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The Shakers of D&C 49

After Christmas, we decided to finally upgrade our television, and got a new 55 inch HD LCD.  It’s pretty nice.  As part of the package, we are able to download Netflix directly to the television.  The first Netflix movie I watched on my new television was Ken Burns’ America: The Shakers (1985).  I picked it because I remembered that there was a mission to the Shakers in D&C 49.

Burns tells some really interesting things about the Shakers.  They’re called Shakers, a shorter version of the name Shaking Quakers.  They have many Quaker beliefs, and the Shaking part comes into play because they do some ecstatic dancing before God.  Song and dance are a large part of worship services.  They were founded by a woman named Ann Lee in England around 1770.  Ann had a vision of Christ, though the heading in the LDS edition seems erroneous in overstating this vision.  It says, “Some of the beliefs of the Shakers were that Christ’s second coming had already occurred and he had appeared in the form of a woman, Ann Lee.”  This isn’t exactly true.  Her vision was similar in nature to Joseph’s vision of the Savior.  We wouldn’t say that Christ’s second coming already occurred in the form of Joseph Smith, right?

Ann Lee had a vision of Jesus in 1770.  She was welcomed by a small group of Quakers, but was not welcome in England, so she moved to America, settling near Albany, NY.  In 1783, she was accused of treason and witchcraft.  Her sentence caused her to be whipped.  She was attacked by a mob for “stealing” a man’s wife–the woman had converted to the Shakers (the official name is United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing.)  She was born in Manchester, England in 1736 and died in Watervliet, New York, in 1784.

Shakers believed in strict separation of the sexes, and complete celibacy.  The way membership increased was through adoption of orphans.  Burns says that in the 1960’s many states refused to allow adoptions to religious organizations, which greatly hurt membership.  In 1985 when the documentary was produced, there were just 12 Shakers left in existence.  I believe there are just 3 left now.  I loved this quote from a Shaker:  “we bless marriage, because if someone didn’t marry, we wouldn’t have any Shakers.”

Shakers invented some very useful things, most of them were labor saving items.

  • Water repellent cloth
  • Clothes that needed no ironing
  • Clothes pins
  • Circular saw (by a woman)
  • They turned the round broom into a flat one

The documentary was fascinating.  Shakers were very communalistic (or we would say they believed in consecration.)  They accepted everyone, even those who they called “Winter Shakers.”  These were people that they knew only came to their community for food, and planned to leave in the spring.  Shakers felt Christ would help all people, so they helped them too.

Burns didn’t talk of the Mormons at all, but D&C 49 refers to Leman Copley, the first Shaker to Mormon convert.  A mission was organized to the Shakers.  Apparently, it didn’t go so well.  While the Shakers embraced Sidney Rigdon, apparently Parley P Pratt dusted his feet.  There is an interesting PDF article at BYU Studies.  Some brief excerpts from the Shaker Ashbel Kitchell’s Journal:

Some time in the year 1829 the new religion, (if so it may be called,) of the Mormons began to make a stir in a town not far from North Union.4 It created a good deal of excitement among the people. They stated they had received a New Revelation, had seen an angel, & had been instructed into many things in relation to the history of America, that was not known before.

Late in the fall a number of them came to visit the Believers. One by the name of Oliver Lowdree [Cowdery], who stated that he had been one who had been an assistant in the translation of the golden Bible, and had also seen the Angel, and had been  commissioned by him to go out & bear testimony, that God would destroy this generation.

We gave him liberty to bear his testimony in our meeting; but finding he had nothing for us, we treated them kindly, and labored to find out what manner of spirit they were of.— They appeared meek and mild; but as for light, or knowledge of the way of God, I considered them very ignorant of Christ or his work; therefore I treated them with the tenderness of children.

We continued on friendly terms in the way of trade and other Acts of good neighborship untill [sic] the spring of 1831 when we were visited on saturday evening by Sidney Rigdon and Leman Copley,5 the latter of whom had been among us; but not likeing [sic] the cross {celibacy} any to [sic] well, had taken up with Mormonism as the easier plan and had been appointed by them as one of the missionaries to convert us.

They came into meeting and sat quietly untill the meeting was through, and the people dismissed; when Sidney Rigdon arose and stated that he had a message from the Lord Jesus Christ to this people; could he have the privilege of delivering it? He was answered, he could. He then said it was in writing; could he read it? He was told he might. He then read the following Message. [The text of D & C, section 49, is here quoted with only a few minor wording changes from the way it appears in the Book of Commandments, chapter 52.]

