Who were the Shakers?

Shakers are probably best known today for their craftsmanship, simple way of communal living, and their history rather than the religious cult practices they established 270 years ago.

There are just two Shakers left (as of 2017), both living in Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine. Part of the charismatic and communal doctrine of the group insisted on celibacy, even among married members. At its height, about 6,000 people belonged to the Shakers.

The Shakers started in 1747 as a break-off group from the Quakers in England. They were also influenced by French Charismatics who had fled to England to escape persecution. The name "Shakers" is more informally "shaking Quakers" as a reference to the charismatic influence on these former Quakers. Founders Jane and James Wardley said God told them to start the true church. The group was persecuted in England, sometimes arrested for disturbing the peace during their services. The group practiced charismatic activities such as dancing, speaking in tongues, shaking, and prophesying.

In 1774, Ann Lee, a devout convert, along with eight of her followers, immigrated to America to escape persecution in England. In 1780 members of a failed revival joined them and the group announced the millennium had begun.

During the Revolutionary War, many Shakers were arrested due to their English background, pacifism, and refusal to take oaths. Even so, the cult grew through adoption and the attraction of utopian ideas, communal living, and leadership opportunities for women.

Because all Shakers were allowed to prophesy and all prophecies were considered inspired, Shakers' beliefs can be difficult to classify. However, here are some of their beliefs:

• Celibacy: Shakers believed sex is the root of sin. They slept in segregated quarters.
• Confession of sin: Shakers believed the coming millennium is about to happen and encouraged continual repentance.
• Separation from the world: Shakers established communal communities, some of which are now well-visited museums.
• No ordained clergy: Anyone in the community was allowed to speak during "Spirit-led" worship.
• Gender equality: Women were only subservient to men in a marriage and equal in all other ways. Two men and two women led each community.
• God: Shakers held that God is both male and female. They said the Holy Spirit is Christ, and is separate from Jesus. Jesus, according to their belief, was the male manifestation of God and leader of the first Christian Church. Lee said she was the female manifestation of God, the second coming of Christ, the bride of Jesus, and the leader of the second Christian Church.
• Salvation and four covenants: Shakers believed salvation has historically been offered through circumcision in the time of the Patriarchs, following the Law during the Mosaic period, the way of the cross, and following God in the new kingdom.

Shakers beliefs are somewhat based on the Bible, but also mix in the thoughts and beliefs of others who claim divine inspiration. The belief that sex is sinful within marriage, the heretical misidentification of the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, Lee's representation as the second coming of Christ and as Jesus' bride, and other non-biblical beliefs decidedly brand the Shakers as a cult.

Shakers invented clothespins, (possibly) the circular saw, the modern broom, and were most likely the first to sell seeds in packets of paper. They are also known for their beautiful, simple furniture. The Shakers have made important contributions to society, but the majority of their theological beliefs are unbiblical and should be avoided.

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