I get asked diverse questions about Hutterites both at speaking engagements and in casual conversation with individuals I meet out and about. Some of the questions are quite shocking, but I’m always glad when people have the courage to ask, because it gives me the opportunity to correct or add context to misperceptions about Hutterites.
Last week a gentleman approached me to ask, “How many shootings are there on Hutterite Colonies each year?” It took me aback, because I had never been asked that before. It’s a perfectly logical question in this day and age when shootings are so tragically common especially across the border in the U.S. Hardly a week goes by in which we don’t hear about a multiple or mass shooting.
One of the crucial pillars of the Hutterite faith is pacifism. It was instituted by our Hutterite forefathers in 1527 on the basis that Jesus said to love our enemies and on the Biblical commandment, Thou Shalt not Kill.
At the time, Hutterites had gathered at the Nikolsburg estate of Leonhard von Liechtenstein with 10,000 other Anabaptist refugees who had fled to Moravia to escape the intense persecution of the Catholic Church and the staunchly Catholic Habsburg rulers. The refugees had come here from Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands because Lord Liechtenstein had himself embraced the Anabaptist faith and was sympathetic to their plight.
The matter of pacifism turned into a heated debate among these orphans of the Protestant Reformation. Hapsburg Emperor, King Ferdinand was fighting the Turks who were penetrating Hapsburg territory and he needed men and money. Lord Liechtenstein’s estate was located on the outer reaches of the Hapsburg dynasty and he came under intense pressure to comply with the imperial government to collect war taxes and provide men to fight the enemy. There were those who agreed with the King and were willing to comply and there were those who did not.
The argument split Anabaptist groups into Schwertler (sword bearers) and Stäbler (staff bearers). Hutterites unconditionally embraced pacifism.
To avoid compromising Lord Liechtenstein, the Hutterites voluntarily left his estate. He hated to lose them because they were hardworking and had enriched him but he couldn’t convince them to stay and fight the enemy. Lord Liechtenstein accompanied the Hutterites as they left his property so he could wave their toll fees and offer them a farewell drink of wine.
The Hutterites lived in the forests and slept in open fields for the next 3 years cold, starving and homeless. Our forefathers were willing to die for their freedom, but not kill for it. They could not have foreseen that over the next 3 centuries as wars ravaged through Europe it would cost them near annihilation.
From Moravia to Slovakia to Hungary, Romania and over the Carpathian Mountains to Russia they fled. In the late 1800’s when military service became compulsory in Russia, the Hutterites emigrated en masse to the United States and finally to Canada where they were assigned to labour camps during World War 2 and registered as Conscientious Objectors so they wouldn’t have to carry guns.
Today, nearly 500 years later, the legacy of pacifism is worth considering. I called John Hofer, the Predigar minister at White Lake Colony near Lethbridge. He is widely traveled in Hutterite country and told me that to his knowledge no one has ever shot or killed another person on a Hutterite Colony in our 145 years in North America. And neither is there a documented incident in our 5 centuries of existence.
Its quite a remarkable legacy given that there are 500 colonies and nearly 50,000 Hutterites in the U.S. and Canada. And its not like Hutterites are meek and mild of nature. You just have to look on my Facebook page to see that Hutterites are as hotheaded and opinionated as anyone else when they disagree with something I wrote. Alas, verbal sparring is one thing, but guns and gun violence remain a deep-rooted and entrenched thou-shalt-not.
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her national best-selling books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite
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