We Need a Strong Man!

The “Strong Man” Theory 

Here’s the political axiom for today:  When people are convinced that their community or nation is in decline, they tend to search for a “strong man” who will 1) offer simplistic answers to complex problems, 2) define a scapegoat to blame for their problems, and 3) promise to fix everything by the sheer force of his personality and will.

Here’s an extreme historical example.

The Boys in the Boat is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  Daniel James Brown tells the amazing story of the strength and character of the US rowing team that won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  In the shadows is the way Hitler staged the Olympics to demonstrate the greatness of “new” Germany while deeper in the shadows Jews were being taken to concentration camps and Hitler’s military was preparing to take over Europe.

It reminded me of hearing Franklin H. Littell,  the author of The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, describe a visit to Germany in the early days of the Third Reich. A German Methodist whom he described as a very good man, told him, “Adolf Hitler is God’s man for Germany.”  It was the “Strong Man Theory” at work, making Germany great again.

Having convinced a lot of folks that Mexico and China “are killing us,” that all of our leaders are “stupid,” and that Mexicans crossing the Southern border are “rapists and murderers,” it appears that Donald Trump is the “strong man” a lot of people think will “make America great again.”

But is that the kind of strength the world really needs?

The Strength of Jimmy Carter

Enter Jimmy Carter, sharing the news of his brain cancer.  It will lift your spirits to watch it here. He has demonstrated a different kind of strength.

It takes a “strong man” to wage peace instead of waging war. 

The political mythology that has been woven around Ronald Reagan has nearly obliterated the memory of the Thirteen Days in September when Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt.  It has stood for more than three decades, proving that peace through negotiation instead of war could still be possible in the Middle East. The New York Times called it “an act of surpassing political courage.”

It takes a “strong man” to face defeat with dignity. 

When the leaders of Iran humiliated Carter by holding the US hostages until the moment his helicopter lifted off from Washington, instead of supporting their President, most of the American people blamed him.  A weaker man would have slithered away in anger or bitterness.  But Carter faced the defeat with dignity and handed on the power of the Presidency with honor.  Leading to…

It takes a “strong man” to turn his greatest defeat into his greatest accomplishment. 

While other Presidential “libraries” have become theatrical stages upon which past Presidents are the staring performers, The Carter Center is not about Carter, but about doing good for others:  “Waging Peace.  Fighting Disease.  Building Hope.”  Regardless of how historians evaluate his time in office, Jimmy Carter has become the most influential former President in any of our lifetimes and perhaps in our nation’s history.

It takes a “strong man” to face death with peace, gratitude and hope. 

The news media has been fascinated at the peace, joy and faith with which Carter is facing his cancer. People lined up to see him teach Sunday School last week.  But folks who have followed Carter across the years are not surprised.  The spirit in which he is facing the last days of his life — however many there may be — grows out of a long life of faith, nurtured by patterns of spiritual discipline that have been the core of his being the whole way through.  He not only talks about the bible, he lives it.

It takes as “strong man” to be humble. 

David Brooks has pointed to humility as one of the necessary guideposts along The Road to Character.  But humility is in short supply these days.  We’d much rather sing “Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way” than “Make Me a Servant, Lord.”

But now and then we see the strength of humility in people like Desmond Tutu, Pope Francis and Jimmy Carter and we instinctively know that strength is not always measured by force, power or control.  There is a deeper, inner, more Christlike strength that grows in the soil (Latin humus, soil, earth) of humility.

When it comes down to is, the world is searching for men and women who know, live and share that kind of strength.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca (Tears)
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion. (Psalm 84:5-7)

Grace, peace and strength,


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15 thoughts on “We Need a Strong Man!

  1. Marvin and Carole Hurdle August 26, 2015 — 11:27 am

    Wonderful post, Jim! By the way, our church, St. Luke Methodist, Tupelo, is doing your study, The Disciple’s Heart, this fall. We suggested and pushed for it and look forward to your insights. Carole Hurdle

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Well said, James Harnish. Thank you for putting so eloquently into words what I have been pondering through these ridiculous PRE-nomination presidential campaigning days. Often I have not known whether to laugh or cry. Jimmy Carter has always been my favorite president for just those reasons. Also, being a retired teacher in the state of NJ, I have watched that STRONG MAN tactic get a similar tactless bully get elected to our state’s highest office and trembled as he also became a player in the rocky road to the White House.
    Our next Teacher Book Club selection is The Boys in the Boat. I am forwarding your blog to our group this morning and intend to use it in our discussion time of that book. Also wanted to let you know that our Adult Sunday School class will be using “A Disciples Heart” as our fall study. Everyone really “enjoyed”…albeit squirming a little, but learning much…from A Disciple’s Path. I am still using LECTIO DIVINA as a guide to my personal Bible reading.
    One more tid-bit. I am looking forward to W. Paul Young’s new book EVE. I have heard many of his talks on Genesis ( am also reading your book JOURNEYS WITH THE PEOPLE OF GENESIS in preparation for a women’s study group at our church ) and am eager to see how he has formalized all I have heard him say in his talks. I am hoping you will read it too and then blog about it…very interested in your opinions and observations on “the FALL”

