I was 8 years old when Trudeaumania swept through the Fairholme Hutterite Colony in Manitoba where I grew up.
Hutterites have traditionally shunned elections but that year our women donned their best dresses, piled into the colony’s Ford Econoline van with the men and went to town to vote. This was highly irregular. I remember watching the spectacle with the other children and inhaling the perfumed dust as the vehicle sped away.
Hutterites could be a force in elections, especially in Canada where 40 thousand of the nearly 50 thousand Hutterites live, but many of them lie low and hope for the best.
With the upcoming Presidential elections, I asked respected U.S. Hutterite leaders from each of the 3 sects to weigh into the debate and give us their perspective. Together they represent 10 thousand American Hutterites.
Elias Wipf is from the orthodox Lehrerleut sect of Hutterites and a minister at New Rockport Colony in Choteau, Montana. “We don’t vote. We vote for nothing and nobody,” he tells me over the phone. This used to be the mantra of all Hutterites, but clearly that position has shifted in some communities.
“Our group votes in school board elections but not presidential ones,” U.S. Schmiedleut Bishop, John Waldner who represents a more liberal sect of Hutterites tells me. “We are CO’s (conscientious objectors) and our feeling is that if we vote for a President then we bear some responsibility if he has to call in the national guard, use force, or weapons against others,” he explains, from his home at Spring Prairie Colony in Minnesota. “We are against war of any kind.”
Wipf and Waldner’s voting policies contrast with that of the (moderate) Dariusleut sect. “A lot of us vote in elections including presidential ones,” says Eli Hofer, a minister from North Harlem Colony in Montana.”. “There’s many different opinions on Hutterite colonies so we leave it up to each community and even up to each family who they want to vote for.”
One thing all 3 ministers agree on is the divisive nature of the campaign. “We want good leadership in our country,” laments Wipf. “Every Sunday in church we pray for our government but we are deeply concerned that there is no good choice for president in either candidate.”
When asked his opinion of Trump, Wipf was blunt. “I doubt that Hutterites could support a man like Trump. Especially when we read about the things he does in the newspapers, like kissing and groping those poor women. Even his Republican people don’t go for him so that tells me something.”
Bishop Waldner emphatically agrees, “I would not vote for Donald Trump and I feel many of my people have that opinion.” The way he talks, I hardly know what to say…its so unsuchtig unseemly.”
Hofer’s approach is to take Trump out of the equation. “Its really not a choice between candidates, its the platform we support. When we compare the Democratic and Republican platforms, its like day and night. We see terrorism as a threat as well as illegal immigration and the lack of proper vetting of immigrants,” argues Hofer. “I’m not against Muslims. It’s extremists that worry us.”
While Hofer raises concerns remarkably similar to mainstream American voters it’s the moral issues that resonate with Hutterite leaders.
“We hear a lot of rumours about Hillary which we don’t know if they are true, but our concern with her is her support of gay rights and abortion,” says Wipf. “We feel we must follow the Bible on these matters and we strongly disagree with her.”
Stakes in American politics have never been higher. What Hutterite leaders may have to consider is that not voting is voting. You simply give the power of your vote to someone else. Taking a stand at the ballot box and supporting candidates who most strongly support religious minority rights may well be the best non-violent way to ensure these cherished freedoms extend to future generations of Hutterites.
At the end of my conversation I asked all 3 ministers this question; If your life depended on it who would you vote for? Hofer committed to Trump. Wipf, with a sigh of signation, chose Hillary and Bishop Waldner opted to “take the bullet”
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite author and professional speaker. Signed copies of her books are available at the Rusty Owl Restaurant in P. A. and at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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