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Reflection: American Colony (Episode 3: Rockin’ Road Trip)


A special evening

Photograph by National Geographic Channels / Collins Avenue Inc.

American Colony: Meet the Hutterites
Episode 3: Rockin’ Road Trip
Aired: June 12, 2012

There are two stories unfolding alongside each other in this episode. To begin, the young people of King Ranch secure permission to attend a wedding in Canada. Secondly, the married ladies of the community are planning a weekend get-away with their husbands. Both storylines are fraught with challenges and conflict. In this reflection I will only discuss themes presented by the first strand, but also explore discoveries regarding the integrity and authenticity of American Colony‘s filming and editing process.

It is worth noting that Rockin’ Road Trip has more crude language than previous episodes, including some very tasteless double entendres. Irgnde eingezugnen Hutterer weat sich gonz zomziegn. Any down-to-earth Hutterite will probably cringe. This is, however, such a basic issue that I won’t discuss it here. Continuing as per previous posts, I assume that readers are familiar with the plot of this episode.

Being baptized is the biggest commitment you can take [sic] as a Hutterite. Once you’re baptized you’re considered a member of the church and you can get married. [Lisa]
Followed shortly thereafter by:
Claudia: Will your mother, like, gonna care [sic] if you go into a bar in Medicine Hat?
Lisa: What mommy doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.

Because if you misbehave, you will not get baptized. [Judy, Lisa’s mom]

I wanna tell all of you something before you leave. Everybody behave up there and show ‘em that we’re good, calm people. Don’t get excited about anything. [Wesley’s father]

I’m 25 and everybody likes to give me hell because I don’t have a girlfriend. [Wesley]

Hutterites are not allowed to marry a non-Hutterite, but is it really wrong if you love that person? [Wesley]

And Wesley, If you find the right one, you’ll know right away. (snaps finger) [Wesley’s Father]

So where are you going to find yourself a woman? [minor character dressed as a Hutterite.]

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Like most Christian churches, Hutterites who are interested in pursuing marriage must be members in good standing within their church-community. In the eyes of the Hutterite church, if a person has made a sincere commitment to Christ and his people, then, and only then, is s/he equipped to explore the possibility of marriage. On a practical level, this guideline obviously has some exceptions; several of my close friends have begun or began their courtship before taking baptism vows, but even in these cases it was done with parental, if not communal, consent.

The notion of marrying for love is relatively new, even in main-stream society, and as far as a stimulus for marital relationships is concerned, it has a dismal track record. In contrast, the premise of Hutterite marriage is based on Anabaptist and Pietist principles of purity and restraint as taught and exemplified by Christ and the apostle Paul. The 16th century Hutterite elder Peter Riedemann addressed marriage in two confessions of faith with both a forceful pragmatism and a lyrical mysticism. His primary thrust is that marriage must lead its participants closer to God (gemeinsammen Weg zu Gott, etc.) and that it symbolizes the spiritual relationship between Christ and his Church. To Riedemann, it is virtually a foreign concept to marry for love, but in our modern times it actually integrates quite well into the guiding principles he articulates. Essential questions for Riedemann, and by extension Hutterites, would be: Will this relationship espouse positive growth within the individuals involved? Will it build community? In short, will this marriage help make ‘the kingdom come’? There is little concern given to matters of romance. Considering this biblical framework, which includes the admonition to beware of relationships with people who do not share the same faith, it is absurd for a Hutterite to court a non-Hutterite. I will not address the pervasive passive/permissive attitude towards recreational dating presented in the show. There is simply no justification for it, and to save time I will leave it at that.

In Hutterite teachings, there is equal emphasis placed on the virtue of singlehood and marriage rooted in a sense of responsibility and fecundity. Our theology being what it may, however, there is a powerful expectation and social pressure in our day-to-day life to find a mate. Believe me, I know; I am a 30 year-old single Hutterite male. This cultural expectation is not entirely a negative force, because communal stability is primarily derived from having the nuclear family at its core.

What intrigues me most in this episode, is the tension between the rites of baptism and marriage. As the characters reveal, one must be baptized to get married, but this raises the question, ‘What if somebody is not yet ready to get baptized, but wants to get married?’ Are our communities faithfully discerning whether our baptismal candidates are truly Christ-followers to begin with, and then, are the candidates convinced to the depths of their hearts that the Hutterite church is where they want to put down roots?

