Domestic Tyrants

I was contemplating recently why I don’t care for the term “abuser.” It’s certainly an accurate description at times. I wondered if perhaps it was the overuse of the word that bothered me; and I think that is definitely part of it. However, I think I mostly flinch at the word because we are all abusers – every time we sin against someone we are “abusing” them. People are not put on this earth for me to egotistically use. When I am selfish or unkind, or when I manipulate someone else, I am “abusing” them. If I scream at my children to get them to obey me, I am not correcting them biblically; rather, I am in a sense “abusing” them. But, that alone does not make me an automatic “abuser.”

So, what makes the chronic, controlling “abuser” different from the everyday sinner who offends, regrets that offense, and repents? And what would be a more accurate and distinct term for him? I think the word “tyrant” is more fitting- and I’m leaning toward defining the domestic version this way:

A domestic tyrant is a man (or woman) who exercises his/her limited authority as if it is unlimited, and wields power in a cruel or self-gratifying manner. A domestic tyrant resists accountability, avoiding or outright refusing to submit to any authority in his/her own life.

Unrestrained, a domestic tyrant oppresses his/her family in various ways. They may discipline their children excessively or unjustly. They demand or expect blind obedience from those under their control. They are cruel with their words, critiques, actions, and requirements.

A domestic tyrant often makes unreasonable demands, imposes commands that cause family members to be unnecessarily burdened, pointlessly withholds reasonable pleasures, creates secrets, randomly explodes, and/or isolates his/her family unnecessarily. A domestic tyrant is a cruel master who rules by force, using fear to oppress those they are called to sacrificially love, nourish, respect, or lead.

Men and women are different both physically and emotionally; therefore, though female domestic tyrants do indeed exist, they are typically quite different than their male counterparts. A woman who is a domestic tyrant may exercise authority that she doesn’t have (toward her husband) and exert the limited authority she has over her children, as if it is unlimited. Similar to the male domestic tyrant, she uses cruelty, manipulation, rage, harsh words, neglect, tears, self-pity, lies, or sometimes physical violence to control, manipulate, and oppress her family.

There needs to be more teaching on how to biblically deal with true domestic tyrants (in the church and without). God’s people need to know the difference between the everyday conflicts experienced by any family of sinners, and the chronic, controlling, oppressive behavior of a tyrant, and how to deal with them both Scripturally.

A World of Sinners

We all “abuse” one another when we sin against each other. We love ourselves more than we love our neighbor and “use” each other for some form of real or perceived personal gain. However, there is another level of sin that is chronic, mean, unrepentant and even calculating – it is evil and consuming. It has nothing to do with “biblical submission,” “patriarchy,” or being “quiverfull,” as some egalitarian opportunists have claimed. It has everything to do with tyranny and sin, and it is no respecter of denomination, lifestyle, sex, age, or income level.

Some individuals with an egalitarian agenda have used for their platform hand picked families from what they call the “quiverfull” movement. (See Jesus-Full) Though tyrants exist in every type of family imaginable, they use only examples from families who appear to subscribe to the lifestyle they disagree with. They shamelessly exploit families suffering under domestic tyranny and use them to conveniently market their egalitarian position; and, in the process, they slander innocent families who are honestly living out their faith to the glory of God.

This is not only harmful to healthy families; it is a slap in the face to those who truly suffer or have suffered real abuse. However, because abuse is such an emotional hot button, many are easily deceived into believing that a more liberal doctrine where no headship exists would keep everyone “equal” and tyrants would have no power. This is a lie.

You see, the problem with tyrants is that they don’t recognize any authority except their own. So, while the concept of “equality” may seem nice and fair, it means little to a tyrant. Biblical authority requires accountability for all men.

Twisting God’s Word

Some tyrants do indeed use the Bible to hurt and manipulate those under their control. They shamefully pervert God’s Word to their own benefit; however, modifying the meaning of Scripture doesn’t solve that. It just means we need to better teach what the Bible actually says, disarming the tyrant who seeks to twist God’s Word and keep his/her victims silent. That’s what Jesus did when Satan tried to manipulate Him in the desert – He spoke God’s Word back to him and didn’t allow himself to be manipulated by evil. The Truth of God’s Word is a sure defense – but we need to know the Word, so as to disarm Satan the way Jesus did.

