If you’ve blogged for over ten years as I have, you probably have scores of jotted ideas, half-baked posts, drafts, and . . . what do you know it, full posts that somehow never got posted.
Today, when I had a few moments but wanted to avoid listening to the news that literally put me to bed yesterday on Pentecost Sunday, I began scrolling through my files and files of blog ideas.
And then, there before me was a complete post about Bill Gothard’s umbrella heresy that I never had posted. And since Gothard—a man that I, along with many thousands of others, used to adore—has been in the news again recently, and since his teaching promotes complete compliance to abusive authorities (talk about being pertinent to the news!) I’m posting it now.
What Gothard himself actually STILL says
As long as a person is under an umbrella, he finds shelter from harsh weather conditions. If he steps out from under the umbrella, he exposes himself to the environment. . . .
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.
Of course, for anyone who actually knows the Bible (which I didn’t in the 1970s and 1980s when I was in my twenties and devouring this teaching) the natural response would be . . .
At first Gothard called this concept the “chain of command”—that’s what it is in my old books from the 1970s. This is where he used the centurion as an example of a “man under authority” (to buttress his “chain of command” ideas instead of showing him to be an example of great faith in the power and authority of Jesus Christ, as the Bible does).
Then later he changed the name to the “umbrella of authority.” I’m guessing it was because he wanted to withdraw a bit from terminology that sounded so very much like the military.
Then in later years this very same concept became the “umbrella of protection” so it could sound really nice. Good PR move.
In order to help indoctrinate all those with their eyes on the prize in this teaching (which is not only nowhere in the Bible but is actually counter to what the Bible teaches), here’s a catchy ditty they can sing together at their conferences.
When the sky grows dark and the thunder roars
When the strong winds blow and the cloudburst pours,
I know I’m safe as I can be
When I’m under the umbrellas that God places over me!
For instruction – so I know where I belong,
For correction – so I know when I am wrong,
For provision – for the things I need,
For protection – that is guaranteed.
When the sky grows dark and the thunder roars,
When the strong winds blow and the cloud burst pours,
I know I’m safe as I can be
When I’m under the umbrellas that God places over me!
But instead of protection and provision—which good parents should give to their children even if they don’t own any umbrellas—the Umbrella Heresy applauds control and engenders fear.
The Umbrella of Control for the Highers
The word of authority must come down from God to the husband and father. This means that the mother, along with the children, have to wait to hear God’s word for them from their Umbrella. Women and children, even adult children, can’t hear from God themselves, can’t have independent thought, and can’t fulfill a role or answer a calling unless the father deems it to be correct.
Controlling men love this. Non-controlling men can become miserable.
“Whatever God is speaking, he will speak to your husband/father. It doesn’t really matter what the topic is: A daughter’s future spouse, your callings and responsibilities, how you should spend your time, how you should raise your children. Any decision is between the father/husband and God, and the father/husband will let you know when he is ready to. Your responsibility is to cheerfully go along with it. Even if your father is not a believer . . . you still have to rely on him to be the go-between between you and God.” ~Dulce Chale, “Peering Underneath the Umbrella: Musings on Gothardism” at Recovering Grace
The Umbrella of Fear for the Lowers
Fear is the controlling force of the Umbrella Heresy. You stay under the umbrella because you are afraid.
“We were taught that ‘Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft’ (Samuel 15:23) in that like witchcraft, rebellion puts you in ‘Satan’s realm.’ [RD note: My post about that is here.] The fear this created in women and teens just looking to assert their own decisions is hard to explain. Illustrations about teens in cars listening to (forbidden by parents) rock music, traveling to be with friends or other places that their parents disapproved of being killed in cars (clearly God’s judgement) and other similar examples, were prolific. Then the Story of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was then provided as the knockout punch.”~comment by DSwank on “Spiritual Umbrellas and the Oppression of Women” at Tim Fall
“If you dare to go out from under the umbrella by not conforming perfectly with a joyful countenance and light in your eyes, then any number of hailstorms will pound you to a bloody pulp.” ~Dulce Chale
“As a teenager, the gradual increase of responsibility would not coincide with a gradual increase in decision-making. A young man would be eligible to step out from under the umbrella of protection only when he married. A young woman would only transfer from the father’s umbrella to a husband’s. This authoritarian approach forced the fear of both God and parents to become the main reason for obedience.” ~Derek Lounds, “Growing Up Gothard” at The Gospel Coalition
What if the umbrellas are switched?
This is a creative twist that may or may not have been promulgated by Gothard. (And of course this isn’t in the Bible either.) But funny thing, I know about quite a few matriarchies in the patriarchal stream, so I wonder who they think is the ultimate authority of those families. . . .
