Forum November 2013

Further light on Richard Nixon and Quakers

I have a few historical anecdotes to share in response to Larry Ingle’s recent article, “Richard Nixon’s First Cover-Up,” (FJ June/July). For a period of almost 30 years, I was an active member of Friends Meeting of Washington. Sometime around 1983 or 1984, an elderly, long-time member of the meeting related an anecdote about an event that happened on the morning of Richard Nixon’s second inauguration.

At that time, her husband was clerk of the meeting. Early in the morning, they received a phone call at their home from the Secret Service, asking that her husband immediately come to the meetinghouse to unlock the door for the president, who wanted to sit by himself in the main meeting room. Her husband was told not to try to speak to the president. President Nixon sat alone in the meeting room for possibly 45 minutes. After the clerk returned home, he and his wife agreed to not tell anyone. I asked what her husband had thought of this strange event. She said that her late husband had been a person of few words, but had simply believed the president wanted to reflect silently on his situation (with the Watergate scandal on the horizon), and that the message for the rest of us had to do with there being that of God in all of us.

As we were finishing this conversation, another elderly, long-time member of the meeting joined us and related another anecdote from the early 1950s. Richard Nixon’s mother, Hannah Milhous Nixon, would occasionally bring the two young Nixon daughters to First-day school during Nixon’s congressional career. On one occasion, Richard’s wife, Pat Nixon, “stormed” (my storyteller’s word) into the meetinghouse on Sunday morning and took her daughters out of First-day school, saying something along the lines of “she wasn’t having her daughters learning all this Quaker pacifist stuff.” The teller of this anecdote vividly remembered the loud noise that Pat Nixon’s high-heeled shoes made as she stormed down the wooden staircase from the main meeting room floor to Decatur Avenue; she also recalled that Pat Nixon’s fur coat was “flying out behind her” as she held each of her children’s hand.

Denny Hartzell
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

As a Friend with a concern for public perception, I think that tackling the story and legacy of Richard Nixon is important work. He is one of few public figures in modern times who openly claims Quakerism, and he is the highest office-holding professed Quaker. I think it is crucial that we engage with his reasoning for claiming Quakerism as his faith, and debunk some of the myth of that claim.

I was not alive during the Nixon presidency, but my parents were. I have taken an interest in that time period as one of great potential and also great heartbreak (the latter of which I believe Nixon himself contributed a great deal). I watched Frost/Nixon recently and came to this article in my research about what really happened with Richard Nixon.

I hope to continue the work that you’ve done here in using the Nixon story as a platform on which to begin the conversation about Quakerism, and set the record straight. Thanks again for providing that starting point.

Jon Watts
Philadelphia, Pa.

R U 4 real?

I am deeply disturbed by the simulated cell-phone text conversation in the August 2013 issue (“R U Clerkn?,” John Fuller). Was it intended to be entertaining? Or perhaps amusing? It appears to condone, even approve, such disrespectful behavior by committee clerks. Or perhaps your intent was to raise a concern about frivolous committee clerks? I sincerely hope that this simulated text conversation is not representative of what committee clerks are actually doing while hard-working committee members make their reports. Committee clerks should be fully engaged during committee meetings, striving to discern the sense of the meeting, not carrying on inane and surreptitious conversations via cell phone. I am unable to find words strong enough to express how unutterably wrong this is! I sincerely hope that I will never have to suffer through a meeting with a committee clerk so totally lacking in respect for the process, for those wholeheartedly participating in the process, and for the light which this process is intended to share.

Joel Miles
Koror, Palau

“Loved this.” “I hope this is real.” “Hilarious.” “LOL.” “Sadly, I understand this!” “Too funny. . . Lucretia Mott texting.” “Vry fny.” “What a hoot! Loved it!” “Ha ha!!!! This is fabulous. Hey, momma…, check it out….” “I LOL’d when I read this in FJ and took the issue to MM to share. Nice to see Quaker humor!” “Ha, why oh why are there never tablecloths at any of the meetings I attend?”

Comments on Facebook

I am probably the recording clerk in question. You know, we could probably speed things up a lot if we had a policy of selecting only young people with good texting skills as recording clerks (and getting rid of obsolete requirements for grammar, spelling, and punctuation). We fogies have trouble typing fast enough, and I suspect even Friends Journal readers my age can figure out what the text dialogue is about.

Jim Giddings
Greenville, N.H.


The letter is in response to Friend Rob Pierson’s letter about fossil fuel divestment (FJ Aug.). I am not one of the Friends in New Hampshire that he refers to, but I can speak to some of his questions about divestment and its usefulness and reach.

The big oil companies have already spent a lot of money locating and investigating oil reserves that they have not yet begun to exploit. If they exploit those reserves completely (or even anywhere above 20 percent), the climate change discussion and discussions about how to survive as a civilization will be quite different from what they are today. This is why the movement to divest is focused on big oil companies, but not on related industries or users: the message is to keep it in the ground.

This particular divestment campaign is intended to send the message that they need to let those reserves become stranded assets. They need to kiss their already spent money goodbye. Divestment, at least as promoted by the campaign, is not intended to be “quietist” (good observation, I thought), but rather to engage deeply in speaking truth to power.

Related questions abound, as Pierson’s letter points out. The overall concept of pressuring oil companies recognizes that oil companies, who employ engineers and scientists and are well capitalized, can transform themselves into energy companies. That would be a better use of their research and development budgets.

