HARRISBURG, Pa. (CNS) — Pennsylvania religious leaders from a wide range of faiths and denominations have issued a joint statement criticizing the Discovery Channel for its reality-TV series “Amish Mafia,” calling it a “negative, inaccurate and potentially damaging portrayal of Amish religion and culture.”
“At (its) core, this television series engages in religious bigotry,” the leaders said. “‘Amish Mafia’ is no more acceptable than ‘Jewish Mafia,’ ‘Catholic Mafia’ or ‘Evangelical Mafia.’ The show is an affront to all people of faith.”
Discovery Channel in materials on its website says the cable show is about “the men who protect and maintain peace and order within the Amish community” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and claims it is “a side of Amish society that exists under the radar.”
But the faith leaders in their Aug. 5 statement said the show misrepresents the Amish “as a crime-ridden culture” and “gives, by association, the same impression of Lancaster city and county. It changes the image of the county from one of pastoral beauty, where people are devoted to faith, family and friends, to one of banal ugliness.”
Discovery Channel’s media department did not respond immediately to a Catholic News Service request for comment.
Lancaster has the oldest and largest Amish community in Pennsylvania. The state has the nation’s second-largest population of Amish, numbering about 58,000; Ohio is first with about 59,000 Amish, according to 2012 census data. Eighteen states have a significant Amish population.
Signers of the statement include Father Paul R. Fisher, ecumenical and interreligious affairs officer of the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, whose 15 counties include Lancaster County, and Joseph Aponick, the diocesan director of communications. Other signers include leaders of synagogues, evangelical and Mennonite congregations, and several historic black churches, as well as the Lancaster County Council of Churches and a Lancaster organization that fights exploitation of the Amish in films and on TV.
Issued as part of the Respect Amish movement, the statement urged Discovery to immediately stop the production and broadcasting of “Amish Mafia.” The signers said they felt obligated to stand up against such “a bigoted portrayal of religious people” out of a “responsibility to our neighbors.”
“The Amish are horrified, shamed and embarrassed by the show’s depiction of their religion and culture. While their religious beliefs forbid them from public objection to this portrayal, their spokesmen have expressed deep appreciation and support for the efforts of others to foster respect for their community,” the statement said.
The “Amish Mafia” episodes “vilify the Amish religious way of life, suggesting that a peaceful people devoted to nonviolence are vengeful, violent and criminal,” it said.
Some promotional photos for the show four men, one of whom is holding a weapon. One of the four is described as being free to “carry out punishments of all levels against offenders.” The series has been renewed for a fourth season.
“All religions observe some form of the golden rule — that we treat others as we would want to be treated,” the faith leaders’ statement added. “To stand by silently while these shows mistreat the Amish in our community would make us complicit in breaking that rule.”