Doctrine: When we are purposefully unkind, abusive (verbally, physically, emotionally), manipulative, demeaning, belligerent, hateful, rebellious, blame others for actions, and constantly cite our good intentions as justification or excuse, etc., we are setting ourselves up to exercise, or are exercising, unrighteous dominion.
Unrighteous dominion is one of those scriptural phrases we have trouble equating with normal life. So, let’s define it.
- Unrighteous = not righteous, or wicked
- Dominion = sovereignty, or control
So, we could also say: unrighteous control, wicked control, unrighteous sovereignty, or wicked sovereignty.
Wicked and unrighteous are also taboo-type words to those trying to be faithful Christians. We are very hesitant to label a person wicked or unrighteous even if they do something wicked or unrighteous; whether for a moment, a few days, or even a longer while. Therefore, if a normally good person does something unrighteous or wicked, we hesitate to call it what it is.
The Lord is not afraid to call wickedness what it is. When Martin Harris, a normally faithful and wonderful man, tried to take the translated record from “the prophet”, Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “And for this cause I said that he [Martin] is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:7). Martin Harris, and Joseph Smith, had been told “no” by the Lord several times when they asked to take the translation and show it to Martin’s family. But, Martin manipulated and guilted Joseph into going back to the Lord again and again. Joseph did so because he was afraid and aspired to Martin Harris’s friendship and financial support over the will of the Lord. Both had great justifications which were nonetheless unacceptable to the Lord and full of pride. Both acted wickedly.
The Lord also said in Doctrine and Covenants 121:33-40 that when we:
- “aspire to the honors of men” or, in other words, “seek for and desire the recognition and praise of the world/people over that which comes from God”
- “cover our sins,” or delay repentance, or pretend we aren’t sinning
- “gratify our pride,” or indulge or seek to please our own pride
- “gratify…our vain ambition,” or indulge a useless and ultimately unproductive desire
…we are set up to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion” in unrighteousness. Or, in other words, UNRIGHTEOUS DOMINION.
We are all wicked and unrighteous in those times that we are doing purposefully unrighteous things. When we are purposefully unkind, abusive (verbally, physically, emotionally), manipulative, belligerent, hateful, demeaning, rebellious, blaming others for our actions, etc., which we all do or have done at times, we are being wicked. It doesn’t mean our innate nature is wicked or unrighteous. But, until we repent and cease from such behavior, we are, in effect, wicked men and women. And, even more importantly, when we are doing purposefully wicked things we are setting ourselves up to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Unrighteous dominion is often brought about by aspects of pride that most of us don’t think of. The first is fear. What are we afraid of? We are afraid we won’t get what we want. We are afraid someone else will do something, or not do something, that will affect us negatively. We are afraid others will get what they want and we won’t. We are afraid of being overshadowed, forgotten, unappreciated, etc. We are afraid sacrifices we’ve made will go unnoticed or unrewarded. We are simply afraid.
Another aspect of pride that creeps in and causes us to practice unrighteous dominion is a lack of faith in the intelligence and abilities of others. It is related to a fear of things not happening that we want. But it is also a feeling that we need to exert force, compulsion, or control in some manner to preserve our idea of what is best, or right. We are certain that our compulsive actions are “just” because we are doing them to “make up for” the weaknesses, issues, unrighteousness, or struggles of others.
The problem with these fears and a lack of faith in others is that is based in a lack of faith in God. Yes, a lack of faith in God. Ultimately, we try to wrest control from God when we fear the things we will not get and the things that others will not do. We step in and manipulate, abuse, guilt, badger, and the like, to compensate for our own fear and lack of faith that God has things in hand. We can see only what we will lose which blinds us to everything else. We can’t see others will and choice as their own. We can’t see or trust God’s compensations. We can’t see anything but what we can do and what others cannot.
When we can only see ourselves and what will or will not benefit us, then we can’t see clearly the feelings, needs, or capabilities of others. We judge in-righteously and exercise unrighteous dominion.
- Unrighteous dominion has no respect for moral agency (i.e. free will, agency, freedom of choice, independent thought, etc.)