  3. Jim
    Once again, you have nailed it. I have been struggling with wrapping my mind around this support of Trump. Thank you for calling us back to a center that we have wandered from, like sheep nibbling our way into dangerous pastures. I pray that your words find their way to ears and hearts that might be opened.
    Sue Corley

  4. AMEN! AMEN!! AMEN!!!

  5. Couldn’t have been said better, Jim. A clear distinction in a time of intentional confusion. Let’s find another “strong man” of peace who can bring some intelligence and compassion to our country’s leadership needs.

  6. John the Baptist August 26, 2015 — 4:20 pm

    As a Baptist, I so often feel sad when I read or hear some of the statements that some Baptist leaders make. However, I can depend on Jimmy Carter for an inspiring statement.

    I find it tragic that the first Republican president “appealed to our better angels”. Today’s Republican leaders, almost without exception, are appealing to our darkest angels. America’s foreign policy should spring from humility, not pride and arrogance. Whenever Donald Trump starts disparaging the Mexicans, I always wonder why one of his opponents or the media doesn’t ask him if he knows the number of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics that have been killed in Irag and Afghanistan. Ten per cent of the infantry in both the Army and the Marines are made up of Hispanics. I also wish someone would ask him how much our produce would cost if all the Mexicans were deported.

    When I was in the Army in 1968, I was cared for by a doctor who was from Mexico. He was not a US citizen. He had come to this country for advanced training and was drafted. He did two tours in Viet Nam. I believe someone needs to hold Donald Trump’s feet to the fire.

  7. Outstanding and gives one lots to think about in these times of turbalence.

  8. Thank you for your article today. I have always been impressed with Jimmy Carter and admire him even more today as he continues to serve others rather than giving up.

  9. Eleanor Buchanan August 26, 2015 — 9:15 pm

    Greetings from Eleanor—Please delete or not send to all. I read the book “The Boys in the Boat” sometime ago as Caroline is a light weight rower with The Gainesville Area Rowing Club. She has just recently finished 3rd in the Southeast Regional Championship and 16th in National USA Championship. In Sarasota there is a wonderful new rowing facility. I have attended several rowing competitions since moving to Gainesville. Caroline received a good scholarship and is a Freshman at the Univ. of Fl. She is living in the dorm and has pledged Alpha Delta Pi. She has really been a good friend to me as has Reid. I just finished reading Jimmy Carters “A Call to Action”. What an education that was. It is worth reading. I plan on reading “Reflections at Ninety” soon. I am rid of all my Tampa property. I turned 80 and have now lived at “The Village” a year. Scott continues to take such good care of me, I know Don would be proud of us both. I hope you and Marsha are both well. When you take your fall tour be sure you watch out for the witches. Love, Eleanor

    1. So good to hear from you. Glad things are going well.

  10. Bernard Lieving, Jr. August 27, 2015 — 1:23 am

    Jim, Great words today. Many thanks! Bernie Bernard Lieving, Jr. blievingjr@aol.com

  11. Elranor Crawford August 27, 2015 — 11:13 pm

    Wonderful sharing about a truly outstanding “strong man”! I hope you have sent this on to Jimmy Carter.

  12. Hi Jim. I have moved from Florida and cam to Texas where I am near my daughter. My friend Kitty Day has been sending me your writings and I have
    truly loved them. My problem is that your writings are going to be Unsubscribed, (whatever that means). They tell me that I can paste this
    URL into my browser. My computer does not know how to do that and I think it is too old ( along with me.!! ) I think Kitty will find a way to see so that I will be able to see your work.

  13. Hi Jim,
    We, too, need a ‘strong man’ here in Australia. Really enjoyed reading this.
    It has been over 2 years since David and I returned to Sydney and I continue to have wonderful memories of our time in Tampa and HPUMC.
    Towards the end of our time there (we moved back in Feb 2013) I remember reading the letter you wrote to your recently born grandchild. I remember how moved I was by your words and I was wondering if I could read it again. Thanking you, Jane

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