Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Shakertown Pledge

Thirty True Things Every Christian Needs to Know Now is the title of the manuscript for a new book that I mailed to a publisher just yesterday. There are thirty five-page chapters proposed for the book, and #21 is “Too Little Is Almost Always Better Than Too Much.”

In that chapter I write about the “simple living movement” of the 1960s and 1970s—and also refer to Christy Edwards, my pastor’s wife,who preached at Second Baptist Church earlier this year and cited the words that were already in my manuscript, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

In the chapter mentioned, I make reference to the Shakertown Pledge, which was finalized thirty-eight years ago today, on April 30, 1973, at the site of a restored Shaker village near Harrodsburg, Kentucky. (The Shakers, as most of you may know, were members of a religious sect similar to the Quakers; it was most active between 1750 and 1850.)

The Pledge itself was drafted as a response to the unequal distribution of global wealth and resources, and called for group action by Christians to rectify the problem. Here is the Shakertown Pledge in its entirety:
Recognizing that Earth and the fullness thereof is a gift from our gracious God, and that we are called to cherish, nurture, and provide loving stewardship for Earth's resources, and recognizing that life itself is a gift, and a call to responsibility, joy, and celebration, I make the following declarations:

1. I declare myself a world citizen.

2. I commit myself to lead an ecologically sound life.

3. I commit myself to lead a life of creative simplicity and to share my personal wealth with the world’s poor.

4. I commit myself to join with others in the reshaping of institutions in order to bring about a more just global society in which all people have full access to the needed resources for their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.

5. I commit myself to occupational accountability, and so doing I will seek to avoid the creation of products which cause harm to others.

6. I affirm the gift of my body and commit myself to its proper nourishment and physical wellbeing.

7. I commit myself to examine continually my relations with others and to attempt to relate honestly, morally, and lovingly to those around me.

8. I commit myself to personal renewal through prayer, meditation, and study.

9. I commit myself to responsible participation in a community of faith.
I encourage all of you who read this to consider carefully the content of the Shakertown Pledge. Further, I invite you to not just think about it but to go on and make the pledge. I first became aware of the Pledge when I read No More Plastic Jesus: Global Justice and Christian Lifestyle (1977) in the late ’70s, making the pledge then and renewing it a few days ago. 

Making the Shakertown Pledge now may not have a great influence upon the world in the years ahead, but it will have some influence. And it will also make a difference, a positive difference, in the lives of all of us who make, and live up to, the commitments contained in the pledge. 


  1. Dr. Glenn Hinson writes (in an e-mail):

    "Readers of Thomas Merton can see readily why he liked the Shakers. Shakertown was such an appropriate place to put together such a pledge."

  2. This is an amazing pledge. What I like about it is that it is so nonsectarian. People of any faith tradition or with no faith tradition could affirm this pledge.

    One of the realities of our current world, certainly in the U.S., is that we have an economy built on extravagant consumption and extravagant waste. It does not bode well for the future.

  3. Anton, thanks for your comments. While I don't "like" your last statement, I think it is certainly true.

  4. There are some good concepts contained within the pledge worth implementing in one's life. Christians frequently miss the mandates of love and good works, and caring for the creation.

    Many people take on pieces of the enumeration, and are involved in organizations which promote parts. I belong to a couple of such organizations which affirm in practice much of the same. Yet both are beginning to embrace the politically correct practice of hallowing a "great cosmic nothingness".

    2 Corinthians 11:13-15 highlights the problem organizations/religions which appear so good on the surface. The demise of the Shakers is easily attributable to a very wrong theology. For if the world had embraced them and become Shakers, humanity would have passed within a couple of generations just as they did.

    There is good within simplicity, but there is also good within progress. One must also be careful to whom one is accountable, and take time to ask the "wrong" questions to verify one's accepted truth claims (presuppositions).

  5. Such a simple life.... I visited the homestead not long ago... There is a peace there. Something unexplainable...Leslie Taylor Tomichek

  6. The Apostle Paul famously told us, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) We understand this as individuals. What1 sojourner opens for us above is the fact that this applies to groups and ideas as well. To truly appreciate the elegance of what the Shakers represent, we must also recognize the limits. There is something necessary in the simplicity, even as it is not sufficient.

    The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates declared himself a citizen of the cosmos, much as the authors of the Shakertown Pledge declared themselves citizens of the world. Jesus, on the other hand, never quit being a Galilean from Nazareth, even as he embraced his destiny. We cannot be so universal that the particular falls out.

    Just last week my church voted to replace its aging Constitution. I had the privilege of serving on the committee that did most of the rewriting. Yet even as I joined in the discussion leading up to the final vote, I was keenly aware that I was hearing intimations of the next Constitution. We had written our hearts out, but we had only written for a few years. Yet, we did write simply. We simplified 17 pages of fading instructions into five, and three of those were by-laws. We wrote in the faith that we were writing a proper guide for our time, and that others later would write even more simply for theirs. We wrote with our feet perhaps too firmly planted in the Nazareth of our times, but with our hearts on our dreams of being citizens in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps the next Constitution will be as simple as the Shakertown Pledge.