his prayer from the cross (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”).