My paternal Olvetter, who served his community as Prediger for decades, once quipped that, ‘Moniga Leit sulletn geh heiretn vordn Taufn.’ He was, of course, not advocating that the church alter its position on the order of these rites, but rather he was reflecting on the fact that some people mature quickly when they enter a solid relationship and have to rise to the responsibility that accompanies it–responsibility begets a responsible person. It also shows the truth that this doesn’t necessarily happen when somebody decides to request baptism. Hutterite young people can very well ‘behave’ for a year or two to get both hurdles out of the way, but have no inner transformation which the former rite substantiates and the second, to be successful, requires! The portrayal of baptism and marriage in this episode is tragically bereft of spiritual insight. Baptism is not so much about saying ‘no’ to the ways of the world, but rather about saying ‘yes’ to the ways of Christ. Not allowing Melvin and Lisa to get baptized solely based on bad behaviour reduces this essential rite of passage into an hollow procedure.

The media. Sigh.

In my mind, the goal of journalism is to make the world we live in a better place by exposing injustice, presenting new ideas, and teaching us about our fellow-human beings. Good journalism has integrity and does not seek a scandal for the sake of making money, nor should it misrepresent people by sensationalizing some elements while down-playing others.

That ludicrous! That’s ridiculous! [Jeff Collins in reference to accusations of staging and scripting of American Colony on CBC Radio One.]

Jeff Collins, as producer of American Colony, has vehemently denied allegations that the show was scripted or staged. Wesley Hofer, one of the shows major character’s released an open letter to the press confirming this, adding that we are “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.”

Frankly, any discerning viewer can see that the characters are performing the lines. They are obviously not comfortable with the language, and there are times, for example when Bertha is lecturing Claudia, when the actors don’t stay in character. The smile tugging at her lips is unmistakable!

There are other cinematic liberties ranging from subtle to blatantly inaccurate. One that is painfully obvious occurs at the so-called wedding after-party “in Canada”. The young ladies present, other than the primary characters, are clearly non-Hutterites! This leads me to doubt whether the young people and the filming crew even crossed the border. In fact, if they had, I’m certain that it would already be common knowledge in the Hutterite world as to which community was hosting this wedding.

A more subtle misrepresentation, though no less important, is seen when the young people are formally asking permission from their parents to go to the wedding in Canada. As Hutterites this is not how we do it. It is much more significant to ask permission from the community minister. I suppose this was not possible due to the filming contract, so this was a seemingly obvious compromise. It feels strange, and certainly not authentic, to have a ‘reality show’ about Hutterites with no interaction with the community’s spiritual leader…es hot kan Hont und kan Fuess—the rhyme and reason are lost.

Finally, in light of Mr. Collins’ protestations, it was interesting for me to encounter the following exchange in a Facebook group.

Facebook Screenshot

Facebook Screenshot

I received an email along similar lines from my friend Max Stanton, a retired anthropologist who has studied the Hutterites extensively for the last 2 decades or so. He shared an exchange he had with one of his Hutterite contacts and graciously gave me permission to quote it:

Max Stanton: E., I really felt that some of the conversations I saw on the show last night seemed contrived and forced.  They just seemed to lack the comfortable naturalness found among close friends, relatives and associates who have lived in immediate contact with one-another on a daily basis all their lives.  In fact, there was one place last night where it seemed to me as if the three people in a conversation (a mother and her teen-age son and daughter) were reading from cue-cards.
E:  I am not sure if I know what those cards are that you just mentioned, but I do know that my cousin in the colony [King Ranch] complained that during the whole time the NGS people were there filming the series, they were paid to read directly from big hand-printed sheets of cardboard with all of what they were supposed to say written on it—and that he had trouble keeping up with the conversation because he had to keep looking over at the guy who was holding the cards—the guy who was having problems holding up new cards at the right time because he really didn’t seem to understand our Hutterite accent. Quite a few times they had to stop and start all over again because of this confusion.
MS: Ya, E.  I understand that too. Those big hand-written cardboard sheets are what cue-cards are.   They are arranged in special sequence and the person who displays the cue-card has the job to try to keep up with conversation to make it seem normal.
E: Sure. That’s exactly what my cousin said the guy was doing.

If Mr. Collins, and by association the National Geographic Chanel, plan on deceiving viewers, I suggest they coordinate his story much better with all parties involved.


Who is to blame for this monstrosity that does little along the lines of meaningful enrichment for humankind? As I see it, there are three complicit parties: King Ranch Colony, Jeff Collins and the National Geographic Channel. Here are my suggestions for each:

King Ranch Colony: Wesley Hofer and their leadership should write another open letter stating that their community has fallen short of Hutterite ideals, and then let us move on in hope that they will receive the help they really need. I admit to feeling deeply sorry for them, and I hope their community is not defined by this show in years to come.

Jeff Collins: A statement acknowledging questionable journalism and an apology for being untruthful about it.

National Geographic Channel: Shelve the show after it’s initial airing; it truly isn’t worth more than that. I have facilitated contact between Hutterites and TV producers from abroad twice in the last few years, and I cannot imagine how difficult American Colony will make this process in the future. Three years ago I initiated dialog between Hutterite leaders and the Mennonite film producer Burton Buller to discuss the possibility of making a new documentary about my people. Talks have continued, but hitherto nothing has developed. I suggest that, as penance, the National Geographic Chanel should sponsor this production financially while yielding content control entirely to the producer and Hutterite advisers.

