The Declaration of Independence describes to all nations, not just England, what tyranny looks like, and when it is right and proper to end a relationship. While this is a relationship between Mother England and her colony, it reasonably follows that tyranny is tyranny no matter what the relationship and that the same principles that defined a tyrannical leader in the 1700s should be applicable today.
So what principles can we apply to church, home, employment etc to ensure that we, whenever we have authority, are exercising it properly, and so that we, whenever we are under authority, know when it is proper to say enough is enough?
1. Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Any behaviors that physically affect a person, keeps them from being free to leave the situation or keeps them from pursuing their dreams is an oppressive relationship. Sure, there are always choices that must be made, and one choice often precludes another choice, but the person whose life is affected by the choice should be either part of the choice, and/or be allowed to leave and choose to pursue happiness elsewhere. (The exception to this is incarceration, where your behavior required you to be separated from others for the good of society.)
2. People should try to restore the relationship, and should not break relationships for ‘transient’ causes (things that are short-lived), but when there is a ‘long train of abuses and usurpations’ then it is a person’s right and duty to throw off this form of government.
There are two important points here:
-The colony (the person under authority) has rights that can be usurped. Being in a position of authority therefore does not give one unlimited power.
-The person who is oppressive is the one who forced the other to break the relationship. It is therefore the oppressive persons fault the relationship failed. The oppressed was correct to leave.
So let us look at the specific things that England did, and examine how an individual may oppress another individual in a similar way.
1. The King, a tyrant, refused to consent to laws for the public good.
Many leaders have this problem. They either do not like to make decisions, or do not like to take advice, so there is little guidance and direction given to the people who are under their authority. Or, if there are rules in place, the leadership undermines these rules by refusing to back up the person charged with enforcing them, by somehow negating the rule or by telling the person in violation ‘not to worry about it.’ Rules provide protection from oppression, as well as a framework that defines how the work is to be done. Too few rules, or no back up leads to the chaos of anarchy, where everyone does whatever they feel to be ‘right.’
(Today, this would be the federal government not enforcing immigration laws, and denying the states the right to handle the problems this lack of enforcement creates themselves.)
2. No one can make necessary rules without the king’s consent.
The people under the king, but over others are not able to make decisions on their own. Everything must pass through the leader (king), except that the king is not available, so when a problem occurs no one feels like they have the right to handle the situation.
3. The person in charge creates situations that make discussions, or meetings so difficult that they are not worth having.
In a marriage, or an employee/employer relationship this may be a person that refuses to listen, yells and goes on the defensive whenever they fear someone may say anything they do not wish to hear. Or they may walk away. There is no way to solve problems since there is no easy method for communication.
4. When someone does stand up for what is right, the leader removes the person, or committee, or shuts down the methods of communication.
This may be shutting down the committee that brought the problem to their attention, removing the suggestion box, refusing to go to counseling/mediation or just being generally unavailable so that no conversations may occur. The person does not like the methods used by the person bringing the matter to their attention and makes no effort to offer another solution to facilitate conversation in a timely manner.
5. The leader makes the people under them aware that life will not go well for them if they do not cater to his whims.
The people under him are scared to disagree. They know that there will be things withheld or they may even lose their position if they do not keep the leader happy.
6. A tyrant also harasses people.
Why? To let them know that, if they think life is bad now, he has the power to make it worse. This keeps people fearful. They know the situation is bad, but they also know it will get worse if they make the leader unhappy by trying to change it.
7. The leader also uses an unreasonable amount of resources.
The person in charge feels that, because they are in charge, they are entitled to use the resources freely, without thought about the people under them and what they might need. In a home, this may be watching what you want on T.V. without thought to what others may wish to see, or what might be appropriate for young children. It may also be spending recklessly, even if it is within the ‘rules,’ even money is tight. In the home this attitude would be, ‘I make the money, so I am entitled to enjoy it.’
A leader in the workplace, or in government is responsible for making right and proper decisions, not skirting the rules so that things work to their, or the people they prefer’s, advantage.
This is not the attitude of someone with a servant’s heart who wants to see their family, business or country prosper.
8. A tyrant also maintains methods of keeping people in line when there is no reason to do so.
The people under this leader have given no indication that they may behave badly, yet the tyrant sets up rules and processes by which to catch people in the act of committing crimes there is no reason to assume they will commit. This creates an atmosphere of fear and perfectionism, where everyone under this authority is afraid of being caught making a mistake. Leaders who do this, like the King of England, often have a group of informants whose word trumps even the most respected people outside their circle. Signs of this type of leadership include excessive security cameras trained on the staff and people who fear meetings since they assume they may be called on the carpet for something at any minute, even though they cannot think of anything they could have done to deserve such treatment.
9. A leader does not respect the rights of the people under them.
For the King of England, this meant that he could quarter troops in private citizens’ homes. In a church, this style of leadership causes members of the congregation to feel that they cannot say no to requests on their time, hospitality or donation of money. In a family, this means you really should talk with your spouse before inviting people over, especially if it is for an extended stay. In the extreme this means, do not tell your mother she can move in with you without speaking to your spouse first!
10. Mock trials: A leader pretends to listen and play fair, but everyone knows the situation has already been decided and the process is a sham.
I attended a meeting once about a Bible study curriculum I did not feel was accurate. When I arrived the DVD series was not available to reference, and it was clear the decision was already made, regardless of what I may have to say, since the ‘decision maker’ was absent and someone was sent with typed notes in their place. Any time you decide to ‘humor’ a person, rather than getting to the root of the problem (which may be the person’s behavior, stubbornness or lack of knowledge) you have circumvented the process of true justice which, if done correctly, should lead to increased knowledge and maturity.