My own hope is that this would be a major change in the business of energy production and offer consumers the choice of renewable energy, signalling venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to enter the huge market of renewable energy and its infrastructure in a big way. Is there a need to wait for big oil to move first? As Pierson also points out, Quakers have a history of “raising up whole new industries along with generations of scientists and entrepreneurs.”

The need is for big oil to stop polluting the commons for free. It is not illegal to emit carbon dioxide, and there is no dollar cost associated with it. The costs are there, to be sure, but they are paid by all of Creation. This is what speaking truth to power needs to be saying at this point in time to big oil.

Karie Firoozmand
Timonium, Md.

As co-author of the Dover (N.H.) Meeting epistle on divestment from investments in fossil fuel companies, I wish to respond to Rob Pierson’s letter published in the “Forum.”

Are we as Friends able, in good conscience and in line with Quaker principles, to continue to profit from investments in an industry whose products are clearly destructive to the ecosystem, and which has aggressively blocked change from their products to clean, renewable energy for decades?

Do Friends understand that the damages from human-induced climate change will continue to occur on an increased basis and with increasing intensity if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated? And do Friends truly understand that the results of unabated greenhouse gas emissions are now the single most dangerous threat to all life on the planet?

Is it possible for Friends to have a serious conversation about climate change if we’re not divested? Isn’t there a difference between being captive to a system that keeps us using fossil fuels and willfully profiting from investments in that industry?

Tom Jackson
Newington, N.H.

Quakers and atonement, continued

If Anthony Manousos “doesn’t quite get his facts right,” neither does Marshall Massey (“Forum,” FJ Aug.). I have read extensively in the writings of Elias Hicks and other early Hicksites and find that it is not true that they “refused to embrace the doctrine of the Atonement.” What they did refuse to embrace was the satisfaction doctrine of the Atonement.

George Fox and other early Friends did not write a lot about the Atonement. Fox and Robert Barclay clearly opposed the doctrine of imputed righteousness, an important component of the satisfaction doctrine. William Penn wrote of the many “gross absurdities and blasphemies that are the genuine fruit of this so-confidently believed doctrine of satisfaction”—far stronger language than John Comly or Hicks used on this point!

I believe deep and searching dialogue is needed for Friends to work together today. To paper over our differences and “unite around practices and social justice” will not get us very far. To insist that those who reject the satisfaction doctrine are doomed to eternal punishment is a recipe for disaster. I suspect that most “Liberal” Friends could accept at least the “moral influence” view of the Atonement, if they knew about it. So could most “Christ-centered” Friends: we might believe that, while true, that view just doesn’t go far enough and deep enough. There are other views—“Christus victor” and “covenant” theories—that some Friends might want to explore together.

T. Vail Palmer Jr.
Albany, Ore.

In his letter commenting on “Are Quakers Christian, Non-Christian, or Both,” Marshall Massey pointed out a core split in the the theologies of Universalist and Hicksite Friends—our beliefs regarding the history of God’s relation to mankind.

Fortunately, it is merely a theological difference; the flow of divine love, with which all of us seek to align ourselves, unites Quakers far more powerfully than belief systems can divide. If God is supreme, then there is no reason, in my mind, to believe that he hasn’t, and doesn’t, offer reconciliation by many, many paths.

The Atonement is clearly an important event that brings salvation to many, but I am unable to reject other theologies which describe different ways that God has touched the human world.

Melody Ashworth
Medford, Ore.

Children and parents in meeting

Reading Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bringing Children to Worship” (FJ Aug.), I recall one parent of a small meeting in Ontario at Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions trying to encourage his daughter to sit quietly during worship. Her very reasonable response was, “But Daddy, I can pray standing on my head!” Her ministry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray and worship in all circumstances, and from whatever position I was in at the time.

At another meeting, when Friends noticed the power struggles between children and their parents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adoptive” grandparents, with whom the children could sit. That defused the power struggles, and members of meeting who had no children of their own were very helpful to parents in that meeting.

I also recall learning to sink deeply into worship and hearing a younger Friend’s grandmother giggle. I looked down and there was the one- to two-year-old peering up in wonder at why and how I could sit so quietly when he was busy crawling under the benches. It was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day and is still a part of them.

Christine Greenland
Warminster, Pa.

Growing Quakerism

Brent Bill’s “New Meetings Project” (FJ Aug.) is the most hopeful article I’ve read about the growth of Quakerism. Thanks to all who are creating new meeting communities and making our cheerful message more available in the world.

Signe Wilkinson
Philadelphia, Pa.

The world as fragile oasis

I have been feeling terrible all week since watching a report on child labor. Yesterday, through my door, came a wonderful surprise: the August Friends Journal in color, with God’s golden thumbprint in a child’s finger painting, held lovingly by an adult teacher.

I opened to read “The Overview Effect: Love for all God’s creation,” Daphne Clement’s response to this unjust terrible, world. I felt like one of the first-century Roman Christians hearing Paul’s epistle: “I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing, with all the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Yes, Daphne, throughout history we have all had these terrible concerns. Hopefully, we can perceive the world as a “fragile oasis” or, as Julian of Norwich wrote of her Medieval world, “a hazelnut, held in God’s hand.”

Roberta Nobleman
Dumont, N.J.

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