Hutterites blast ‘exploitative’ show on National Geographic Channel

WASHINGTON — Hutterite bishops say a new National Geographic reality series that follows the members of a rural Montana colony … Continued

WASHINGTON — Hutterite bishops say a new National Geographic reality series that follows the members of a rural Montana colony gives a “distorted and exploitative version” of life inside a little-known Christian sect.

The controversy led Hutterite bishops to issue their first-ever press release, said Canadian journalist Mary-Ann Kirkby, a one-time Hutterite who is working with the bishops in Montana’s King Ranch Colony.

The June 14 statement, issued by three Hutterite bishops, accused the National Geographic Channel of presenting a “distorted and exploitative version of Hutterite life that paints all 50,000 Hutterites in North America in a negative and inaccurate way.”

The 10-episode “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites” follows the 59 members of the King Ranch Colony, showing them drinking, swearing, and shooting guns, all in violation of the sect’s pacifist and pietist Christian beliefs.

While Hutterites embrace some modern technologies, such as farm equipment for large-scale agriculture, the introduction of TV cameras — along with television and Internet access — has created a rift among Hutterites.

In a statement, National Geographic said the show captures this rift in presenting “a truthful representation of the struggle between the younger generation and the colony leaders.”

Kirkby called it another example of the digital age “wreaking havoc” on Hutterite society.

“King Ranch has had its challenges keeping the faith, so it was a very vulnerable people to begin with,” said Kirkby, the author of the 2010 memoir, “I Am Hutterite.” ‘’And you combine that with people who are really naive and innocent…they’re just ripe for exploitation.”

Kirkby said the Hutterite community “feels very embarrassed and betrayed when watching the show.”

“We are not Utopia. We have more struggles than we wish we did. We are like everyone else, but we are also trying to live a meaningful Christian life,” Kirkby said.

The National Geographic Channel said in a statement that the production partner Collins Avenue “went to great lengths to work closely with the colony leaders on all aspects of production so as to ensure an authentic and accurate portrayal of their daily lives.”

The bishops, who have jurisdiction over the colonies, argued that they should have been consulted first. They also accused the company of contriving scenes, which National Geographic denied.

The Hutterite Brethren is an Anabaptist sect whose members live in small communities in western Canada and the United States. Like the Mennonites and the Amish, Hutterites are known for their traditional language, clothing, and beliefs.

Unlike other Anabaptists, Hutterites live communally in imitation of Jesus’ early followers as described in the book of Acts. Hutterites share possessions among the community and are not paid wages. They eat communally in a dining hall, and daily prayer services form the core of their devotional life.

Hutterites have faced internal strife and external scrutiny since they emerged from the political and religious turmoil of the 16th century Reformation.

Arising out of the Anabaptist reformers in Moravia (modern-day Czech Republic), Hutterites faced continual persecution for their beliefs in adult baptism and pacifism.

In the 1870s, 18,000 Hutterites traveled to America and settled mainly in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, and in Montana and South Dakota in the United States.

Today there are an estimated 45,000 Hutterites in North America, living in 462 colonies.

Evolving technology continues to be a point of contention for Hutterites, Kirkby said.

“This is the biggest challenge of Hutterites today: can we survive with the Internet and the whole world knocking at our door?”

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  • mycall

    So far what has been shown by National Geographic Channel is completely accurate. We deal with some colonies in business regularly and they have been to our home many times. They almost all smoke, including the teens, they all use extremely vulgar language, they all drink, including the teens and they think nothing of driving after drinking. They have asked many times if we would put porn movies on TV for them, which we have refused. They tell us about all the hunting they do and invite us to go with them which we politely turn down. They wear dark suits and plaid shirts on the outside but have told us “Anything Goes” underneath, including thongs or bikinis if they choose. They all have cell phones and their wives call at least once per hour telling them what to buy at certain stores. They run down their women all the time wishing they were as pretty as ‘outside women’ and calling them ‘fat’ and ‘bossy’. They have the Outside World convinced they are a very righteous and up-standing Religious Society and that gets them lots of favors and freebies at local businesses. So, Thankyou NGC for telling this story and I sure wish you could show more but I’m sure you only get to film what they allow. Too Bad!

  • IK

    This might be true for “some” colonies, but it is not true for all. To say that this documentary is a “completely accurate” portrayal of the Hutterite colonies is completely false! That there are colonies where these things are happening, is true, but what is equally true is that there are many colonies that strive very hard to live as true Christians. The behaviour and language demonstrated in the documentary are not the norm, and are of great concern and embarrassment to those Hutterites who do take their Christian faith seriously.

  • East Oregon Guy

    I watched a couple of these shows. The only thing these people have in comon with the Hutterites I work with is the accent and the dress. Some of their manerism are the same, and they have some rough social skills. I admire their dedication to their way of life, hard work and complete focus on their farming operations. They are demanding and so have no problem in paying full price for a good product, They have all the latest techonogy and are very sucessful in their buisness, both in quality of work and financies. This group maybe playing too much up for TV, and that is kind of insulting to the rest. I like the Hutterites I know, and I don’t think I’ll watch this show any more.