11. Cutting off trade and imposing unreasonable taxes.
A leader who limits what people can do outside of their authority, or makes a person jump through unnecessary hoops to serve is in spirit doing the same thing. They are restricting the opportunities a person has to use their skills in a productive way. This may occur in a marriage when one spouse places unreasonable demands on another that thwarts their ability to get a job or an education, instead of coming up along side of them to help them succeed. In a church, this may be excessive requirements for even the most qualified to go through before they may serve. Often these are tests of ‘loyalty’ designed to produce ‘yes-men’ who will give the leader little trouble even when what he wants to do is complete folly.
12. Creating pretend offenses that people under them must answer for.
A despot of a leader often has thin skin and believes that many completely innocent actions are really secret passive-aggressive moves aimed against them. Typically this is because the leader engages in passive-aggressive behavior and so believes that everyone around them is as guilty as they are. Sometimes is it the result of past bullies, who, because the leader was not sure of himself, were allowed to attack him and those he loves for far too long. Many discussions about supposed backstabbing are a sign that this may be the issue.
13. Arbitrary and constantly changing rules that the leader does not apply to everyone.
A tyrant by definition wants things his or her way. They are controlling and a symptom of this is that the rules do not apply to them, or the people they currently favor. Why? Because the rules are not about right or wrong, they are about controlling the people they do not see as worthy. The rules change frequently because they are based on the leader creating the environment they desire and not about what is truly right in each situation.
14. A tyrant feels free to change agreements whenever they wish, even agreements that were put into writing.
This type of leader believes that leadership means they can do whatever they want. Meeting times and other plans will often change at the last minute to fit their needs, because their schedule and what they do in life is very important. They do not see that this has any negative affect on those around them, since they view others as having less important things to do.
15. Declaring people ‘out of his protection’ and waging war against them is his way of maintaining control.
If you do not please this leader he will deny you the things that are under his control that are necessary for you to do your part in the relationship. He will go further and punish you for not doing what he has denied you the ability to do by withholding the resources (which may be information), or creating a time crunch so you will have to rush to get what he wants done, even though others have known about it for weeks.
16. He will enlist others to ‘punish’ you as well.
There are many types of mercenaries, and many reasons why people will be a mercenary even today. Sometimes it is just lack of information. The leader, who is trusted because of his position, has twisted the facts and painted such a bad picture of the person they are thwarting that other people react badly to the person as well. At other times, blind loyalty, or not wanting to be on the leader’s bad side themselves motivates others to avoid and alienate the person the leader is currently displeased with. The addition of these ‘mercenaries’ typically makes the person under such authority leave the situation. While this happens in a church or work environment, this can also happen in a family. Be cautious of the person who is always on the phone telling you how awful so-and-so is.
17. A tyrant incites trouble within the organization or group they are in charge of.
These are people who stir up strife. They are typically experts at making it look like they are not involved and are the only sane person in the situation. But, when there is a pattern of upset people around the person in charge, look closely. There are people who know exactly what to say to create contention. Why? So they can be the heroes; the only person everyone likes, and the person people go to with their problems. It is a way to gain power and control, although it may just be a sign of ineptitude. (i.e. I do not know how to lead, so I play the devil’s advocate to avoid a decision, and then blame the people I riled up for the delay in progress.)
Also contained in the Declaration are the things good people do to rectify these situations. They:
1. They address their problems to the appropriate people humbly.
2. They warn others of the leader’s behavior because they do not want to see them hurt. (This is not malicious gossip, since its intent is to help and the information is pertinent to the situation.)
3. They remind people of the agreements that were made, and show how the leader violated these agreements. (These are not charges with no basis, but things that can be proven and reviewed by others. Good people want the matter out in the open, where people can decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Tyrants want everything hushed up and kept secret. They believe that no one, even people who are appropriate to help in these situations, needs to know their business.)
4. Good people understand that oppression is intolerable and that there is a time when separation is necessary, although that time is only after many, many attempts to reconcile have been tried.
In short, a tyrant’s goal is not justice, but control. Their wish is for everything that is not to their liking to just go away. They punish anyone who doubts their way of doing things, they do not like constructive criticism and tend to see others who do not share their views as being out to get them. Tyrants create fictions about why people should blindly obey or follow them. Even when their motivations are good, they do not feel the need to explain themselves, which makes it difficult for people to follow them, since they do not understand why they are doing the things they were instructed to do. Tyrants may appear anywhere, and are not always the people who have actual positional authority. (For example, many three-year-olds are effective tyrants in homes where parental authority is lacking.) The root of tyranny is selfishness, and a belief that my way is the best way. A tyrant may do many good things, but it is because it serves their own interests (which may be being perceived as good) and not because it is the right and proper thing to do. Life with a tyrant has many ups and downs because it is the rules of whims and not the rule of righteousness that takes precedence (though a tyrant may cite the law, and what is right, when it suits his purpose, but abandons it, or sites a contradictory rule, when it does not).
I hope this helps you sort out the situations you are facing. Many people feel guilty leaving oppressive situations, or standing up and doing anything about them, when the fault and reason something must be done has nothing to do with their behavior, and everything to do with the person over them behaving as if they were the only one whose wants and opinions truly matter. (And yes, we can apply this to the situations in our government as well…)