The Quaker Corner: Differences Between Shakers and Quakers

From: JTR <[email protected]
Subject: Shakers/Quakers
Encyclopedia of Religion Website?
Date: Sat, 7 Jun 1997 22:04:13 -0400

Does anyone have a good explanation of the difference between Shakers and Quakers? My daughter asked me to explain this, and I really don't feel comfortable giving her an answer. I was looking for a website that has a brief history/description of the world's religions and was very disappointed in what I found. Is there something like an Encyclopedia of Religions on the internet? Any suggestions would be helpful.

Mother Anne Lee, who started the Shaker movement, was formerly a Quaker, and she did incorporate some of her Quaker background into Shaker practices: simplicity, financial responsibility, work ethic, belief in the perfectibility of humankind... among them. She and her followers believed her to be the second incarnation of Christ. Shakers were a celibate sect, and expanded their membership through adult conversions and the rearing of orphans, who were given a choice of joining the Shakers, or going out into the world when they became of legal age. They were an exclusively American movement, mainly located in New England and New York. Their worship included many lively songs--and dances-- of praise to God. The Quakers originated in England in the mid 17th century. They rebelled against the rigid hierarchy and government control prevalent in the Anglican church, and began meeting in homes or buildings without steeples, waiting upon God silently to make His presence felt and inwardly heard. Any person could be called by God to rise and preach upon any occasion of worship. They were much persecuted in England before finding refuge in the American colonies. They were, and are, very family oriented, far from being celibate, and would not agree that Anne Lee is the second incarnation of Christ. They also have historically not withdrawn from the world but have been very active in the cause of social justice for the poor and oppressed, education, humanitarian relief, and the humane treatment of prisoners in penal institutions.

While Shakers have nearly died out, Quakerism, though limited in numbers by comparison to mainline and evangelical Protestants, is alive and growing, both in the USA and in Africa and South America and other nations overseas. Many have today adopted the custom of having a person designated as primarily a pastor, and most are neither white English speaking nor North American, since the greatest growth in the past generation has been outside of England and the USA.

This is a great abridgment and oversimplification of the histories of the two groups, Quakers and Shakers, but gives you an indication of the major differences. For a good short readable history of Quakers, I recommend to you Howard Brinton's *Friends for 300 Years*. I hope this helps thee.

Julia Ewen
Atlanta Friends Meeting
Atlanta GA USA

Date: Mon, 9 Jun 1997 07:45:58 -0700 (PDT)
From: Tom Hamm <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: Shakers/Quakers - Encyclopedia of Religion Website?

The Shakers rose in England in the mid-eighteenth century, followers of Ann Lee, whom they called the "Blessed Mother Ann." Shaker teaching was that Ann was the female incarnation of Christ come to earth again. There were some Quaker influences on Ann Lee, we think, and after Ann came to America, settling near Albany, NY, in 1774, she attracted some Quaker converts. Theologically and in practice, however, the Shakers were different from Friends. Most notably, the Shakers lived in self-contained communities and were celibate. The best book available on Shakers is Stephen J. Stein, THE SHAKER EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA, published in 1992. 

I am a Friend. The best information about Quakers is at the Religious Society of Friends site. I was unable to copy the URL. However it is easily found by going to Cyndi's site and looking under Quaker. In the first section you will see a link to Religious Society of Friends. This is it. You will find more than you ever wanted to know at this site including a discussion of Shakers. Shakers are an offshoot of Quakers founded by Anna Lee in England. She brought the religion to America. They lived in communes and gained their members by conversions and by taking in orphans. They are celibate... so genealogy is not much of an issue <G>. The last Shakers (about 8) live at Sabbath Day Lake, in Maine. Doctrinally they were (are) different on a number of issues. For all the discussions on this list, Quakers are alive and well. Quakers do not seek to convince others of their beliefs, but all are welcome to attend meetings. Hope this helps.