I believe that a positive outcome is possible here. I welcome your thoughts and further suggestions.

22 thoughts on “Reflection: American Colony (Episode 3: Rockin’ Road Trip)

  1. UNfortunately Wesley Hofer IS telling the truth. This “documentary” was NOT scripted. What you saw is really what is. No one put words in anybody’s mouth. In fact some of it was pretty mild compared to how these people really are. Maybe the rest will come out in the next editions. As far at the King Ranch leadership making comments, is there really any leadership there? I thought the preacher recently was “put off” his job. I know these people well and this is just the way they are, especially in recent years. I heard from friends that one of the conditions for filming this was that King Rinch insisted they not emphasize the faith aspect. They couldn’t film the church or any religious activities. Unfortunately there are already too many colonies like King Ranch, and worse. There are some good and godly people at King Ranch, too, but I doubt if we’ll hear or see any of them.

    • Ermle: This will be the last comment I approve from you unless you start using a real name. The strong language you are using needs to be substantiated with a real human identity. I trust you understand.

  2. Scripted or not, what really gets me is the way our leaders and elders are being shown as the bad guys, come on! and although the after wedding party is obviously fake, pretty sure it was filmed in Canada, after all NatGeo wouldn’t film underage drinking would they? or would they? nothing would surprise me any more regarding NG.

  3. Love your creative and constructive proposal for National Geographic, Kenny. Excellent idea! Fortunately for Collins and NG, Hutterites typically do not go to court to sue for defamation, but we do believe in restitution and redemption. We all make mistakes. The good news is repentance and forgiveness are available to help us learn, heal and move on. In that way we grow closer to the image that we bear.

  4. Much could be said about how marriage and baptism are treated in the episodes. Clearly there has been a decision to shy away from exploring these topics in any kind of theological depth, which is a travesty. Absent its spiritual and biblical underpinnings, Hutterite life is unintelligible.

    Divorce rates both within Christian circle and outside confirm that marriage is no small undertaking. How is marriage understood and undertaken by Hutterites?

    First, baptism precedes marriage, signaling the priority of faith for successful marriages. Part of the reason we live together is to be accountable to each other and to encourage and correct each other. This is no small reason why we have virtually no divorces among us. We need each other; alone we fall prey to the sinful and selfish beings that we really are.

    For a Hutterite, it makes as little sense to divorce as it does to leave the fellowship into which one has been baptized. As with baptism vows, marriage vows in a Hutterite community reflect our understanding of fidelity and faith. Part of the marriage vows is a promise to remain faithful to the community should one’s spouse choose to leave the fellowship. This is another way of indicating that the church community precedes and presupposes the marriages that are consecrated in and through it.

    Marriages, in the Hutterite world, really are “until death do us part.” But this is not something we accomplish by ourselves. Only through the gracious gift of the community of faith, through which God’s love and spirit is manifested, can our marriages be sustained.

    Divorce is a practical impossibility for another reason: since Hutterites have covenanted with a place and its people, leaving is not easy. On the other hand, living in the same community with someone you used to be married to is almost unimaginable. I am guessing it would create impossibly painful social dynamics.

    • Very respectfully, let me ask you this: Suppose, just suppose, that the Church sides with the errant spouse. Matt 18 assumes the Church will always find the right and the just answer. As history shows, this has not always been the case. To pledge one’s unconditional Troth to the Church ahead of one’s partner, ahead of even one’s own Inner Voice, can lead to unbearable suffering. Religious melancholy, even suicide, may result. I should know. I saw the dangers within my own family. It cast a chilling effect on my spirituality. I no longer call myself “Christian”.

      I don’t know how it is possible to pledge allegiance to The Church at the expense of individual conscience. To do so, one risks being caught between a rock and a hard place. So ist es einmal.

      • Melchior,

        As you indicate, finding a healthy and faithful balance between allegiance to the Church and individual conscience is not easy or straightforward and is fraught with tension, as one would expect. Nonetheless, the implications of this balancing act are important enough to justify the struggle. To dispense with the Church in order to protect individual rights and freedoms would be to undo the very heart and soul of the Christian faith.

        Of course decisions made by the Church can be insensitive and even out of step with the Spirit of God. Humans have a long history of building institutions that betray their mission and the church is no exception. The institution that calls itself the Body of Christ stands under the judgment of God’s Word. God’s Word is always calling the Church to examine its ways and, if necessary, to confess and repent wrongdoing. Members in the church have every right to raise questions about whether the Church is faithfully following its mission. Does it always do this perfectly? Of course not! Can you trust individual conscience or one’s inner voice to arrive at the truth in every situation? Of course not! Clearly the truth must lie somewhere in between.

