Bishops of US-Canadian Anabaptist communities [Hutterites] blast TV series as ‘distorted,’ ‘contrived’

John Stahl, Peter Entz and John Waldner, bishops for the three sects encompassing the roughly 50,000 Hutterites and 500 colonies in North America, said in a joint statement they are “deeply disappointed” in National Geographic Channel’s “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites.”

The 10-part series that began airing last month promised a rare inside look at Hutterite colony life, focusing on the King Ranch Colony.

“What was promised by the producers to be a ‘factual documentary’ is, in fact, a distorted and exploitative version of Hutterite life,” the bishops said, one that paints all Hutterites in a “negative and inaccurate way.”

Has anyone seen this series? The CEO of the National Geographic Channel strongly rejects the charges made by the bishops. However, what I have seen on that channel in the past makes me wonder if the bishops aren’t right.

Perhaps the King Ranch Colony is different from the other Hutterite communities. But I agree with Mary Ann Kirby, a Hutterite author, who said that Hutterites are “a culture that 75 percent of Americans never have heard about. That should have been interesting enough.”

Well I haven’t watched the series, but taking a look at their episode guide, I can certainly see why someone would think that it is contrived. If nothing else, it seems uncharitably focused less on daily life and more on drama.

Indeed. Nothing wrong with talking about conflicts/scandals/tensions in the Hutterite community, but if your title is “Meet the Hutterites,” you wouldn’t expect those to be the only things talked about.


Reality TV isn’t reality. I’m sick of these scripted shows. None of them are real.


I have watched every episode of this “series”, and at this point, I would have to agree with their leaders.

Being the head of RCIA for our parish, I feel it is important for me to have a very basic knowledge of other faiths so we have an idea of what kind of belief system and practices they are coming from.

I must say, i am very disappointed in this series so far.

Pretty much any TV show on any religion is a distortion of that religion. It’s almost as if mass-media has an agenda…

I wish I could see this series. We have tons of Hutterites here in Montana, and they seem pretty normal. The last time I was at Walmart I chatted with one of the women about how both of our babies were teething.

Yeah, imagine that…


If you follow the link which Taestron provided, you can watch a two or three minute clip from each of the episodes which as been shown so far.

People are people. We all have the same human concerns, despite any cultural differences.

I think the NatGeo Channel series could have depicted that better than they appear to have. There seems to be an element of sensationalism which isn’t necessary. Honestly, I think the NatGeo Channel brings shame on the National Geographic name.

I saw most of one episode and to me the very idea of filming the daily lives of Hutterites (or anyone else, for that matter) is necessarily contrived. Come one, the cameras are on people - they are going to act differently than in real life.

Not sure how the media is to blame for the portrayal, unless the people are being portrayed by actors/actresses. I would assume that whoever in the colony signed a contract to do the show, also had some input into how they would be portrayed - otherwise they should not have signed.

The episode I saw showed 2 women being shunned for allowing their kids to go to high school and featured several young people frustrated that the leadership would not allow them to continue going to high school (because apparently they had gotten involved in sports, which is apparently a no-no). There were some rebellious attitudes, but only one girl that I saw actually broached the topic of leaving.

I would imagine that the world being what it is, conflicts over how much to adopt and where to draw the line has to figure prominently among Hutterites raising kids. It’s not a surprise then, to see that feature prominently in the show, but the idea of a reality show in a Hutterite colony was itself surprising to me. I cannot imagine for example that the Amish would sign on for something like that…

One of my pet peeves is seeing the media blamed for stuff that people do themselves. Sorry, it just irks me.

One of my pet peeves is seeing the media blamed for stuff that people do themselves. Sorry, it just irks me.

I agree. It’s the media’s job to report stuff. If you do something abusive, it should be reported. Instead of making excuses, stop doing and covering up bad things.

As for reality shows, when people sign on to these reality shows the contract states the show can use and edit images and footage of you any way they see fit to produce a storyline. Those contracts are thick but that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility of reading it and getting a lawyer if necessary to understand what they’re signing.

Also, the editors can only tweak so much, if you abuse someone, let fly with a crude string of insults or cause drama in some other way, that’s on you.

Haven’t seen the show but if it is overly focuses on the drama, I’m sad it’s Nat Geo; it sounds like a better fit for TLC.

I haven’t seen the show, so certainly you know the content better than me, but you must agree the episode descriptions in the link given above are quite sensationalistic.

What show isn’t sensationalistic? Even news is. I would imagine that those in the colony who signed up for the show, should have been aware of how they might be portrayed. Far as I know, no one forced them into it.

While true, that doesn’t really excuse the exploitative nature of the show.

I saw the show about the two mothers being shunned because they allowed their boys to go to high school. Apparently, the usual rule with the elders is that kids are allowed to finish eighth grade at the sect’s school but not to go off to the secular high school. (There was discussion among a couple that they had completed high school and questioned to each other why should the elders object about the boys. Good question).

Reason is that once the kids have the ability to do more than work on the farm, they’ll leave the colony. The colony, without the labor of young people, will gradually fade away.

What is the colony? I’m assuming there is no individual ownership of anything. More like a commune. So if a family did leave, they’d leave with nothing.

Pretty much. I went to high school with a former hutterite (she’d been adopted, I’m not sure of the circumstances), but the way she described it, adults did sometimes have a few things of their own, but it was by and large communal ownership.

Any problem with intermarriage and birth defects? I realize there is a Montana accent and they’re education is limited to grade school but a few seemed a little simple.

I’ve heard of issues but don’t know the subject matter well enough.

There is a similarity in looks between them which does indicate a somewhat limited gene pool, but the one individual I knew was quite intelligent.

And she had been adopted, right? I think it would behoove the medical community there to address the problem of draining the gene pool.

There does seem to be a problem of inbreeding among North American Hutterites. Their colonies were founded in the 1870s by 900 individuals, but genealogical records collected in the 1950s and 1960s indicated that all living Hutterites were descended from fewer than 90 ancestors, who lived in the 18th century.


Did you mean you think they should enlarge the gene pool?

Bringing in converts might seem the easiest solution. But according to the FAQ on a Hutterite website, converts typically don’t last.

Few Hutterite colony are open to outsider joining, but there are a handful who would consider it, depending on the candidate and the willingness of the candidate to adopt to the Hutterian norms.

Over the year’s many people have attempted to become full members of the Hutterite community, but haven’t been successful for a variety of reasons. For one, Hutterites speak Hutterisch which is a Carinthian-Tirolean dialect. This language change is a boundary for many

Cultural boundaries and traditions also provide an obstacle for anyone attempting to join. Changes in attire, ways of doing things, and other traditions would have to be adopted.

Another issue, divorce, could be a roadblock because Hutterites don’t accept divorce among their members, nor would they allow a divorcee who has married another person to join. If a divorcee were to join, that person would not be allowed to marry anyone except their original marriage partner. Of course, marriage is defined as the holy union between one man and one woman.

Finally, most who are not used to the lifestyle would find that giving up their own free will, their careers, and their personal property, and other freedoms too great to overcome.

I suppose another possible way to enlarge the gene pool would be to import some Hutterites from elsewhere in the world. But I am not sure whether the same problem of everyone being descended from the same small pool of ancestors doesn’t exist elsewhere.

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