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The Hutterian Brethren is named for Jacob Hutter, who was burned alive at the stake in 1536. The Hutterites descended from the Swiss Brethren, the oldest of the Anabaptist groups. The Hutterian Brethren differed from the Swiss Brethren largely by their practice of having all things in common, a practice they adopted from the New Testament Church, as recorded in Acts 4:32-35. The Hutterites did not break away from the Protestant Church, as they were Catholics before they became Anabaptists. The Hutterites were never Mennonites either; although the Swiss Brethren later adopted the Mennonite name, the Hutterites had already become a distinct group before they became familiar with the writings of Menno Simons, as his influence was confined to the Netherlands, North Germany and Holstein. The founders of the Hutterian Brotherhood were Swiss Brethren refugees who had come from various parts of South Germany and the Tyrol to Nikolsburg in Moravia, having heard that Anabaptists were tolerated there. Before long, they were asked to participate in services held by the local pastors or to leave that place, so from two to three hundred of them left in 1528. Camping in an abandoned village named Bogenitz, they spread a cloak before the people and everyone gave up his earthly possessions, which was the beginning of communal living among the Hutterites. After moving several times, they found no lasting sanctuary in Europe. Most of the Hutterite's early leaders were executed. The Hutterian Brethren immigrated to the United States between 1874 and 1879, settling in Dakota Territory, many of them moving to Canada to escape conscription during World War I. Hutterian theology is not so different than most Protestant churches, except that they believe in holding all property in common, and they believe in nonresistance, do not take oaths, hold public office or participate in elections. They believe in a personal God, in three Persons, and baptize only on profession of faith.





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Who Are the Hutterites?


The Hutterian Brethren had their origins in Moravia, which was then under Austrian rule. In 1526, Anabaptists were invited to settle the rural areas by the Moravian gentry in order to help develop the local economy, and to show its independence from the Holy Roman Empire. They settled at Austerlitz, adopting a communal lifestyle in which they pooled their resources, agreeing to hold all things in common, and became known as the Stabler Brethren.

Meanwhile, other Anabaptist groups were developing in other parts of Austria. Jacob Hutter became a convert to a Swiss Brethren group in the Tirol, becoming a leading Anabaptist leader by 1529, when he traveled to Austerlitz and became acquainted with the Stabler group.

When Hutter returned to the Tirol, he encouraged a relocation of small groups of Anabaptists to the slightly more tolerant Moravian region, as persecution of the Anabaptists in the Tirol was on the increase by that time. In 1533, Hutter moved from Tirol to Auspitz, where the Stabler group had moved in 1530 after a leadership dispute.

Persecution of the Anabaptists throughout Austria escalated in the mid-1530s, and they were expelled from Moravia. Hutter moved back to the Tirol, but was captured and burned at the stake in 1536 after he refused to renounce his beliefs in separation of church and state, to take oaths, bear arms, or to abandon his support for a communal way of life.

After his martyrdom, the group took on his name, becoming known as the Hutterian Brethren. Despite persecution, the Hutterites grew in number to about twenty-five thousand members by 1600. In time, persecution drove them to Hungary, then to the Ukraine, and to South Dakota in the 1870s. Due to the group's pacifism, they were encouraged to migrate to Canada during World War I, but many returned to the United States after the war, and were granted conscientious objector status during World War II. Today, they are found mostly in the western portion of the United States and Canada, and have a membership of about thirty-thousand.

Who are they, what do they believe, and what is their way of life like?

In order to understand who the Hutterites are, it might be necessary to know a little something about the Anabaptist Movement, of which they were a part. A reference to the Anabaptists as a movement might indicate that all of the Anabaptist groups were united in faith in practice, but that would be far from the truth.

What has become known as the Anabaptist Movement took place at around the same time as the Protestant Reformation, but was separate from it, known as the Radical Reformation. In fact, the Anabaptists were persecuted violently by both Catholics and Protestants. Any Christian groups who rejected infant baptism were referred to as Anabaptists (rebaptizers) by their opponent, and some of these groups, at that time, differed widely in doctrine and practice, although those who persevered and answer to that name today are much closer together.

The Hutterites descend from the Swiss Brethren, who are the oldest of the Anabaptist bodies, and now known as Mennonites. The founders of the Swiss Brethren were followers of Ulrich Zwingli who, when promised governmental support, abandoned his earlier belief in separation of church and state, including compulsory church membership. Zwingli also backed away from his earlier rejection of infant baptism and, before long, the governments supporting Zwingli began to persecute the Anabaptists as well.

The chief reasons for the persecution of the Hutterites had to do with their belief in separation of church and state, and their disapproval of infant baptism. In those times, all civil governments insisted on a close union of church and state, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Zwinglian governments, each of which tolerated only one creed, namely that to which the rulers adhered. The Anabaptists had enjoyed an uneasy refuge in Moravia only because, although Moravia was ruled by Austria, they were allowed a degree of autonomy, and certain of the Moravian lords believed that adherents of different Christian faiths could live together under one government. Even within the Moravian lands, this proved to be a temporary arrangement.

Infant baptism might seem to be an odd thing for a government to concern itself with but, in that day, the whole population of the state were church members, that being the equivalent of citizenship. Largely for that reason, while Jewish people living within the areas controlled by a Christian state were not required to be baptized, neither were they considered to be citizens.