Helen Staats Harris
[email protected] 

The National Geographic had a good article on the Shakers a few years back. As best as I can remember, the distinguishing feature with the Shakers is they embraced celibacy, and therefore did not marry and have children, hence any new members were converts, and among young people they were few and far between. Other than that, they seemed to be theologically close to the Quakers and Mennonites of the time.

Gene in NC 

Just have to reply to this even though I'm not very knowledgeable on the subject. One big difference - you have no Shaker ancestors. They took vows of celibacy. They did not reproduce. Some TV program interviewed the last two (females) members a year or so ago. They had to recruit new members in order to survive as a religion - seems they had a big problem! 

Betty Stevens 

I know that the Shakers were a communal group that espoused celibacy. That's one reason they're dying out. Other than that, I'm not sure about their religious beliefs.

Mary Ann 

According to John G. Shea's "The American Shakers and Their Furniture" (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1982), p. 3, "She (Ann Lee) came from England in 1774, with eight faithful followers all of whom were convinced she was Christ Incarnate." ..."The evangelical proclivities of Ann Lee first came to light when she joined a Quaker couple, the Wardleys, in divine worship. The Wardleys and their few followers were not conventional Quakers. They had come under the influence of the French Prophets, or Camisards, who were driven from France because of the emotional disturbances their unorthodox preachings caused among the people."

Katie Bond
Portland, Oregon 

Dear Friend Joanne:

With all due respect to the viewpoint of Friend Helen Staats Harris, I would disagree with her statement that Friends do not seek to convince others. There are today basically three varieties of Quakers in the USA: Friends General Conference (FGC), Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends Alliance (EFA). I think it is fair to say that many, if not most, FGC-related Friends Monthly Meetings and Yearly Meetings do not keep a very high profile in relation to missionary efforts or even local outreach for new members. However that does not mean we do not seek to convince others, we just tend to do it in the course of humanitarian and social justice activity, explaining that it is in response to our beliefs that we do these works. We worship in the traditional unprogrammed "silent" or "waiting worship" format. I currently am a member of an FGC affiliated meeting. I grew up in North Carolina Yearly Meeting, High Point Monthly Meeting, an FUM affiliate. It was a semi-programmed meeting, having a pastor who spoke from the silence each Sunday, although other Friends could and frequently did also preach at the leading of the Spirit. This meeting, and the other affiliated FUM meetings were and are strong and frank in their local outreach and support of missionary efforts in the USA and overseas. And the EFA affiliated meetings, as their name suggests, are certainly focused on recruiting souls to Christ.

All three varieties of Quakers have in common the belief that there is that of God in each person, that God reveals Himself to ordinary people directly in individual and corporate worship, and that no hierarchy or ritual or formal creed or ordination is necessary to accept the redeeming love and forgiveness of God, and to minister to our fellow human beings in His name. From this belief follow the testimonies that mark us as Quakers: refusal to go to war; speaking truth at all times, and therefore declining to swear oaths; simplicity in lifestyle and dress, working in the cause of social justice; working to reform prisons, rehabilitate prisoners and abolish the death penalty; relieving the suffering of victims of war, poverty, political oppression and crime.

The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, and the first members of the movement, the "Valiant 60", were not shy at all about publicly preaching on the streets (see Brinton, *Friends for 300 Years*). They even went into the Anglican churches, stood up in the services and directly contradicted what was being preached there. I think that what separates us from some other Christian evangelical efforts is that we do not deny the ability of God to "save" or have a relationship with people who don't call themselves Quakers, or even Christians. The truth that we preach is that true worship and true faith arise out of knowing God personally and following the leading that God sends to each person. Such leadings are tested among Quakers by referring to Scripture and by asking the advice of the Monthly Meeting in how to faithfully proceed. Apart from our faith community, we may fall into error, mistaking our own will for that of God. How could we in good conscience fail to explain to and offer to others what from our experience works and to welcome them with love into our community?

Julia Ewen
Atlanta Friends Meeting
Atlanta GA 

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