Domestic tyranny involves more than everyday offenses – even really bad ones. One friend put it this way: “It’s much more similar to kidnapping or man stealing or unjust enslavement, in that it steals normal liberties. Domestic tyranny is a campaign to damage and destroy, and it will use whatever means its left with, to that end.”

One way to disarm some tyrants – especially religious tyrants – is to teach the truth about biblical submission. I think to some degree we’ve all reacted, and maybe overly reacted at times, to feminism and the sins that branched from that tree. However, as always, we should act, not react. The answer to feminism isn’t blind submission to authority. The answer is humility and scriptural obedience.

Yes, wives are called to submit to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22); but, not blindly and never to the point of sin. A woman who enables a tyrant by submitting to his wild or irrational demands (or standing by while he makes those demands of her children) is not being a good helpmeet to him, and it may be that she is naively participating in his sin.

God has put certain protections in place for women. A rebellious man who thinks he is the ultimate authority, and refuses to be accountable to anyone besides God is dangerous. Too often, these types of men want their wives to submit and their children to obey, but they demonstrate no obedience or accountability themselves. A woman with a sinning husband who refuses to repent should seek the counsel and aid of her elders – elders who themselves are under authority.

Please read Should She Obey Him? and What is Abuse?

Women need to know that it is okay to seek help from their elders; or, if isolated, to seek help from godly family members, or others who the Lord makes available. It is not okay for a husband to tell his wife that she must submit to him no matter what. And if he does, he is abusing his authority.

She needs to know that it does not make her a feminist if she seeks godly counsel and help when her husband is behaving like a tyrant. We, the church, need to learn how to recognize and help families in crisis. We need to do like Jesus did and, when confronted with the manipulation tactics of the enemy, know how to see through it and respond and act (not react) biblically with the Word of God.

10 thoughts on “Domestic Tyrants

  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I grew up with a domestic tyrant. My mother, for the longest time, did not dare reveal any of this. The abuse went far, emotionally and physically. Only when I was growing into adulthood was I able to talk her into seeking help: a christian counselor, our pastor. Unfortunately my family’s situation was not salvageable, since there was and is no repentance. But.. what was salvageable was the relationship my mother and I had and our love for God. I am a happy wife now, submissive to my husband’s authority by choice, untainted by the memory of the abuse of authority by my father. And both my mother and I managed to forgive the abuse, even while we did not continue to live with the abuse. Our bodies and minds are safe, and thanks to Christ our souls abide in Him, and not in captivity.


  2. Thank you! I know well the group you are addressing, and thank you for saying something publicly like this to address it.

    I was abused severely through my childhood, though not exactly by my parents. Regardless, it left me with a distaste for authority. And yet, I obey my husband. Not blindly, he knows my opinion and if I disagree I tell him why! If I thought he was acting in sin I would not obey. How can I be a helpmeet if I cannot help him make a decision with another point of view. Help refers to more than the physical. He listens and considers my point of view before any decision is made. It is not blind obedience that the bible commands. And that’s what makes me most angry with the women who now believe every QF marriage is abusive. They sat by. I don’t want to be too harsh because the fact is they were abused, and abuse gives you a mindset that is hard to fight, but they also did nothing to protect themselves or their children. In some cases they abused their own children under the guise of obeying their husbands. The bible never teaches that. And now they attack our way of life, because they believe it can only possibly end in abuse. It’s not so.

    I know women who have been abused by husbands who are older than them. Being older meant they could give an excuse to justify it, and the women, at the time, believed that’s how it was because their husband was older. But those women do not believe every marriage with an older man is abusive. My father in law, my 1st fiances father, my best friends father are all older than their wives, and in non-abusive marriages. You cannot say every marriage with an older man is abusive just because being older can open a door for a justification for abuse.

