08 September 2018

Does Your Umbrella Leak?

How many of you have seen Bill Gothard's infamous "Umbrella of Protection" graphic before?

If you haven't, count yourself lucky. If you have, you're in good company. Either way, I want to offer some of my thoughts on this illustration, since it is so familiar to many of us who come from complementarian church backgrounds.

According to Bill Gothard (who was somewhat of a household name to fundamentalist homeschoolers of the 1970's and beyond), the umbrellas represent layers of "spiritual protection":

God-given authorities can be considered “umbrellas of protection.” By honoring and submitting to authorities, you will receive the privileges of their protection, direction, and accountability. If you resist their instructions and move out from their jurisdictional care, you forfeit your place under their protection and face life’s challenges and temptations on your own. (original emphasis)

I'll grant that "protection, direction, and accountability" are aspects of God's grace that -- more often than not -- come to us indirectly through human means. That fact notwithstanding, I have several issues with Bill Gothard's umbrellas.

For one thing, his picture shows a total lack of understanding, not only of theology, but of how umbrellas work! I mean, how many umbrellas does a person need to shelter them from the rain? One. Who in their right mind uses three of them stacked on top of each other?

You only need one umbrella, people. 

This isn't hard. Even preschoolers know this.

It should go without saying, but if you're using more than one umbrella at a time to protect you from a rain shower, then one or more of them are unnecessary -- or broken -- and need to be scrapped.

Things get interesting when we take this oh-so-elementary knowledge of how umbrellas are supposed work, and apply it here. We're left with this question: Which umbrella is the most important -- the one we couldn't do without? (I hope you'll say "Christ's", because that's the right answer!) Which naturally brings us to our next question:

Why isn't Christ's umbrella big enough to cover everyone -- the husband, the wife, and the children -- without them needing to be (or have) separate umbrellas? Why does God need multiple layers of protection beneath Him? Does His umbrella leak? What is the husband protecting his wife from that Christ alone is unable or unwilling to? The implications of the answers to any of these questions are scary, to say the least.

In fact, it almost looks like the husband is protecting the wife from God, and the wife is protecting the children from the husband, which makes for a pretty dysfunctional family dynamic if you look at it that way.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that the wife is separated -- by her husband -- from direct access to God. God's protection and provision for her is mediated through a man, who is (obviously) a fallible human being. Meanwhile, the benefits the husband receives from God come directly from God Himself. It's sort of like Moses speaking to God on behalf of the Israelites -- except, that system of relating to God was supposed to be dispensed with after Jesus died on the cross (the book of Hebrews is my recommended reading material on that topic).

Funny, isn't it, that some of us believe God would tear through the veil of the temple so we could have access to all that He offers us, meanwhile leaving intact "umbrellas" between us and Himself. There's something kinda wrong with that idea, I think.

And yet I still believed it for a long, long time. By the time I got married, I'd thoroughly internalized the "umbrella hierarchy" and all that it implied. It was precisely this thought -- the thought of someone else standing between me in my relationship to God -- that nearly destroyed me in the first year of my marriage. Coming to a realization on these points is ultimately what started me down the path to egalitarianism:

If being married means Christ can no longer protect me and provide for me Himself, then I would have been better off never getting married. 

If being married places a barrier between God and myself, then I am better off single.

And we're not even delving into how misguided and damaging is the assumption that "protecting and providing" are only (or primarily) the husband's responsibility, or that caring for children and "managing the home" is only (or primarily) the wife's responsibility. That's a whole 'nother ball of wax right there!

Having said all of this, I don't believe it's enough merely to point out problems with the "bad" model of authority. We need to replace it with a visual of a better one. Thankfully, someone has already done this for us (I don't know who the artist is, or I'd credit them):


Notice that there's only one umbrella, and it belongs (as it should) to Jesus.

Male and female leaders stand side by side as equals, both fully covered by Jesus and neither depending on the other for what He alone provides.

Note as well that the children stand alongside the adults, not underneath them. God's protection and blessing covers them as well as their parents.

Now, if anyone ever tells you you need "the umbrella of protection", you know which one to take with you!

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