A 26-year-old Amish man has been charged with sexually assaulting five underage girls in Missouri and Wisconsin, including a cousin of his, authorities said Tuesday. Chester Mast, of Curryville, Mo., was arrested in late May after authorities were contacted by members of Pike County, Mo., Amish community, an “Old Order Amish” community that shuns such amenities as electricity, phones and cars. Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte said Tuesday that Mast sexually assaulted four girls in Missouri and one in Wisconsin who ranged in age from 5 to 15 years old. Two of the Missouri girls were Amish and two weren’t, and the Wisconsin victim was his cousin, who is Amish, authorities said.
Jim Hill of Zwingli Redivivus compares this to the more commonplace scandals among evangelicals and Catholics. That’s not completely fair, since Mast doesn’t seem to have occupied any formal position within the Amish church. There aren’t many such positions, but that’s the point: this is not a case of a formal church structure being used to perpetrate crimes against minors or to cover them up.
In fact, it’s rather remarkable that the community gave Mast up at all, considering the vaunted Amish belief in forgiveness. That’s never been as simple a belief as outsiders would like to think, but still. Either this is the tip of an unsavory iceberg, or Mast had been repeatedly warned and not changed his ways.
The unfortunate, almost paradoxical, flip side of forgiveness in a closed community is that can be used to perpetuate wrongdoing. Too often malefactors will rely on forgiveness to escape consequences for their actions, again and again and again. It takes a strong community intentional about protecting the vulnerable among them to avoid that trap.
It is again unfortunate, but perhaps true, that the Amish don’t always live up to that standard. It is often said (without any more than anecdote to back it up) that molestation is rampant in Amish communities. To say that the Amish haven’t dealt with the situation adequately isn’t to point a finger at them so much as to point out something that needs to be repeated early and often: they are a lot like the rest of us, more so than we—or they—sometimes understand.