    The sad thing is, that is what they believe patriarchy has to be. Instead of thinking, maybe my definition of patriarchy is wrong, they think my definition is right which makes patriarchy itself wrong. I told some of these women how my husband and I live once, and they informed me I, in fact, have an egalitarian marriage. By their definition every single partiarchial marriage I know is actually egalitarian, including yours Stacy, by your own definition. The fact you are free to disagree, apparently, means you are not in patriarchy. It is absurd.

    I hate to be so blunt because, again, they were abused and I have a lot of sympathy for that. But what it boils down to is, they did it wrong, but that dosen’t mean everyone will. I regularly read a particular website regarding this opinion, and some of the stories on that site make me absolutely sick to my stomach. Nothing about those situations was biblical, and they would not be endorsed by the fact majority of us here today. I read it because of my fears, because my worst nightmare is to be back in a controlling, abusive situation, and I had heard patriarchy leads to that. While I trust my husband, hearing from all angles that I was being a doormat and abused, simply for being a housewife, made me afraid. That website has given me much needed reassurance that this is NOT the life I’m living in. My husband and I would never condone what happened to them and their children.

    Thank you for addressing this topic that I have become so passionate about.


  3. So very thankful for this post and the accompanying links. I am immediately passing them on to my readers and to certain ladies I have been counseling with privately. The need is so great right now for a BALANCED, biblical view on this subject.

    I just heard another “quivering daughter” interview on the local Moody station just this past weekend. The interviewer was commending the girl for coming to the knowledge of “self.” How much more blessed women would be to come to a full knowledge of Christ and to follow His Word rather than what seems right in their own eyes.

    Let us pray for and expect it.


    1. Thanks, Marcia. You are right – there is a great need for a balanced view. I think it all boils down to trusting God with the fact that it is He who turns hearts. We are simply called to speak the truth – and what people do with that truth isn’t something for us to worry over. I think some people are afraid that if you tell women that there are some things they don’t have to (and shouldn’t) submit to, that they’ll end up picking and choosing, and perhaps wind up feminists. 🙂 But, the truth is, we actually promote feminism when we go beyond God’s Word and misrepresent the Scriptures – we give feminists something to complain about. We’re not holier than Jesus and I am finding more and more that when we try to be, we (the Body of Christ) shoot ourselves in the foot


  4. Marcia, it is important for women to know who their “selves” are, and gross abuse will rob them of that. I disagree with the level of authority patriarchy gives men, partly because abusive ones will be buffeted all the more by it and justify their actions, but I know that it does not by itself make monsters of men.


    1. Very important distinction, Jenn. To say we have to get rid of patriarchy because some men abuse it is like saying we should get rid of sex because some men are rapists. Men who are sinful monsters will use any excuse to behave monstrously. They don’t need a twisted version of patriarchy to justify their sinful choices.


  5. True, though some do use spirituality to limit others’ ability to question them. I do believe that some levels of patriarchy give men authority they shouldn’t have (there are many levels of it). But I also believe in the kind of country system that has men as its guardians; many men should be involved in government and the army should always be primarily male (I’m dubious about women being in combat at all, though they have made good pilots in other military areas).


    1. True, though some do use spirituality to limit others’ ability to question them.

      Yes, but bad men will use any excuse to “limit others” — they’ll use their education, their background, their cultural upbringing, their superior strength…you name it. Good men who are submitted to authority (including God but also including other men, counselors, pastors, bosses, etc.) do not abuse their position. They use it to lift up everyone else around them as they have been lifted. Only weak men and cowards use their position or their “spirituality” to manipulate or push others down.


  6. All very true. But religion’s the deadliest weapon; as King Charles in “Joan of Arc” told his bishop, “I can only threaten people with prison. You can threaten them with eternal hell.”


  7. “A woman who is a domestic tyrant may exercise authority that she doesn’t have (toward her husband) and exert the limited authority she has over her children, as if it is unlimited. Similar to the male domestic tyrant, she uses cruelty, manipulation, rage, harsh words, neglect, tears, self-pity, lies, or sometimes physical violence to control, manipulate, and oppress her family.”

    She will also refuse/withhold/limit sex.


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