        Confession and repentance must be done both individually and corporately. Occasionally, the Church’s actions may make it necessary for an individual to give a prophetic word that calls the Church to faithfulness to the Spirit of Christ. And, yes, often they will have to endure “unbearable suffering” as a result. Is this grounds for dispensing with the Church? I think not.

        What is the alternative? Without a social body of believers who are committed and accountable to each other and to the gospel, without a church that both nurtures its members into the faith and gives witness to the kingdom of God in the world, the Christian faith becomes irrelevant, and begins to mimic the “me, myself and I” ethos of our post-Enlightenment Western world.

  5. Yes, I too have wondered about the definition this exposure has added to King Colony.. I feel there is a considerable amount to be healed..

  6. Stagings and the “reality entertainment” factor aside, what I find interesting is how these people deal with feelings of anger, betrayal, love, loyalty et al. Far too often the Ideal -in this case, what a Hutterite Colony (or an Arnold Leut Bruderhof) SHOULD BE- trumps “what is”. The enterainment factor not withstanding, I clearly see people dealing with the daily grind and its effect on relationships. I can understand the request not to film Gebet, and yet it is precisely this aspect, the spiritual realm, that is foundational to daily life on KR colony. By limiting where the cameras could go, a certain “dishonesty” was introduced before production even began.

    The fight, it seems was staged. Claudia’s restaurant fall may have been orchestrated. Claudia struggles with selfishness. Her Mom is not camera shy. Women want more freedom to decide what to wear and how they look. Cerebral Wesley needs to watch his diet and increase his physical activity. Carver struggles with anger management. Women gossip. Men swear. And through it all we catch a glimpse of a communal way of life as it is lived on an American colony in Montana.

  7. Perhaps this Blick brings the task of daily filming into perspective. I offer it not in support of NGC, but as a point of view. Mel
    Inside The Hutterites with Trever James and Luke Rold
    Los Angeles Film School alumni Trever James (‘05) and Luke Rold (‘05) are making headlines. They have received an unprecedented deal from National Geographic to run a docu-series they developed following a small, secluded group living in the North American prairieland, The Hutterites. Haven’t heard of the Hutterites? Well James and Rold will fill you in—they will be screening the pilot debut here at the school very soon, and will talk about their experience. But in the meantime, here is a brief description of the colony.
    The Hutterites are a communal branch of the Anabaptists, similar to the Amish and Mennonites, but have striking dissimilarities. Unlike the Amish, who can only wear plain clothes, the Hutterites can wear clothing with patterns and vivid colors. The eldest and governing members of the Amish and Mennonite communities live amongst them, while the Hutterite elders govern the American Hutterites from Canada. The basic tenet of Hutterian society has always been absolute pacifism, forbidding its members from taking part in military activities, taking order, wearing civil uniforms or contributing to war taxes. The Hutterites are self-sufficient, Godly people who are bound by Earth; the colonies depend largely on farming or ranching, they construct, maintain and repair their own buildings, and they make their own clothing. Although a secluded, small religious group, Trever and Luke say “the Hutterites are proud Americans, they vote and pay taxes.”
    James grew up in rural Montana, and his family has had a long lasting friendship with this particular Hutterite colony, King Colony. James’ dad, Jim Fadrhonc, has known King Colony since he was a teenager, growing up in a small town nearby. “My entire life I’ve visited this colony of people nearly a dozen times a year (hunting, fishing, weddings, etc.),” said James. He says the colony is kind of like his second family, and some of the best people he knows. It was about a year ago, Luke Rold, Josh Dinner and Trever James were hanging out and Trever began telling stories of the Hutterites. The three of them began brainstorming on how great it would be to make a documentary on the Hutterites.
    Two weeks later, they were in the Jeff Collin’s office, the CEO of Collins Avenue Production Company, conducting a pitch meeting. Trever had done some casting editing for the company and has maintained a great relationship with Jeff Collins. The very last pitch they gave was the Hutterites. Jeff Collins loved the idea, sending James, Rold, Dinner and Trever’s dad to Montana to produce footage of the Hutterites to compose a sizzle reel. They filmed for five days, 14 hours a day, for footage. There are three sects of Hutterites: Schmiedeleut, Lehrerleut, and Dariusleut, ranging from the more conservative to the more liberal– rules and traditions are all different for each colony. King Colony, the colony the docu-series follows, are Dariusleut.
    Once they all returned home and edited the footage, the sizzle was shopped around to various networks with much excitement to follow. National Geographic won the pool and a crew was sent to rural Montana for five months, to film 12 hours a day, thus creating American Colony: Meet the Hutterites. At first, the Hutterites were guarded and the crew had a hard time filming useable footage. The colony did not keep the schedule given by the crew, they had to be trained in “set language,” as well as educated in what television is, and how interviews would be conducted. More challenges arose when the Elders made a surprise visit. Stay tuned for Episode 2: “The Shunning” to find out what happens.
    Individuals of the colony more or less kept to their own schedules, ignoring the crew schedules while on the farm and would work without the crews’ cameras around. But over the weeks the crew and the Hutterites found their balance. By the end of filming, the Hutterites were so familiar with the set language that they were the ones asking, “Do I need to be mic’d for this?” and “Hold for sound“ when airplanes flew overhead – much to the surprise of the crew. Interviews were still difficult, however; Hutterites’ native language is German. Hutterites learn German until the age of five, and then taught English. Their thought process is in German, and they will take more time to translate in English. The crew wanted to allow the colony to speak in their own words, not allowing for production to twist things.
    At the end of the five months, James, Rold, and Dinner had learned just as much from the Hutterites as they taught Hutterites, learning to stretch fencing, farming, butchering, etc. Butchering became fascinating, the colony took 30 minutes for a cow to be split in half and all the parts were removed, all while maintaining a clean environment. Rold was shocked by how the animals being raised were killed, de-feathered, etc. for food for the colony, but he said, “For Hutterites, this is everyday life.” James said that after a while, he was desensitized by the animals being killed. He said, “people used to do this, like the old times…why, it’s supposed to be like this.”
    The crew said filming The Hutterites had the most difficult challenges, but was the best experience.
    Luke Rold is currently the Associate Producer of Dance Moms Miami, and a co-writer/co-director with Trever James. Trever James is the Supervising Casting Editor of NBC’s The Voice.
    James, Rold, and Dinner all share Executive Producer/Creator credit for their exciting new National Geographic show.
    The first of the 10-episode series, American Colony: Meet the Hutterites, premieres Tuesday, May 29,

