World & More
An Alternative Point of View
Review of The Hutterites in North America
The Hutterites in North America, by Rod Janzen and Max Stanton. The John Hopkins University Press, 2010.
get many books about the Amish, not many about the Hutterites. Granted,
the Amish community now numbers close to a quarter million, the
Hutterites only close to 50,000. And it depends where you live. Amish
settlements are concentrated in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.
Three-quarters of Hutterite colonies are in Alberta, Saskatchewan,
Manitoba, and British Columbia, with a third in North and South Dakota,
Montana, Minnesota, and Washington state.
came to North America in 1874 from Ukraine, the same time as the first
wave of Mennonites from Ukraine, where Mennonites had helped them
resettle after Hutterites had been persecuted in the Balkans nearly to
extinction. The first settlements of Hutterites in America were all
located in South Dakota, where some homesteaded on individual farms,
like other pioneers, while others resumed colony life, identifying
themselves by three leaders: Lehrerleut, Dariusleut, and Schmiedeleut
(Leut being simply the German word for people).
non-colony Hutterites went Mennonite, while colony Hutterites have
continued to exist in their three denominations, except for a split in
the 1990s that divided the Schmiedeleut into two groups, which our
authors call Schmiedeleut One and Schmiedeleut Two. Schmiedeleut One
consists of those who adopted some progressive measures under the
influence of the Bruderhof community of the eastern U.S., and
Schmiedeleut Two consists of those who resisted that influence.
John Hostetler, along with Trudy Huntington, wrote a book on the
Hutterites first published back in 1967, so this book by Janzen and
Stanton is a welcome updating. While several beginning chapters in this
study cover Hutterite history, the later chapters describe the life and
faith of the about 500 colonies (and counting) scattered across the
Hutterite birth rates
remain high, though they have dropped from around ten children per
family in 1954 to under five today, so that a colony’s population may
still double in a generation, prompting the periodic establishment of
new colonies, since “colonies rarely get larger than 150 to 160 people.”
modern Hutterites are the direct descendents of about 90 individuals,”
say the authors, the result of endogamy and few converts for hundreds
of years. That explains why 99 percent of Hutterites carry one of only
14 names, chief among them Entz, Glanzer, Gross, Hofer, Kleinsasser,
Mendel, Stahl, Tschetter, Waldner, Wipf, and Wollman. Despite this
endogamy the Hutterites gene pool remains surprisingly healthy.
the second two thirds of their book Janzen and Stanton describe
Hutterite beliefs, practices, traditions, and institutions. Even as
they are remarkably open to technology, colonies remain tradition-bound
in worship practices, sticking to a rereading of old sermons from a
fixed canon of sermons from several centuries ago. Schmiedeleut One is
the main group venturing to break out of this tradition. Colonies have
their own schools on colony premises, through which Hutterites become
bilingual, although their own dialect, derived from the Tirol, remains
their everyday language.
The great majority
of colonies stay engaged in agriculture, although a few have ventured
into manufacturing. Their efficiency and mass production make them
major players in the agricultural economies of the states and provinces
where they live. The relatively few colonies of Montana, for example,
produce over 90 percent of that state’s hogs and 98 percent of its
eggs. Non-Hutterite farmers cannot compete with Hutterite efficiency.
technology may bring Hutterites economic success, its most recent
developments also raise problems. Colonies have long used computers to
manage machines and to keep track of budgets and agricultural
production. But computers have opened the door to the Internet,
exposing young people to worldly influences, even immoral ones.
This, our authors suggest, has encouraged defections. Hutterites have a word for defectors, Weggeluffene,
literally runaways, young people who leave the colony for individual
freedom. Some return, make confession, and get reintegrated into colony
life. A surprising 15 percent leave permanently, more of them young men
than young women, creating the problem of whom the young women left on
the colonies can marry.
have their critics. Many evangelicals, including Mennonites, question
whether many of them are genuine Christians or only committed to a
traditional culture. Our authors admit that for some of them religion
is a formality. Yet all Hutterites go to prayers every evening before
supper, colony elders exercise church discipline, and colony members
exhibit strong family life.
distinctive dress, language, and colony life, Hutterites remain
conscious of their difference from outsiders. At the same time most
colonies have non-Hutterite teachers for their “English” school. They
are hospitable to visitors and relate comfortably to outsiders with
whom they do business, or neighbors with whom they share common
They are imperfect and seek to
cope with the same problems the rest of us do. But they adhere
tenaciously to their heritage—the rejection of military service, for
example. Janzen and Stanton note that there has not been one murder
among them in the nearly 500 years of Hutterite history. Moreover, they
are the only known group that has continued to successfully practice
community of goods for these nearly 500 years.
fruit of many years of conscientious research, this book is a veritable
mine of information about all aspects of Hutterite life. It is
therefore rewarding reading for anyone interested in these people.
nearly 50,000 today, Hutterites have just passed their previous
population peak during what Leonard Gross called their “Golden Years”
in 1565–1578, following which persecution decimated their number. Our
authors ask whether they now face a new golden age. Some Hutterite
leaders are seeking to become more missionary. Notwithstanding the
challenges of life in the twenty-first century, Janzen and Stanton
remain confident that Hutterites will thrive and be around for the
widely published author, Marlin Jeschke, Goshen, Indiana, is Professor
Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion at Goshen College, where he taught
for 33 years..