The Two Bibles
The conference here in San Diego is winding down and Janet and I decided to head up the coast and take in a little bit of California today. It was overcast this morning and we got off to a slow start. We really didn’t have any particular destination in mind, but we know that there are several things we would like to do before we head home.
For example, we may tour the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier moored right outside our hotel because, apparently, it is open for tours. We also want to see Coronado, as we have not visited the famous hotel since 1973. Of course, there are several other things we may try to do, but they are on a much longer list. Several years ago, I did quite a bit of work in Venice Beach and Janet has not been there. And I travelled to Lake Forest, CA and was able to see Saddleback Community Church, the megachurch here in southern California. Janet hasn’t been there either.
So by the time we finally picked our agenda for the day, we decided to head to Yorba Linda, CA, where the Nixon Presidential Library is located. We then drove back through San Juan Capistrano to see the mission there, started by Father Serra, and finally returned to our hotel in San Diego via as much of the Pacific Coast highway as we could cover.
I almost decided to write about our trip to San Juan Capistrano, as it was really terrific, but there is so much that I want to tell you about it, that it will take more time to cover. Besides, I was really struck by something at the Nixon Library, which, by the way, also includes his actual birthplace, many of his presidential artifacts, and is also the place where he and Pat Nixon are buried.
Janet and I are becoming old hands at visiting places like this. First, there is the obligatory movie about the life of the President, then several rooms filled with history of the early years of their political life, followed by stuff from their presidential victories and finally, legacy items and gifts from other heads of state. Sometimes, the grave of the President is also on site, and in this case, the actual childhood home and some pretty neat other stuff. For example, we toured the actual helicopter that Nixon used on the day that he resigned the presidency in the mid 70’s. It is on permanent display here.
Of all the things that we witnessed and learned today, one thing really stood out. That was the fact that Richard Milhaus Nixon was the first president who took the oath of office, for both inaugurations, on two open Bibles. That’s right – not one Bible, as every president before him, but two. When I asked about this decision, I found out that both Bibles were family heirlooms – one from 1928 and the other from 1873. It seems that they were held open, one on top of the other, by Nixon’s wife, Pat.
There are several other facts about Bibles used in inaugurations as well. For example, George Washington ad-libbed the words, “So help me God;” and every president since him has added those words to the official oath. By the way, Washington started the tradition of kissing the Bible after taking the oath and that tradition has withstood the test of time as well. Several of the presidents have actually used the same Bible that Washington used, and the same thing is true with the Bible that Lincoln used to be sworn in to office.
Jimmy Carter also used two Bibles in his inauguration. One was held open by his wife and the other bible remained on the podium and yes, it was the Bible used by Washington himself. But Nixon actually used two Bibles for the oath, and I guess that I should note, that with the exception of Franklin Pierce, in 1853, each president has sworn to uphold the office of President of the United States – Pierce decided to “affirm” rather than swear. And by the way, he also declined to kiss the Bible and thus broke tradition, although since then, the practice has returned.
But back to Nixon. I wondered what verse he used for his inauguration, as many of the presidents randomly open the Bible to take the oath. But not so with Nixon. Both Bibles, for both inaugurations, were open to a particular verse, Is. 2:4. It reads, from the King James version, “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Now with Nixon’s views of his own superior intelligence, I want to believe that he was referring to God when referencing the verse he used. But the thought has crossed my mind that Nixon may have been referring to what he believed his own divine mandate was – to end war and promote world peace. In any event, it is difficult to resolve the issues of the secret recordings made in the White House or the issues of honesty and integrity in dealing withe the Watergate scandal in light of his self proclaimed religious convictions. In fact, the Nixon Library does not attempt to resolve these questions. Furthermore, there is a quote on the wall that suggests that one should only judge Nixon in the totality of his life; not one or two questionable events.
Taking sides on politics is far outside the scope of this blog – so I will leave it here. My encouragement tonight is that God does want us to live in peace. Whether Nixon pursued this or not is up to the ages to decide – but it is clear that Pat Nixon wanted peace; and love. And so does God. My prayer is that you will continue to ask God to deliver us from war and that someday, the world may live in peace and that no nation will lift its hand against another. So help me God…..