Each Amish church generally has its own Ordnung, or set of rules, which dictates the dress code, behavioral rules, and accepted technologies for that church and its members. Among the Amish, when it comes to comparing the Ordnungs of different churches, there is a concept of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’. A relatively conservative Ordnung or church is said to be “low” and a relatively liberal Ordnung or church is said to be “high”.
When it comes to accepted technologies, some Amish churches allow electricity in the home and others don’t. When it comes to dress code, some Amish churches require the ladies to wear brown and black, while other churches allow them to wear brighter colors. When it comes to behavioral rules, all Amish churches ban divorce, abortion, and military service. Most of them ban civil lawsuits, birth control, and higher education.
An Amish church that does not allow indoor hot water plumbing may decide to put that technology up to vote. If they decide to accept the technology then the church has gone ‘higher’. While it does happen that an Amish church goes ‘lower’ it is more common for them to go higher.
We can think of it as a vertical scale with a dress code on one side of the scale and the accepted technologies on the other side. We can ignore the behavioral rules in this case because they are fairly uniform among the Amish. Some technologies and dress codes are traditionally higher on this scale than others. For example, an Amish church is more likely to approve the use of cellular phones than to approve the use of computers so in this case the computer would be higher on the scale.
The line between Old Order Amish and New Order Amish, and the line between New Order Amish and Mennonite aren’t really clear cut. While the image below is not completely accurate, it gives you a reasonable idea of the technological differences between New Order and Old Order Amish, and the relative position of the various technologies on the scale.
A church that bans indoor hot water plumbing is considered to be fairly ‘low’. A church that allows the women to wear bright clothing and allows church members to have electricity in the home is considered a pretty ‘high’ church. This same implicit scale is often used to distinguish Old Order Amish from New Order Amish from Conservative Mennonites. The line between Old Order and New Order is somewhere between bicycles and home phones and the line between New Order Amish and Mennonites is somewhere between electricity and cars.
Non-Amish are commonly known as the “English” but they’re also called “hoch” (high, singular) and “hoch-ee” (plural).
The Amish position on dress code and acceptance of technology is based primarily on two Biblical virtues – modesty and non-worldliness. Since the Bible does not specify exactly the dress code, or how one should be different from the world, each Amish church decides what is an acceptable dress code and which technologies are to be used and which are to be shunned. That’s why you have higher (more liberal) churches and lower (more conservative) churches among the Amish
While the higher Amish might tend to think the lower Amish are making things unnecessarily hard on themselves, and the lower Amish might tend to think the higher Amish are slipping off the right path, the terms ‘high’ and ‘low’ themselves are generally not used in a derogatory manner. Wow that was a long sentence. I added these last two sentences only because apparently a single sentence does not a paragraph make.