  8. I am the producer.

    Finally, some intelligent discussion about the show. I am the owner of the production company that made the show. There’s so much discussed about ” how the show was made ” online by other Hutterites, to the point of obsessing about each detail, trying to find the flaws to somehow disprove its relevance or the stories told in the then hour series. I can assure you, with one hand on the bible and the other raised to my country, the stories we were allowed to follow and document were chosen and approved by the people of King Colony who participated in the series. I speak to them often, sometimes daily, and they don’t understand why there’s so many negativity from other Hutterites. We never set out to do a story about ALL HUTTERITES, as the show clearly states many times it is set at King Colony in Montana. From the beginning, we discussed with the Huterites of King Colony the idea of showing what life is like on King and what it’s like to live a Colony lifestyle, balancing old traditions yet adapting some parts of the modern world at the same time. Mind you, technology has advanced more in the last ten years than at any time in history. How can they ignore the outside world completely? Most of the negative comments that have been directed at me have come via Twitter, which I find totally ironic, when we were told how the elders came down and rounded up everyone’s radio and burned them in the yard. TV is frowned upon, yet everyone (Hutterites) seem to be watching the show.

    As Wesley Hofer, who participated in the series stated in his open letter, ” The stories we tell in the series focus on Hutterite traditions and the struggles we face in this new and modern world. The only thing that guides us, and all Hutterites in this turbulent age is our resolute faith in Jesus Christ. My faith has not wavered throughout the creation of this series. I would be a poor specimen of Christianity if it had. I must draw a stark distinction between faith and tradition. Faith is unwavering and eternal because it comes from God. It cannot and should not be altered. Traditions are malleable, man-made ideals created as guidepost for the next generation. If we elevated tradition to the same level as faith, we would be inadvertently elevating man from secular to divine. Each new generation’s DNA is hardwired to examine, mold, and strengthen those traditions, they find relevant and to discard those they find antiquated and unnecessary. The role of our Elders is to urge caution and restraint during this lifelong process. They are the voice of wisdom and reason, reminding why certain traditions were created and to not make decisions in haste when deciding to amputate a certain tradition. Questioning tradition does not diminish a person’s faith in any way. ”

    Everyone who worked on the series had only the best of intentions. We hired people of faith, and the main producer is a former missionary who prayed with the Hutterites daily. We all believed that allowing them to tell their story and make choices in what they wanted the outside world to know was the right way to go. It is astonishing to ” the English ” that other Hutterites have been so critical of the members of King. ” The English ” viewers find the show to be fascinating and the Hutterites to be wonderful people of faith with family values.

    All the negative posts are about the process of making the show and devoid of discussing the content. The discussion should not be about me or the people who work for me who made the show. I ask you, I beg you… read Wesley’s letter and watch the entire series with an open mind and an open heart.

