The Three C's of
Celibacy is often confused
with abstinence or the restraint from having sexual relations. However, celibacy is more involved that that; it is the restraint
from not only sexual relations but marriage as well. For the Shakers, the practice of celibacy is one of their core principles
of belief. The belief in celibacy is so strong that in Shaker communities a separation of the sexes occurs. This separation
of the sexes is based on the idea that carnal or sexual relationship between Adam and Eve was the original sin. Mother Ann
Lee felt that the early deaths of each of her four children were the results of punishment stemming from sin she had accumulated
through her own sexual experiences. The Shakers also abdicate celibacy on the basis that it takes the emphasis off of the
body and places it on the spirit. Present-day Shakers acknowledge the advantages the celibate life style. Sister Frances Carr
of the Sabbathday Lake Village
points out, ‘“Celibacy frees you to love equally. . .Celibacy, I feel, frees me to love a lot more people than
I would be able to love had I been married to one man’”.[i] It should be noted however, that although the Shakers live a celibate life style,
they have always acknowledge the need for others to live non-celibate life styles for the benefit of the human population.
While many of the world’s
people often assume that celibacy would be the most difficult part of Shakerism to accept, those who come to the Shakers and
go through a trial period actually find that it is the communalism that is most difficult. On a very basic level to be Shaker,
one must give up a portion of their individual rights. Decisions are made by the group rather than just a single person
or even a few people. The idea of community goods is also a part if the idea of communalism. In a Shaker village, goods do
not belong to a certain person; rather there are common goods that belong to all community members equally. In the early periods
of Shakerism, converts would bring their assets such as livestock, household goods, grains, and land into the folds of the
community with them.
Just as celibacy and communalism
must be accepted by all Shakers, there is a third aspect which must be accepted as well. That is the concept and practice
of confession. As part of the process of entering the Shaker community as a full fledged Shaker, members are required to confess
their sins to the elder or eldress as part of the process of “‘opening the mind’”.[ii] Confession in relation to passage into the Shaker faith is in ways similar to
the concept of baptism found in other religions. However, unlike the concept of baptism, confession is a process which can
be and is repeated over and over again. Confession does not only take place when a Believer has crossed a line and is seeking
purification, but it is also part of regularized activity within the village.
[i] Suzanne Skees, God Among the Shakers:
A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake (New York: Hyperion, 1998), 133-134.
[ii] Stephen J. Stein, The Shaker Experience
In America (New Haven: Yale University Press,