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Companies Convince Amish to Sign Away Drilling Rights

I recently ran across this disturbing story by Claire Thompson on Grist.org about how fracking companies exploit a theological loophole in the religious tradition of the Amish.
“Energy companies in eastern Ohio – home to the world’s largest Amish population and billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas reserves – have been convincing Amish farmers to sign away drilling rights to their land for far less than they’re worth,” Thompson writes, “knowing that because their religious tradition frowns on lawsuits, the landowners will have little recourse for justice once they realize they’ve been duped.”

Lloyd Miller, an Amish farmer in Ohio, responded to being tricked by a Kenoil agent into selling drilling rights at pennies on the dollar by saying, “He’s got to live with his conscience.”

This response probably jars our modern sensibilities. We want to fight for the Amish, taking up their cause for them and finishing this story the way it’s supposed to end – with the bad guys getting what they deserve.

This story has me pondering on a number of levels.

First, the Amish willingness to embody a way of life counter to the modern world is both unsettling to us and revealing about our own commitments.

It’s not just their “primitive agriculture” or shunning of technology. It’s also their willingness to reject many of the assumptions and agreements that make modern society and economics function.

It begs the question, “How much are we just playing along with the way the world does things? What kingdom are we really a citizen of?”

There is something about their willingness to endure the consequences of their principles in a world that doesn’t share those values from which we could certainly learn a lot.

The other aspect of this story is the ecological relationships and consequences.

The Amish have shunned industrial agriculture for different reasons than those in the local food/sustainability movement. Yet, because of their choices, they maintain a close relationship with the land.

I’m not sure how explicit the connection is for the Amish between their theology/spiritual practice and the connection to the land. I know for Low German Mennonites the choice to form agricultural communities was primarily one of economics – how to maintain their particular culture/faith in isolated communities.

So, the theological commitments of the Amish lead them in some sense to live closer to the land, even if unintentionally, and also makes them vulnerable to unscrupulous practices of those who don’t share their values.

This is an uncomfortable position. It seems too vulnerable, idealistic and unrealistic.

Humans are sinful. Don’t they know that?

Yet, in many ways, this posture toward the world is very similar to Jesus as he approaches the cross.

His unwillingness to compromise with the powers, both religious and political, meant that Judas and those that were unsettled by his theological and idealistic commitments took advantage of him.

In other words, it got him killed, and we should expect the same suffering for our commitments.

Just as with Jesus’ death, the commitments of the Amish reveal something about the world that does not share those values.

A world bent on violence kills the Prince of Peace. An economy and social structure bent on profit and domination will oppress and take advantage of those who are weaker.

Just like the Roman Empire, the true nature of these companies is revealed when it encounters the immovable force of one who not only refuses to submit to the system which perpetuates injustice, but also embodies another way of living in the world.

Lucas Land is an urban farmer, graduate of Truett Theological Seminary and a member of Hope Fellowship, an intentional Christian community in Waco, Texas. He blogs at What Would Jesus Eat?, where a version of this column first appeared.