Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?

One of the most famous Quakers ever is also one of the most controversial. So was Richard Nixon really a Quaker? Author and Quaker historian Larry Ingle tackles the question.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

17 thoughts on “Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?

  1. Two points:
    1. There is a substantive difference between Trump’s claim to be a Presbyterian and Nixon’s claim to be a Quaker. Nixon belonged to a Quaker church; Trump does not belong to a Presbyterian Church, according to Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PCUSA.

    2. It certainly can be asked if Nixon was a faithful Quaker. You can ask if he was a pacifist Quaker (remembering, of course, that Quakers did serve in WW2, and remained members in good standing of their meetings). You might ask if he reasoned like a Quaker. But no Quaker outside his church could judge whether or not Nixon was a Quaker – at least until the day in which a commonly-accepted standard of what being a Quaker means is developed. Read the back issues of FJ – this was discussed into the ground back in the day and Eugene(?) Coffin, his pastor, responded powerfully.

    1. Nixon was indeed a faithful quaker, as it was his quaker beliefs that drove him to seek detent with the Soviet Union. Unlike Kennedy and Johnson, Nixon genuinely considered a nuclear war a possibly and feared it. That is why he sought detent with the Soviet Union.

  2. So, tell us please, what Eugene Coffin’s response was when Friends asked whether Nixon was a Quaker?

  3. VChild’s comment reflects my own thinking and I appreciate her use of Church/Meeting membership to differentiate between the two politicians. I sometimes use Buddhist beliefs, but that doesn’t make me a Buddhist. Hopefully the day will never come when there is a commonly accepted standard of who is or is not a Quaker. As a long time, active in Meeting, Non-thiest Quaker, I would be at risk for excommunication. Please, let’s not go down that theological path.

  4. Quakers, by our nature and tenants subscribe to a non-judgmental position – “Judge ye not least you be judged”.

    Nixon is dead and history is and has judged him to have done more good than bad. The root of his convictions are unimportant.

    Quaker Speak needs to get back to the basics of Quakerism as prescribed by George Fox in the practice of our Christian Faith and get out of politics – period. Politics have no place in a organized religion. Quakers have by their individual practice of Christian Faith should learn to leave Politics to the individual and the inner voice which speak to us all independently – voting, supporting and encouraging each’s individual conscience as citizens.

    Let’s get back to what is really important: The practice and demonstration of our Faith in the conduct of our daily lives and interaction with out fellow humans as Christian.. As Christ encouraged us, “Judge ye not least ye be judged”.


  5. all Quakers are first & foremost human living in a world of chaos. I strive to live up to the tentaments of my faith but often fall short. That has to be between me and my Lord. I think only Richard Nixon can say if he was Quaker.

  6. I like the idea that RN claimed membership to increase his popularity, even before Jimmy Carter. Certainly we can draw parallels to today’s politics. Yes, he was corrupted by power, yes, he was not a bastion of integrity but please remember he did end the Viet Nam war. He did open relations with China. I think the religion of his mother shaped his world view.

    1. He lied about the Vietnam War.

      “Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.

      Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative.”

      As they say, Nixon inherited a great Quaker legacy, and through diligent efforts, he managed to rid himself of it.

  7. I sometimes smile and think how fortunate I am to not be a member of an organized religion. My/our membership has been questioned by a few Friends because we eat meat, and, on occasion, enjoy some alcohol ( I know if no alcoholics in the fame;y since 1776; Catholics, methodists, republicans, democrats, and several Quakers, and a variety of others.) I see my place as part of the creation, and my duty is to live as the Creator taught/ teaches us. I accept that I ofter see some things differently than others who are also part of this creation.

  8. This is a question that Quakers are often asked. Rather than picking apart his life and judging whether he was a good or bad Quaker, it seems we need only say that he was an inactive Quaker. He was never read out of any meeting. Despite the much-used term “birthright Quaker”, one cannot genetically inherit Quakerism. The fact is, he did not attend meeting after his mother died. The charitable answer to the question “Was Richard Nixon a Quaker?” can only be “An inactive one.” Beyond that, any of us individually or corporately could be judged wanting.

  9. I blogged on this, but let me say this: the question wasn’t answered in the video. The video answered the question “does Larry Ingle (or perhaps we could say Friends Journal) like that Richard Nixon was a Quaker?” or perhaps “Was Richard Nixon an actively involved in a Quaker community?”

    But he was Quaker. That’s not up for discussion. On the books, never taken off, born one. Raised one. Quaker.

  10. I had previously commented on the Nixon question.

    I am encouraged by the responses to that video.
    QUAKER SPEAKS needs to listen to the messages expressed by others and get out of Political critique of people and politics in general – it is offensive to practicing Quakers.

    Leo Tolstoy said it best “Everyone wants to change the world, no one wants to change themselves.”

    WJ Russell

  11. Nixon had more bombs dropped on the Ho Chi Ming Trail than were dropped during the entirety of WW II. Then he did the same to Cambodia. Finally, he did the same to North Vietnam. Kissinger entered into peace talks with the North Vietnamese, telling them, “if you wait until after the election I can get you a better deal.” In the ensuing time period thousands of American soldiers died in the jungles of Vietnam, and many more Vietnamese from North and South. He prolonged the war for no good reason,thereby joining Johnson in the effort to do maximum damage during the grizzly conflict. Judgment? Certainly evidence.

  12. No, let us stay on course and continue examining the truth. “Getting back” to anything is a ridiculous statement.

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