At the close of the reading, he asked if they could be permitted to go forth in the exercise of their gift and office.— I told him that the piece he had read, bore on its face, the image of its author; that the Christ that dictated that, I was well acquainted with, and had been, from a boy; that I had been much troubled to get rid of his influence, and I wished to have nothing more to do with him; and as for any gift he had  authorized them to exercise among us, I would release them & their Christ from any further burden about us, and take all the responsibility on myself.

Sidney made answer— This you cannot do; I wish to hear the people speak. I told him if he desired it, they could speak for themselves, and steped [sic] back and told them to let the man know how they felt; which they did in something like these words; that they were fully satisfied with what they had, and wished to have nothing to do with either them or their Christ. On hearing this Rigdon professed to be satisfied,
and put his paper by; but Parley Pratt arose and commenced shakeing [sic] his coattail; he said he shook the dust from his garments as a testimony against us, that we had rejected the word of the Lord Jesus.

Before the words were out of his mouth, I was to him, and said;— You filthy Beast, dare you presume to come in here, and try to imitate a man of God by shaking your filthy tail; confess your sins and purge your soul from your lusts, and your other abominations before you ever presume to do the like again, &c. While I was ministering this reproof, he settled trembling into his seat, and covered his face; and I then turned to Leman who had been crying while the message was reading, and said to him, you
hypocrite, you knew better;— you knew where the living work of God was; but for the sake of indulgence, you could consent to deceive yourself and them, but you shell reap the fruit of your own doings, &c.— This struck him dead also, and dryed up his tears;— I then turned to the Believers and said, now we will go home and started.— Sidney had been looking on all this time without saying a word; as he had done all he did only by liberty nothing was said to him, and he looked on with a smile to see the fix the others were in, but they all followed us to the house.— Parleys horse had not been put away, as he came too late; he mounted and started for home without waiting for any one.— Sidney stayed for supper, and acknowledged that we were the purest people he had ever been acquainted with but he was not prepared to live such a life.

The journal continues, but suffice it to say, the mission didn’t produce very many converts.  There is an LDS Institute of Religion lesson on this section you may find interesting as well.

So, what do you think of the Shakers?

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10 comments on “The Shakers of D&C 49

  1. Don’t have much of an opinion of the Shakers from this, but PPP doesn’t come off very well.

  2. Yes, I agree. Brother Pratt seems to be remembered fondly in Mormon circles, but Sidney Rigdon seems to be poorly thought of for leaving the church. In this instance, it seems like Rigdon handled the situation well, while Elder Pratt seems to have had a bit of an un-Christian temper.

  3. Very interesting. That account actually reminded me of a couple of experiences I had while on my mission. The removal of dust and testament against those who choose to believe differently has always and continues to bother me.

  4. yes, I agree with you urban. I am glad that missionaries are actively discouraged from dusting the feet in our day.

  5. Anxiously waiting for the film: Ken Burns’ America: The Movers

    I had a missionary companion that dusted his feet after we were sternly dismissed by a home owner. I jumped all over him for that. At the time, I thought he actually condemned them.

  6. Ah Bishop Rick, I’m a bit slow. The Movers and the Shakers–those would be good Ken Burns documentaries….

    Did you decide not to go tracting on dusty roads anymore, so you didn’t have to worry about dusting your shoes? 🙂

  7. Actually wasn’t much dust…mostly snow in Canada.

  8. Not the model of interfaith dialogue perhaps. Perhaps Pratt was acting under directions to do as he did? Perhaps not.

    My brother told me something a couple days ago. “Winning an argument is more bitter than sweet, isn’t it?” So often on my mission I was just arguing to be right, not for the building up of Christ’s kingdom. Then one day I met an Eastern Orthodox priest (in West Texas of all places) who didn’t wish to contend with us… treating us “like children” as the above passage stated. When I tried to press the issue, bringing up Apostolic authority, he absolutely trounced me with his knowledge of the Apostolic succession and Early Christian history. In one paragraph, he completely shut me up. Then he invited me to a pot luck.

    I learned a lot from that priest. I “lost” the argument simply because of my prideful attitude. It had nothing to do with knowledge at all. I have learned quite a bit about showing our testimony through Christlike love. There’s always somebody out there who is smarter than you.

    Of course, in regards to Pratt’s curse… well, there are only 3 Shakers left now, so…

    (heh sorry)

  9. Interesting story. I’ve learned a little more about the Christian Orthodox Church over the past few years, and I must say their theology is very interesting to me. You might want to see this post I did comparing theosis to exaltation. Orthodoxy is pretty cool.

  10. I’m fairly positive that if I ever became disaffected with the Church, I’d go straight there.

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