By David R. Wheeler, special to CNN
(CNN) - Like many congregations, The Mennonite Worker Community of Minneapolis held a worship service and picnic this Fourth of July - but instead of extolling the virtues of America, they called attention to its faults.
The annual service is “a sort of anti-patriotic holiday,” says Mark Van Steenwyk, whose community focuses on simplicity, prayer and peacemaking. Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is out. Reflecting on the contradictions between the gospel and the American Dream are in.
“We thank you, O God, for the good things we enjoy in our lives," reads a prayer the Mennonite community recites each year, "but lament that our abundance has brought destitution to sisters and brothers throughout the Earth.”
Anti-patriots like Van Steenwyk say their movement, which has grown more vocal in recent years, is simply an honest way to read – and live out – Jesus' teachings on nonviolence. But it's hard to look at groups like The Mennonite Community and not see an implicit criticism of God-and-country cheerleading by mainstream Christians and ripples of centuries-old church-state tensions.
A leader of a breakaway Amish community in rural eastern Ohio was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of community members, Court Clerk Robert Pitts said.
Sam Mullet Sr. and 15 followers were found guilty last year of conspiracy to violate federal hate-crime law in connection with what authorities said were the religiously motivated attacks on several fellow Amish people.
Prosecutors said the 15 followers, at Mullet's instruction, shaved the beards and cut the hair of Amish people who had left his group over various religious disagreements. Five attacks happened in four eastern Ohio counties between September and November 2011.
By Jason Hanna and Mallory Simon, CNN
Sixteen members of a breakaway Amish community in rural eastern Ohio, including its leader, were convicted of federal hate crimes Thursday for the forcible cutting of Amish men's beards and Amish women's hair.
Sam Mullet Sr. and the 15 followers were found guilty of conspiracy to violate federal hate-crime law in connection with what authorities said were the religiously motivated attacks on several fellow Amish people last year.
The verdicts were read in U.S. District Court in Cleveland following several days of jury deliberation and a trial that began in late August, a U.S. attorney's office said.
Editor's note: For more on the trial, check out CNN affiliate WOIO-TV in Cleveland.
By Tricia Escobedo and Chris Welch, CNN
(CNN) – Federal prosecutors are expected to argue that an Amish sect leader, accused of orchestrating beard-cutting attacks against fellow Amish men, was operating a cult out of his family compound in rural Ohio.
The sect leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., is one of 16 Amish men and women charged with federal hate crimes in the beard-cutting attacks last year. The trial began Monday with jury selection in federal court in Cleveland. Mullet and several of his sons, who were arrested in December, are among those on trial.
To the Amish, a beard is a significant symbol of faith and manhood.
Prosecutors have said the accused men and women, all members of Mullet's breakaway Amish sect, planned and carried out the attacks "on their perceived religious enemies" under Mullet's orders. CNN has sought a response from Mullet's attorney, Edward Bryan. Bryan has disputed the prosecution's characterization of his client, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
By Chris Welch, CNN
Bergholz, Ohio (CNN) - Aden Troyer hasn't figured out precisely how he'll tell his daughters – now 4 and 5 years old – why they're growing up without a mother.
"I've kind of held back a little bit because they are so young, and I do not want to depress them," he said from his home in north-central Pennsylvania.
Troyer, his ex-wife, Wilma, and their two children are part of the Amish faith, which includes living a simple life free of the conveniences of the modern world, like electricity and motorized vehicles.
But what happened to the Troyer family is anything but simple.
Troyer believes that he and his wife were lured into a cult made up of breakaway members of the larger Amish community near Bergholz in rural eastern Ohio. He said it was – and still is – ruled with an iron fist by his former father-in-law, Sam Mullet, a man who Troyer and others say is anything but a typical Amish leader.
Bergholz, Ohio (CNN) - Members of the Amish community in eastern Ohio are the subject of a federal investigation following a wave of Amish-on-Amish incidents, FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson confirmed to CNN Wednesday.
Five men have been arrested and charged with kidnapping and burglary stemming from an incident at the home of Myron and Arlene Miller in early October in which the group of men pulled Myron out of the home by his beard, held him down, and cut off large portions of the beard. An Amish man's beard is a significant symbol of his faith.
By Kim Hutcherson, CNN
(CNN) – A group of Kentucky Amish men would prefer to do jail time rather than violate their religious beliefs, which they say forbids the placement of bright orange safety triangles on the backs of their buggies.
The orange triangles are required on all slow-moving vehicles, according to Kentucky state law.
Nine men in the western part of the state have refused to use them. They belong to the Old Order Swartzentruber Amish.
According to court documents, this sect follows a strict code of conduct, called Ordnung, which "regulates everything from hairstyle and dress to education and transportation." They believe that displays of "loud" colors should be avoided, along with the use of "worldly symbols." Swartzentruber Amish believe such symbols indicate the user no longer trusts fully in God.
By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - It's old world meets new.
An Amish man driving a horse and buggy was arrested this week in Indiana for allegedly sending lewd text messages to a minor.
Forget the arrest part for just a minute. Horse and buggy? Mobile phones? Texting? These images don't seem to mix, especially since the common wisdom about Amish people is that they eschew virtually all technology - including electricity, which of course, you'd need in order to power a mobile phone.
But for people like Eric Brende, a tech expert who left a PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to spend more than a year living in an Amish community in the Midwest, this kind of thing - again, minus the sexting part - isn't surprising at all.
Brende, author of the book "Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology," says the Amish do use technology frequently.
They just consider gadgets on a case-by-case basis.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.