James Cats spoke to about 50 mental health and social service professionals Thursday at the Safety Net Clinical Conference in St. George.
Safety Net was established in 2003 by attorneys general Mark Shurtleff, of Utah, and Terry Gadded, of Arizona, to address the isolation created by mutual suspicion between authorities and polygamists.
According to Cats, just as there are Mormon sects with different practices and beliefs, so are there different “perspectives” among the Amish, who live in 27 states and two Canadian provinces within 1,570 congregations.
“The world is also second place to the Amish,” said Cats. “They know it’s out there, but they want to keep it at a distance.”
The largest and most orthodox Amish group is known as the Old Order. He said they take pride in being considered a “peculiar” people, shunning technology, preferring work over consumption and tradition over change, and put church and community above self.
“Suffering and martyrdom are important parts of living,” Cats said. “Riding a buggy keeps people close [to their community] and is more difficult. Life is supposed to be about suffering; they expect it.”
He said the Amish distrust of outsiders breeds suspicion of authorities, including providers of mental health and social services.
He suggested that providers working with such groups try to maintain a presence in the community and identify willing partners while taking a “faith-acceptance” approach.
Allie Darger, a plural wife and member of Independent Fundamentalist Mormons, said she sees many similarities between splinter Mormon groups and the Amish.
“Among fundamentalist [Mormons], there is a diversity and difference of beliefs, and like with any cultural groups, stereotypes exist,” said Darger, who lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, who has two other wives.
She said many polygamist Mormons don’t talk much about the lifestyle and that can lead to stereotyping, isolation and fear of authorities.
Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said progress has been made through the Safety Net program. Some polygamists now disavow the practice of marriage of underage girls, for example.
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