LOS ANGELES (AP) — A TV documentary series about an Anabaptist community in Montana offers a "distorted" and contrived image, bishops representing the Hutterite faith in the U.S. and Canada said Thursday.
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."
The bishops accused producers of contriving scenes and dialogue in a "make believe" portrayal of "how we live and the spiritual beliefs we cherish."
David Lyle, National Geographic Channel's CEO, vigorously defended the channel and the series.
"This is a declaration of war from the Hutterite elders against the National Geographic Society, calling into account our fairness," Lyle said. "We absolutely are fairly representing the King community."
The bishops' criticisms reflect "the very tensions that are at the core of this story," he said, which he described as the conflict between Hutterite traditions and rules, and some colony members' efforts to remain devout while adapting to 21st-century society.
The Hutterites are Protestants similar to the Amish and Mennonites who live a life centered on their religion, but unlike the others, Hutterites live in German-speaking communes scattered across northern U.S. states and Canada.