Hutterite bishops are crying foul over a new show on the National Geographic Channel that they say distorts their community and way of life.
"American Colony: Meet the Hutterites" is the name of the reality series and while it aims to provide a glimpse into an otherwise private community, Hutterite leaders say much of it is contrived.
"What was promised by the producers to be a 'factual documentary' is, in fact, a distorted and exploitative version of Hutterite life that paints all 50,000 Hutterites in North America in a negative and inaccurate way. Scenes and dialogue were contrived resulting in a 'make believe' depiction of how we live and the spiritual beliefs we cherish," Bishops John Stahl, Peter Entz and John Waldner said in a statement Thursday.
Hutterites share a common ancestry with the Anabaptists, along with the Mennonites and Amish. They share many of the same beliefs and doctrine but where the Hutterites differ is their belief in sharing their possessions.
The show focuses on one of nearly 500 Hutterite Colonies – the King Ranch Colony in Montana which is made up of 59 people, almost all of whom are related.
But considering the Hutterites are a very private community, it was a surprise that the show's creators were able to get access at all.
Mary-Ann Kirkby, author of I Am Hutterite, told The Christian Post that it was "without doubt, a coup that show creators were able to film Hutterites at all."
"The creators chose to go directly to the King Ranch Colony to seek permission, rather than the proper channels of requesting such from the Bishop," she said. "By the time the Bishop found out about the proposed show, the creators had a signed document of agreement from the King Ranch Colony Manager."
With a signed contract, the creators threatened legal action if the colony pulled out, according to Kirkby. They thus worked out an agreement with the creators agreeing to "accurately portray" the Hutterites.
The show began airing on May 29 and so far, the bishops aren't happy and believe the show is in "serious breach" of contract.
"We're very upset," Entz from Canada told CP.
The bishops initially trusted the National Geographic Channel, considering "its stellar reputation." But they now feel "betrayed."
"We are deeply saddened by the skewed image with which the public may now perceive the Hutterite faith and way of life. It is distorted and damaging," they stated.
Kirkby specified how the show has inaccurately portrayed the Hutterites:
- hunting scenes with guns (Hutterites are pacifists)
- the excessive bad language and disrespect for elders
- the fake council meeting, held in the dining room instead of the church with no minister present and inappropriate topics and structure to the discussion
- in the last episode about a Canadian wedding … the wedding was imaginary, according to sources at King Ranch colony. The underage teens were supplied with alcohol under the guise that they were in Canada where there is a lower drinking age. In addition, the dialogue and scenes regarding dating outside the colony was fiction with a real lack of thought given to any sort of accuracy.
"The situations are very contrived and staged and having spoken with Hutterites on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian border, they do not recognize themselves nor relate to the situations seen in 'American Colony,'" Kirkby said.
The bishops admit they're not "perfect" and do face many challenges. "Nevertheless, our vision is to live meaningful Christian lives in community as Christ has instructed us to do."
So who exactly are the Hutterites?
"Simply put, the Hutterites are the finest and most successful example of community life in the modern world," Kirkby stated. "Hutterites are a very private people group. Because of their adherence to the biblical admonition 'be ye in the world, but not of the world,' few outsiders have ever been privy to the details of the Hutterite way of life."
The Hutterite community began with Jacob Hutter, who was part of the Anabaptist movement. His vision was based on the New Testament book of Acts 2: "And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need."
"Our history began 500 years ago on a dusty path in Moravia during the reformation when a handful of refugees put a rugged blanket on the ground and placed all of their possessions on it including everything they were carrying in their pockets," Kirkby explained.
"For years Hutterites were not allowed to have pockets to symbolize the common ownership of goods."
Hutterites do not get paid a wage or have a bank account but "everyone is generously taken care of from cradle to the grave."
They also eat all their meals in the community kitchen together.
"The tenets of our faith are adult baptism, pacifism, non-swearing of oaths and of course, community life," the author summed.