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.
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.