    With love and respect,

    Jeff Collins
    Executive Producer
    Owner Collins Ave Productions

    • I am very pleased to hear from you, Jeff. Let me say that my family enjoys watching the hour long episodes. We understand that this is a “reality show”, and while we don’t watch “reality” often, we are, generally, pleased with the results you and the filming crew achieved. We find ourselves talking about subplots: how is dishonesty dealt with amongst people claiming the name of Christ? How are clashes between tradition and “faith” dealt with forthrightly? How do modern conveniences impact tradition?

      Of course, Jeff, there is bound to be speculation regarding what is “real” and what is orchestrated. Please don’t feel offended by such dialog. To be frank, I wondered if the high school fight was, in fact, a re-enactment. How, I wonder, could the NGC cameras have been on hand at that particular and decisive moment? So too, I wonder if that tell-tale piece of verboten cloth that was left on the floor of the sewing room was not “planted”…by whom?…by the camera crew…by the young ladies’ inattention to a detailed cover-up? How could they have been so careless?

      Be that as it may, I am much more fascinated by the underlying theme of how these dear people go about their daily lives and how they resolve the tensions that quite naturally arise during the course of a normal day. I think much of the discontent with the show can be traced to the fact that Hutterite people want their unique way of life portrayed in a certain way. They want the “English” to see their way of life as it is “meant to be”; not as it sometimes actually is. This is understandable. As a person who once was an assimilated Hutterite, I find the mini-stories of how the folks at King Ranch resolve their daily disputes to be heartwarming. We see real people dealing with real struggles. We are allowed to experience their petty arguments. Carver and his brother fight; and then they hug. The viewer is given an honest, and not a sanitized picture of daily communal life. I was fascinated to see the young woman who wants to be baptized and married, deal with dishonesty. She lied. She lied through her teeth. And then she was found out. My interest lies not in the fact that she lied, but in how her deception will be resolved. I hope we find out.

      I think Wesley is perfectly right when he draws a distinction between faith and tradition. When biblical and Anabaptist teachings are seen as maps, rather than as “God’s Word”, the modern Believer/Hutterite is drawn into the discussion: what does it mean to be Christian and Hutterite today? But when the bible and the Anabaptist tradition are seen as “God’s Word”, there is no room for dialog. That, in my estimation, is the tension caught on camera at King Ranch Colony.

      Thank you, Jeff, for weighing in.
      Respectfully, Melchior Fros (a former member of the neoHutterite Arnold Leut)

  9. Thank you Jesse, for your thoughtful reply.
    What is the alternative? I suggest that the institutionalization of faith is not it. I don’t think historic Jesus ever dreamed that there would some day be a religious institution claiming his name! His was and remained a grass roots movement that, he envisioned, would grow much like a mustatd seed, giving welcoming shade to those who were scorched by Temple Tradition. Where two or three were gathered was good enough for him. Jesus besetting “sin” was his deep conviction that God was accessible outside of the status quo; that is, Temple tradition. This belief, this willingness to challenge human tradition, cost him his life. A prophet is not welcome in his home town..sigh.

    I do not have a ready answer for how the committed communalist can remain both honest to personal conviction and Church Tradition. I chose to follow my personal conscience when the Church was seen to clearly err. And it cost me…dearly. As you say, it lead to “unbearable suffering”, in the form of shunning and ultimately in the loss of family relationships. In a strange sort of way, I chose “loyalty to Jesus” over loyalty to kin, and likewise, my family chose loyalty to The Cause (that is, the neo Hutterite Arnold Leut) over loyalty to flesh and blood (me).

    “Jesus wept” is the shortest sentence in the bible. I understand.

    Thanks for sharing. Let’s keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. Maybe will will find answers.

  10. I am pleasantly surprised by the level of discourse on this blog. I’m not sure a humble person like myself can add anything new. I have not watched a singe episode of American Colony, but I have seen enough parts of it on various internet sites to get the picture, so to speak. I agree with the elders in one respect, I too think the show is important for the Hutterites and for how they will be viewed by “outsiders”. First of all it changes the concept of “outsiders”. The film crew is in, the wider audience is in and Hutterites are out of the closet. Welcome Back, I say. Our 500 year anniversary is quickly approaching and the world needs our perspective on how to live on and care for the earth. Due to events in our world during recent decades we all can understand that there is no future in religious fundamentalism, be it Islamic, Hindu or Christian. We are called to humble dialogue with one another. A philosopher (his name is hard to spell but it begins with N) has famously said: “God is dead”. What his comment means to me is that I must grow up and enlarge my often outdated concept of God and redefine what I mean when I use that word or when I think of whatever meaning I attach to it. God is not a grey-breaded man with a great stick and God does not condemn anyone to a prison of everlasting fire. That God is truly dead. I turned a rock and he was there. I looked in my heart and there was the ever present, in tears. God is in the light in the forest, in the wind on the prairie and yes, even in the dry, cracked and parched earth. Be Still and Know, That I AM. I read this verse and consider deleting what I have written, lest it be misconstrued. This short verse is to me a call to consciousness, to be awake, to witness what our eyes see and what our ears hear. Individuals as well as to two or three gathered together can discern the message. Da bin ich, mit und under innen, How could it be otherwise? There is only The Great Being. Wir kommen oder kommen nicht. By that I understand: Come Into The Light Of Things, leave your pre-conceived notions at home, Let Nature Be Your Teacher. Birds sing because God wills it. God wills for us to be ourselves truly, put off all falseness and live humbly, understanding all our not knowing.

