Kentucky historians chose to restore these simple, beautiful buildings, starting in the 1960s and 1970s. Things are peaceful there: with wood pegs surrounding your room to hang all your earthly possessions on, useful and beautiful furniture and implements, and cows, horses, and goats grazing. You can pretend that the world is not insane, even if your room does boast a small flat-screen television (without cable).
The Shakers sustained themselves over the years by taking in widows, widowers, and orphans--often the "least of these" in their society.
They were kind and charitable to many, efficient and practical in every endeavor, and known for their expressive worship. Houses here contained what came to be known as "families"--women staying on the left side, men on the right. They did many things right--and a few things very wrong, from what I can see.
|Ann Lee, exhibiting perfection!|
The order moved to the States and continued to grow, spanning multiple locations. As with all great tragedies illuminated by history, the rise of Shakerism grew from bad leadership. Ann's theology was a mix of biblical truth, ecstatic fury, and even a mean perfectionism. There was something to be said for communal living, something that seems laughable to Americans today. But how God must have wept as a woman named Ann tried to exalt herself as divine, sought to desecrate marriage--a relational reminder that illstrates God's love for His church, and tried to fashion each Shaker into a person who only does any task with absolute perfection.
I believe I know why she did it. And bad theology has everything to do with it.
She wanted people to see that Christ's image needed to be displayed "in the female." From their "Millennial Church" booklet, a case is made that women prophetesses and leaders in the Bible proved that Jesus must have a divine female counterpart who just happened to be Ann. (God does offer fatherly and motherly care for each of us--but Scripture doesn't indicate an additional "female" representation of Jesus. She made that part up.) What started as one woman's yearning for equality evolved into a twisting of theology. Heaven help us, men and women alike, that we discern God's Word correctly, and rightly divide the Word of truth. The over 150 years of Shakers history are proof: it can be tough to "shake" bad theology. Thankfully, we have the assurance that God's Word never changes. I, for one, pray for wisdom to truly accept it and obey it.
How has your life been impacted by bad theology? How has correct theology set you free in Christ?