The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama

By David L. Holmes | Go to book overview

Richard M. Nixon
1913–1994 PRESIDENT FROM 1969 TO 1974

Richard Milhous Nixon—the middle name came from his mother’s German heritage—was born in Yorba Linda, a small town southeast of Los Angeles. He was raised in the evangelical wing of Quakerism. “No one,” Nixon wrote, “could have had a more intensely religious upbringing.”1

The Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers) emerged from the left, or radical, wing of the Puritan movement in England. The Puritans attempted to “purify” the Church of England of what they considered unbiblical beliefs and practices—such as rule by bishops, elaborate liturgy and vestments, and intercessory priests. Puritans of the Puritans, the Quakers went further, eliminating not only formal liturgy but also sermons, clergy, sacraments, and creeds. In their place, the Quakers emphasized the direct revelation of Jesus Christ within each individual. Believing that the Christian churches had become the vassals of secular governments, they also opposed military service, the taking of oaths, and social hierarchies.

Originally, Quaker worship was silent, except when the Spirit prompted members to speak. In the United States, however, some Quaker meetings were influenced by Unitarianism or evangelicalism. Although Friends meetings influenced by these theological currents held to such traditional teachings as nonviolence and plainness, they often had clergy trained in seminaries, programmed services of worship with music, Bible study classes, and Sunday schools. Such Quaker “churches”—a term the evangelicals used instead of the traditional Quaker designation “meeting”—were more prevalent in the western United States.

Like most evangelical Quaker churches at the time, Nixon’s church opposed dancing. Unlike silent-meeting congregations, the East Whittier Friends church had a piano. As a boy, Nixon—who had learned from an aunt how to play—sometimes accompanied the church service. As a teenager, he also became president of the church’s chapter of Christian Endeavor, a highly

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