    George Maendel
    Unity, Maine (not far from Freedom, Liberty and Friendship, Maine)

    My mother was born at Spring Creek Hutterite Colony in Montana, my father at a colony in South Dakota. I began to breathe freely at New Rosedale Colony in Manitoba. Each Morning I Am Born Again. (First line of a Woody Guthrie song.)

    • Most of the world’s religions teach us the same lessons – to chose good and to avoid evil, to love our brothers and sisters as ourselves, to be at peace, to be thankful, and to live simply. These teachings are often in conflict with the values promoted in modern societies however, which encourage us to only care about ourselves, to concentrate on amassing personal wealth, to express our personality and our worth through buying products, to spend our free time pursuing pleasure and entertainment, and to do whatever it takes to “succeed” by ignoring the moral consequences of what we do. But the absence of an imposed religion gives people the freedom to think for themselves, and to explore a wide range of ideas, and gives them the possibility of developing their own belief systems, which often reject these questionable values. It takes us back to the Garden of Eden. Is it better to be good only because we are ignorant of the world, or to eat the apple and see all the possibilities? Can your faith or character really be tested if you are never exposed to evil or if you lack the freedom to make your own choices? What if we eat the apple and then decide that trying to lead a moral life is the best option? Don’t we have a human right to freedom of conscience? Although personal freedom can lead people astray, it can also give people the strength to say “no” to participating in injustice, to challenge others who they feel are in error, and to try to change their society when it has gone astray. This causes turmoil in society, but it makes people think about what they are doing. Unless you have a deep understanding of the world, gained through access to information and through experience, it’s hard to judge what the best course of action is. When religious leaders restrict freedom of conscience, although well intentioned, they could be retarding the moral and intellectual development of their people, and making them less capable of making the right choices. On the other hand, most people seem to chose the shallow hedonism of modern society!


    It’s calving season. It’s bitter cold. Toby, the cattle boss, stays up virtually every night to make sure that newborns are kept warm. The loss of one calf means the loss of $1,000 for a colony already feeling the financial squeeze. Toby – handsome, fit, confident cattle boss and father with a supportive wife and an adoring son and it side- must enlist the help of other colony men during calving season. It’s up to Toby to take care of business, and he is as devoted to his task as he is to his family; to his tribe.

    Toby can’t seem to rely on his teen helper, the 18 year old son of widow Bertha. He appears to be depressed. He feels himself tugged by the demands of others and a tradition he does not fully embrace. As an uncommitted young man he has -I feel this is important to remember- no stake in the affairs of the colony. His apparent depression and the ensuing rebellion lead him to sleep in late. He no longer cares much for the practical affairs of the colony. He takes a colony car without asking, and goes to town late one night. He is hauled over by an officer and cited for driving without a license and for speeding. The colony Stewart is pissed off having to pay the fine and the payment required to get back the impounded colony car. Frowned upon wherever he goes, this “prodigal son” decides to chill out. He sleeps while others are up and about. Widow Bertha, who had lost her husband to suicide, can take it no more, and orders her son out of the house and into the cold.

    Where will he sleep? What will he eat? Don’t even the pigs get their daily food!? The teen second and third chances to mend his ways, but he fails to live up to promises made, and gets kicked out of both Wesley and Toby’s homes.He has no where else to turn. The barn and shop are the only places left for the troubled young man. He comes to his senses, and in a touching scene he decides, on the spur of the moment, to help cattle boss Toby find a stay and pregnant cow. The cow has given birth out in the open. The teen finds the calf and brings it in from the cold, but it does not survive the night. He helps Toby round up the stray cow. The teen promises Toby he’ll turn a leaf. Skeptical, Toby is non the less delighted. Here, in my estimation, is an example of true Gemeinschafting!

