There is so much to admire about the Shakers and the way they conducted their lives, but they went off track in some very important areas.
- I love reading about their amazing work ethic. Their leader Mother Ann believed that every member of the Shaker community had an obligation to work, and each person was trained to do a specific job — whether it was cooking, gardening, building, farming or doing the laundry. She taught that every person should “live as if you had 1000 years to live and as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Such a mindset developed a culture of excellence.
- I love their emphasis on music and writing songs. Through the years, members composed thousands of songs, primarily used in their worship services. The most famous one is “Simple Gifts.”
- I love their determination to live peacefully and the fact that they fed and cared for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
- I admire all of their helpful inventions: the circular saw, clothespins, the flat broom, a rotating oven that could bake 60 pies at one time, ball-and-socket tilters for chairs, and a new type of fire engine, to name a few. They shared these with outsiders without worrying about obtaining a patent.
- They lived separate lives from the world, but when they saw something that would make their lives better, they readily implemented it in their community. So, their homes had electricity and running water before many around them.
- I appreciate the fact that they viewed the sexes as equals and that women had equal food, accommodations and opportunities to produce goods as the men did. The symmetry inside the buildings reflects that perfectly with the side for the men and the side for the women being the same size.
- Buildings at Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, were obviously built to last. The Central Meeting House was finished in 1820, for example, and the East Family Dwelling (which now houses overnight guests) was built in 1817. Two hundred years of durability.
- What they produced was known for its quality and excellence — baskets, brushes, bonnets, brooms, homespun fabric, furniture, garden seeds, medicinal herbs, and even applesauce!
- The workplaces and the houses of Shakers were clean and orderly. More of Mother Ann’s admonitions include: “Clean your room well, for good spirits will not live where there is dirt.” And, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
- Shakers believed that they must confess their sins regularly, and I certainly agree with that. Nothing good comes from letting unconfessed sins mount up in our lives.
BUT, once you look beyond these very good things, the more disturbing beliefs and practices emerge.
Ann Lee founded the Shakers (first referred to as the “Shaking Quakers”) in England in 1770, as a result of her discontent with the Anglican Church. She married in 1762 at the age of 26 and had four children, but all four of them died in infancy. Shortly after the last child died, she claimed to have had a vision from God that sexual intimacy was the root of all evil and that a person had to be celibate in order to truly serve God. She persuaded her husband and seven followers to leave England and relocate in America. Within two years of coming to America, her husband left her for another woman. Clearly, Ann Lee had a very unfortunate experience with marriage and with child-bearing, but God created the sexual union AND the ability to conceive and bear children. And, the Bible has a lot of say about marriage, husbands, wives and being parents.
As the doctrine of Shakerism and celibacy spread, there would often be 40 or more men and women living under the same roof but in opposite parts of the house. They took vows to live together as brothers and sisters, rather than as husbands and wives. So, of course, my question was HOW did these communities grow without any children? I learned that the Shakers adopted many orphans and reared them in their communities, giving each one the option to stay or to leave at the age of 21. The Shaker membership was at its highest between 1820-1860 with 6000 believers, so many of those adopted orphans must have chosen to stay.
Probably the most troubling belief of the Shakers was this — the formal name for the Shakers was the United Society of Believers in the Second Appearing of Christ, and they believed that Ann Lee, who came to be known as Mother Ann, was the embodiment of that Second Appearing of Christ. She came to believe that God was bisexual, that Christ was the male portion of God and she was the female portion. Ann died at the age of 48, but by then there were plenty of believers to take up her missionary zeal for making converts to Shakerism.
So much good was done by the Shakers, but they were oh-so-wrong about some very important teachings in God’s Word.
Genesis 2:23-24 “ The man said, “This is now bone of my bones,And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman,because she was taken out of Man. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”