Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of posts on popularly misunderstood, misused, or misleading terms, stories, and ideas from the world of religion. In this first installment, “Miss Conception,” a recently retired religion scholar, takes a closer look at the “strong man” or “strongman” label casually applied to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. – eds
It has not escaped the attention of Miss Conception that Donald Trump consistently positions himself as the strongman among weaklings. (“Weaklings” originally referred to President Obama, though as of last week’s RNC Hillary Clinton has officially taken Obama’s place.) Evil incarnate, she is nevertheless weak, and as such the source of all that is wrong with this country, now cast as a dystopia. Ben Carson has even gone so far as to cast her as Lucifer.
Keep in mind that Trump has claimed to be the most Christian of all contenders, indeed the most Christian of Christians, during the primaries, while now tipping his hat to the evangelicals who supported him during his acceptance speech at the RNC. And many of his evangelical supporters seem to have accepted the association of “strong man” with Christian every step of the way.
As Stephen Prothero wrote in Politico: “The televangelist Kenneth Copeland has praised God for Trump, whom he sees as ‘a bold man, a strong man and an obedient man.’” Robert Jeffress went even further, claiming that it’s “’biblical’ to support a ‘strongman’ in government.”
In short, the battle of good vs. evil is in now play, the forces of Trump set to destroy the forces of Clinton. (Clinton seems to refuse to play it out in these terms so far, however.)
Gentle Reader, how ironic! One need only check the text of the Gospel according to Mark, along with associated synoptic texts, to find that Jesus himself squarely portrays the “strong man” as the devil. So, for example, when accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, “the ruler of demons,” Jesus answers, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” He follows up with, “But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man…” (Mark 3:24, 27), a reference to Jesus as the one who vanquishes or plunders the devil by casting out demons.
And lest we consider this identification of strength—of brute force—with sin and evil as simply a Christian aberration, we need only check Isaiah 49:24-26, a passage to which biblical scholars think the Markan text makes tacit reference. In this passage God clearly sides with the weaklings against the strong or “mighty” (as God often does throughout the prophetic texts).
Thus it appears that Trump, and at least some of his supporters, identify Trump with the devil. Are they on to something we don’t know? Are they—heaven forfend!—not up on their bible?
The text from Mark, taken in full, focuses further on the house that divided against itself cannot stand, a point worth remembering as we struggle through this campaign year.
Just thought you would want to know….