The Hutterian Brethren, as well as the Swiss Brethren, rejected the principle of a state-church union, and disapproved of the use of force to make the borders of the church coincide with those of the state. Baptism was considered the act of making someone a Christian, and held that the church should consist only of those who personally believed in Christ and were willing to surrender themselves to Him. Not recognizing the validity of infant baptism, they required those who had been baptized in infancy to be rebaptized. They also believed in expelling from the church those who lived in open transgression.

The history of the Hutterites is that of a group of Christians who were determined to give God his rightful place in their lives. The early Hutterian Brethren were uncompromising in their rules of conduct and practice, based on their understanding of what the Scriptures mandated.

Hutterites believe that baptizing babies is not Biblical. They believe that the Bible requires separation of church and state. They are pacifistic, holding that Christians should not go to war or take up arms against other human beings. They also believe that Christians should not take oaths. They believe in banning baptized members who repeatedly fall into sin, or who are not open to repentance. Hutterite pastors are responsible for teaching, discipline, and other duties, including imposing the ban. They teach that the Lord's Supper is symbolic of the suffering of Jesus, and should be done in remembrance of Him.

The main point on which Hutterites differ from other Anabaptist groups is that they believe in community of goods, in which all material goods within the community are held in common. The only other Anabaptist group that practices communal living is the Bruderhof, an offshoot of the Hutterian Brethren. The Hutterites base this on the early church, as established by Jesus, in which the disciples shared everything, a practice that was continued by the apostles and early Christians, as reported in The Acts of the Apostles.

There is a tendency among those unfamiliar with the church to confuse the Hutterites with the Amish, largely because of the way they dress, although there are many similarities between the two groups. However, the Amish, although they tend to live in colonies, near others of their own faith, do not hold material goods in common, although they are known to be generous to other church members in need.

Since their Anabaptist origins in sixteenth-century Europe, the Hutterites have maintained a modest, simple, and uniform dress code, much like the Amish. The traditional Hutterite dress originates from the German and Austrian dress of the time: black Lederhosen and suspenders for the men, and the Dirndl, a sleeveless dress, with a blouse and apron, for the women, although modifications have been made throughout the years.

There are three groups of Hutterites, each holding to their own variations in a dress code. Common among Hutterites are blouses and ankle-length dresses, head coverings for women, dark trousers and suspenders for men. Adults usually wear dark jackets and coats, while children often wear lighter colors.

Among the Dariusleut, men's jackets are collarless, and men are prone to wear a hat. Women wear two-piece dresses with elbow-length sleeves, generally dark in color, and they wear an apron made from the same fabric as the dress. Their head coverings are black kerchiefs with tiny white dots.

Lehrerleut men are dressed much like the Dariusleut, but women's dresses are lighter, usually with an even lighter, usually plaid, apron. Their kerchiefs are also black, but with huge white polka dots that make them appear nearly white.

The main difference in dress between the Schmiedenleut and the other two groups is that they wear many types of dark casual jackets, and may use suit jackets that are similar to non-Hutterite suit jackets, although usually homemade. Schmiedenleut women wear dresses that are either one-piece or two piece, depending on preference, with head coverings that are plain black.

As with the Amish, particular dress styles are cultural traditions, and the goal is modest, simple clothing in uniform style, dictated by local church ordinances. Dressing differently from the rest of society is as much a part of being a Hutterite as living communally, as it encourages a sense of belonging to a larger whole.

Hutterites are not as strict in prohibiting the use of electricity and other modern conveniences as the Amish. Until recently, the Lehrerleut and Dariusleut colonies still had only one central telephone, but now most families have a telephone, a transition that the Schmiedeleut had made earlier, and phones are used for both social and business purposes. Most Hutterite homes  have computers and radios, although Internet access is available only in some of the more liberal Schmiedeleut colonies, and some Lehrerleut colonies have gone back to practices limiting the use of computers to business operations.

Hutterite children attend colony schools built and paid for by the community, but generally staffed by local public school boards. In the past, most Hutterites did not attend school beyond the eighth grade, which is the practice of the Amish; more recently, some colonies are allowing high school education, usually conducted over an interactive television system, over the Internet, or by teleconferencing. Some colonies have begun the practice of facilitating a teacher-training program, allowing Hutterites to become licensed teachers. In addition to teacher training, some Hutterites are taking vocational training courses in a variety of fields.

In each Hutterite colony, the minister is also the chief executive. In consultation with an advisory board, the minister makes day-to-day decisions for the colony. The advisory board consists of the minister, the colony manager, farm manager, and two or three witness brothers who are elected for life.

The colony manager is responsible for overseeing the colony's business enterprises, which are generally agricultural, livestock production, or manufacturing. He is also responsible for the financial operations of the colony.

The farm manager supervises all of the field work, and has jurisdiction over all workers over the age of fifteen, who have not been appointed to specific jobs by the colony.

The minister, colony manager, and farm manager meet each morning to plan the day's activities. Other colony members might drop in to discuss new ideas, make travel arrangements, or bring other issues to the attention of the colony's leaders. The witness brothers are not usually involved in the morning meetings, but are consulted on large decisions.

Over the years, the Hutterites have faced a number of challenges, including intense persecution and martyrdom, yet they have persevered. The sorts of challenges that Hutterites face today are different from those faced by their ancestors. Prominent among these challenges is finding a way to remain separate from the world in a time of computers, Internet access, and smart phones. Hutterites no longer have to leave the colony in order to experience the world, as there are many ways in which the world can enter the community. Hutterian Brethren have always faced challenges, and it may well be that this will prove no exception.

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