Churches join push against Amish "reality" shows

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Aug 6, 2014 4:00 AM
Amish farmer

(Harrisburg) -- A group of churches is coming together to fight against reality shows they say exploit the Amish community, as part of a larger effort called Respect Amish.

The Lancaster County Council of Churches, the Harrisburg Diocese, a Jewish synagogue, and two historically black churches all criticize shows like "Amish Mafia" for what they call an inaccurate and damaging portrayal of Amish life.

"Amish Mafia" is the most prominent of the shows, and stars Lebanon Levi and his crew as protectors of the Amish community. The premise of the show is that people both inside and outside the community keep Amish people safe using brutal tactics like burning cars.

Scholars say the show, and others like it, are not based in reality.

"Talk to your young people, your congregations, talk about empathy building conversations and what is a bigoted representation. This is a great moment for educating people, and I think that's one reason so many churches are saying let's take a look at it and let's discuss it," says Lancaster filmmaker Mary Haverstick.

Haverstick, who started the Respect Amish movement, spoke on a recent Smart Talk on WITF.

She says she's speaking up since the Amish rarely talk to the media because of their desire for privacy. She adds the shows have also hurt Lancaster County's reputation with tourists, and encourages hotels and restaurants to refuse to accept business from the shows' production crews.

"They basically wanted to say that this is tarnishing our entire area. What are tourists coming in to see? What do they think Lancaster is like? When we go out of Lancaster to shop our goods and we say we're from Lancaster County, how is this branding all of us?"

"We don't want them here, and if they come-a-knockin', as Discovery or the Learning Channel, ask if its the Amish shows and don't participate."

The Discovery Channel, which produces Amish Mafia and Breaking Amish, did not respond to a request for comment.

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