- Unrighteous dominion tries to avoid, maneuver around, and ignore the natural consequences of choice by self and others (“I’m just trying to protect you from…”)
- Unrighteous dominion is the momentary or complete absence of Christlike/godly love
- All unrighteous dominion is fueled, in some form, by fear, self-love, and pride
God has said (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-45, brackets added for clarity and understanding), that in order to avoid unrighteous dominion:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained…only by persuasion, by long-suffer [patience], by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned [or not pretend love];
By kindness, and pure knowledge [or full, complete, untainted or altered], which shall greatly enlarge [edify] the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile [selfish, personal agenda]–
Let they bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly…
As well, in the final verse God says that IF we do these things we will have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and that our sovereignty (leadership or control) will be one of righteousness and truth…without compulsion…and that it will last forever. In other words, it will be godly.
Conversely, if we try to lead or hold sovereignty in any office or relationship WITHOUT the means listed above, then we can’t have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, which by default means that our leadership or control is unrighteous, full of deceit, full of compulsion, and that it will be short-lived. In other words, it will be like Satan’s control—satanic (which is the opposite of godly).
God does not exercise unrighteous dominion. He invites, entices, persuades, waits in patience, is gentle with us, and loves us. He waits for us to learn from the natural consequences of our choices. He blesses us with grace as we repent and change and strive to do what’s right. Certainly He can get righteously angry, but that anger never leads Him to compel us to repent…and He gives us plenty of warning if our actions are no longer to be tolerated (“reproving betimes with sharpness” means reproving or warning of consequences before we sin). If we learn to exercise righteous dominion, as He does, then we will be well on our way to becoming like Him.
Most of us exercise unrighteous dominion accidentally from time to time. When this happens, the reactions of those we are trying to dominate and control usually serve to check us in our actions. For those who have made it a way of life, the people around them are generally used to being dominated and controlled and either they submit (whether happily or unhappily) or they eventually rebel and leave.
Certainly verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are the worst forms of unrighteous dominion. Verbal abuse is manipulative, coercive, insulting, demeaning, threatening, and purposefully unkind. Emotional abuse is neglect, abandonment, withholding praise or compliments, giving dirty looks, exuding unspoken anger or disapproval, etc. Physical abuse can be as small as unnecessary pokes, punches, and shoves to outright pushing, hitting, slapping, and beating. It is all damaging. It is all unrighteous.
Almost without exception, those who exercise unrighteous dominion will apologize at some point. They will claim they were only doing it because they loved you. They will blame you for causing them to get to the point where they had to exercise unrighteous control. They will say they were doing it for your safety from yourself or others (excluding safety from them, of course). The excuses will mount, and they will all have the same tenor…they were doing it for you.
It is important to note that if such instances of unrighteous control/dominion were extremely rare; meaning once every five years…or something like that (excluding physical or sexual abuse, of course, because these are NEVER justifiable or acceptable). Perhaps you might understand that they were trying to do what was best for you and you could let it go. But, the blame is never yours. You do not have to repent that they acted wickedly against you.
If, however, such instances take place daily, weekly, monthly, or multiple times a year. This is NOT okay. It is never okay for a basically good person to justify unrighteously trying to control you no matter how strongly they may feel that it is in your best interests. If you allow them to continue dominating you unrighteously, you are standing partially (because they are responsible for their own actions, no matter what you do) in the way of them recognizing their faults and taking the necessary steps to repent and change.
Even God, who is ALWAYS right, never tries to compel us to do His will. His plan is that we “act for ourselves”, NOT for us “to be acted upon.” And anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is momentarily, or consistently, being duped by Satan, the Adversary.
If in the course of reading this you have identified areas in your life where you exercise unrighteous dominion, then I hope you will take the time to ponder these areas and make a plan to repent and change. Do what it takes to learn to react and act differently. Study how to “teach/lead by the Spirit.” Seek God’s help. Through the Gift of the Holy Ghost and your sincere efforts, God can effect permanent change in your very soul as soon as you truly desire it.
If, however, by reading this you have recognized that you are the victim of unrighteous dominion, then I hope you will take the time to ponder what you can do to help those you love see they are acting wickedly, and/or put yourself in a situation where you can be safe from such treatment, heal, forgive, and move on. Seek help.