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WASHINGTON — A character on a National Geographic Channel documentary series about a rural Hutterite colony defended his community and the production company after Hutterite bishops criticized the show and its producer.
Hutterite bishops stated last week that “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites” presented “a distorted and exploitative version of Hutterite life that paints all 50,000 Hutterites in North America in a negative and inaccurate way.”
Wesley Hofer, a prominent character on “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites,” said in a press statement that the participants were all “adults who are capable of making rational decisions regarding Hutterite life on King (Ranch) Colony. The notion that we were taken advantage of, as if we were innocent children, is nonsense.”
“American Colony” follows the 59 members of the Montana colony, showing them drinking, swearing, and shooting guns, all in violation of the sect’s pacifist and pietist Christian beliefs.
Hofer also denied that scenes and dialogue were contrived, an accusation leveled by the bishops and the former Hutterite writer Mary-Ann Kirkby.
Executive producer Jeff Collins said the claims that his production company took advantage of the colony are “completely and utterly ludicrous,” adding that colony members he spoke with were offended by the allegations from their Hutterite hierarchy.
Colony members “chose the storylines they would allow us to follow, and there were storylines that they asked us not to follow, that they didn’t feel were appropriate,” he said.
He added that the show — though subtitled “Meet the Hutterites” — was never meant to represent life on all colonies.
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.
Noticeably absent from the show is an exploration of the colony’s shared religious faith. Collins said his crew abstained from discussions of religion or filming religious ceremonies at the colony’s request.
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.
Tuesday’s (June 26) episode, “Shoot to Kill,” shows colony members hunting, and exemplifies King Ranch’s clash with Hutterite’s traditional pacifistic convictions.
Both Hofer and Collins defended the show by pointing to a distinction between faith and tradition.
“Faith is unwavering and eternal because it comes from God. It cannot and should not be altered,” Hofer said. “Traditions are malleable, man-made ideals created as guideposts for the next generation. Questioning tradition does not diminish a person’s faith in any way.”
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