    Meanwhile, the viewer learns that, in keeping with colony practice, a mother and daughter plan and engage in an all-day activity. A bonding experience, it allows them to escape the constant attention and the demands of the colony. Young Claudia -she’s not always wearing makeup!- asks her widowed mom, Bertha, to come up with an activity idea. Bertha can’t think of anything more thrilling than learning to spin together. Claudia counters with a request to attend a Concert (country western music). When Mom protests that she’s never been to a concert and that doing so violates colony rules, Claudia assures her mom that country-western is not the same as rock. Her Mom agrees to go. But when Claudia announces that she’ll go to town to purchase concert tickets, her brother Carver complains that Mom had already promised to attend his last basketball game, which happens to be the day of the concert. The widow feels trapped between a rock and a hard place; made plain to the viewer by the priceless – “kostbar” is the German word that comes to mind- facial expressions. She chooses to honor a prior commitment made to her son. This makes Claudia mad, and she gives her mom the silent treatment for several days. The silence is broken when Mom promises to go snowmobiling with her daughter. Mother and daughter hire two “English” drivers and take off for the day! Mom’s driver hits a rock and sends both mobile and passengers tumbling into deep snow. Mom laughs heartily; the two women are enthused by the wild ride and, much more importantly, a relationship has been deepened!!

    A former Hutterite I know offers the opinion K-Ranch does not have a culture worth emulating. It’s an interesting observation, because it assumes a Standard…and K-Ranch most definitely does not measure up to The Standard! Many other writers share the view that this is not a *true Hutterite colony*. Writers point to its many flaws; to the lack of respect for the Hutterite culture. One blogger, as I recall, points out that of the 5 most recent suicides/attempted suicides in Hutterdom, two allegedly happened at King Ranch. Another person claims the KR minister was defrocked.

    Qs: Very respectfully I ask, what is the point of being a Hutterite? Is it to be a member of a specific culture first and a Christian second? Which comes first: the mystery of faith or the adherence to the beliefs and practices handed down by forefathers and sealed with their blood? If we for a moment assume that “the great commission” came from the lips of Jesus (rather than being attributed to him by his followers), how does a 16th Century tradition help or hinder the spreading of what is supposed to be Good News?

    I will gladly admit that I am peeking through the lens of an emergent neo-christianity…a new way of looking at a religion that, for many today, myself included, has lost its sap. Can holy writ and tradition -notice the lack of capitalization- serve us today as maps? Can the bible be seen as a cultural library rather than a Constitutional Document? Is the reader welcome to join the ongoing discussion? Will she/he have a stake in the daily practice of *faith*? Will the prodigal teens at KRanch have a stake in the way “faith” is practiced? Will the old way, the tradition, be seen and respected as Guide rather than Ultimate Authority?

    Jesus took holy writings and the ancient tradition, and gave them contextually appropriate meaning. He breathed, as it were, contemporary life into the ancient tradition. Moses, he told his listeners, allowed divorce for the sake of human weakness. That may have been OK back when, but what you need to understand is that human relationships are sacred. They can’t be broken for merely burning a supper dish! And for that, historic Jesus got hung on a cross. I fear that King Ranch likewise is being crucified by Internet Pharisees for daring to recast a 16th Century Tradition. Said a bit differently, King Ranch is what it is. It’s doing the best it can with what its got. King Ranch Colony, it is said, is on the margins of Hutterdom. What can be done to make it feel welcome once more in wider Hutterite society? For where so ever the accusing finger is cast, there are three other fingers pointing to the accuser.

    I offer these thoughts as points for further reflection; zur Besinnung und Vertiefung, so to speak.

  12. Random question – do all cattle bosses wear a snazzy red scarf like the one I notice Toby wearing? Or is it just Toby’s personal style?

    • It appears to be Toby’s style, and I think it quite becoming! It adds much-needed color, nicht?! I too sometimes wear a scarf like his, but its purpose is to keep the sun off my leatherly neck 🙂

  13. Thank you for revealing the truth about what happened on the filming of The King Colony. Im saddened that the producers felt they needed to manufacture what they felt the American public wanted. What they sadly lost is the fact that a good portion of us would rather have watched a truthful show that included the spiritual aspects of Hutterite life. The National Geographic brand used to represent truth and honor. Appatently nothing is sacred any more.

    • Hi, Jeffery. What then, is the truth? If you ask someone to recount events you will get a particular point of view, and another person will give you another view. Truth consists not only of what is said, but what remains unsaid. No one view is totally correct. History is usually told by the “victor”. Rarely is the “looser’s” view considered. Columbus is hailed as a hero. Little is said about the Native point of view. Truth probably falls somewhere between the two extremes presented in this forum. I personally believe this show reveals what life on a very specific colony is like. The show’s producers do not pretend to speak for Hutterites at large. King Colony was paid a handsome amount to participate in the making of this show.

      I do not here wish to defend NGC…only to point out the obvious. For me, the far more important thing is the issues the show raises. They are worth discussing; here if you want.

  14. Can’t speak for the after party, but as one who grew up in Medicine Hat, they did indeed come here to Canada.

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