The tiny, tiny space of the smallest umbrellas
The websites I read were full of testimonies of the crushed children of God who had been pushed down into smaller and smaller spaces, becoming emotionally and spiritually stunted.
“I saw the lives of childhood friends scarred by the umbrella of which you speak. . . . I saw many of them stay well into their thirties, still imprisoned by the umbrella.” ~comment from P.L. on “Umbrella of Oppression,” at Recovering Grace
“There was no graduating to my own umbrella, no trust that I was old enough to think for myself. My parents were still the ones to choose a husband for me. To our peers in the homeschool world, I was considered a child still—even though I was more than 20 years old and held the responsibility of several part-time jobs.” ~Michelle, “The Umbrella of Oppression” at Recovering Grace
“Due to this [umbrella] teaching, I did not develop my own opinions or religious beliefs until years after I left home. The moral decisions that were easy to maintain under my parents’ watchful eyes became much more of a challenge to maintain far away from them. At home, I was very good at appearing to comply, but my heart wasn’t convinced of the truth of some of my parents’ convictions. I had no idea how to defend my spiritual beliefs when questioned, because I did not “own” those beliefs. Scriptures and principles were simply drilled into my head as trivia to be memorized. Head knowledge does not automatically become heart knowledge. My faith had never been truly tested until I moved away from my family.” ~Joy Solano in “The Leaky Umbrella” at Recovering Grace
“I totally bought into the umbrella theory in my first (and very abusive) marriage. Sadly, my ex was more like one of those thin plastic camping parkas that stays pretty much in its own little plastic case, and I tended to want to be a large family-sized red and white polka dotted umbrella. He did all he could to squash me and I let him, as a ‘godly’ wife.” ~comment from MeganC on “Spiritual Umbrellas and the Oppression of Women” at Tim Fall
“The umbrella teaching was what kept me trapped at home until age 29. Because, after all, if I left without parental blessing, I would end up dead in a park like Chandra Levy. It was only after seeing porn frozen all over the home computer that I realized that my “umbrella” had no fabric at all; it was just twisted, broken spokes. That was my epiphany, and two months later, I left that umbrella, and reclaimed my life.” ~comment from Joy T on “Umbrella of Oppression” at Recovering Grace
But the Umbrella Heresy doesn’t stop with the family
The Umbrella teaching didn’t stop with fathers. No, it extended beyond, so that Dad couldn’t even leave a job working for an abusive boss . . . or protesting police brutality.
This was an equal opportunity heresy. Everybody had to be under some other authority.
Everybody, that is, except, of course . . .
The ultimate Umbrella . . .
Bill Gothard himself.
Oh, haha! You thought it might be Jesus?
But Bill Gothard hears from God, you see, so he delivers the Word of God for his people. Or . . . he did . . . until he was exposed as a scandal-ridden cult leader. It’s old news, of course, but here’s just one quote:
“The most significant aspect of the teaching on authority was this: Bill Gothard somehow became the ultimate authority over his followers. It was no longer safe to question him or refuse to live by his standards. God and Satan both lurked outside the umbrella, ready to destroy rebellious families.”
But now, we know, his ministry is greatly diminished, and his followers are now few. So no worries any more about the Umbrella Heresy.
As I told in my other Umbrella post, this teaching is alive and well in churches all across the land.
It’s just so unBiblical
Never anywhere in the New Covenant, the Covenant in which we live, never have we ever been told ANYthing about anyone having a position of authority that becomes a spiritual covering for anyone else.
Access to Jesus?
Under the Umbrella Heresy, adult children can’t even access the Lord at all, but have to go through layers of authorities to reach Him. Having one or more Umbrella Persons between God and another adult sets God at a far distance when He has proclaimed Himself to be near, and has added extra mediators when Jesus has said in I Timothy 2:5 that He is the one and only Mediator.
In the drawing that represents the Umbrella Heresy, Jesus covers only a tiny portion of the entire area, and Satan gets all the rest, with his rain.
That is, in all the areas except under your own umbrella, Satan is able to reign and rain.
But in reality, Satan doesn’t rain.
Instead, he walks around like a roaring lion, one that wouldn’t be the least bit intimidated by flimsy umbrellas.
Or he sends “fiery darts” or “flaming arrows,” as Ephesians 6 describes. Umbrellas won’t protect you from those—maybe you’ve noticed that already.
The only thing that will protect you from those is the shield of faith. Faith in who, we might ask? My next-higher-up earthly authority?
Faith in Jesus Christ.
Having an Umbrella Person as your spiritual protector will keep you in a perpetual state of spiritual childishness and immaturity, when you yourself have been commanded to wear the full armor of God in Ephesians 6.
A man’s authority?
The Umbrella Heresy says that one man has the right to pass judgment on the non-sinful decisions and choices of another person, simply because those decisions and choices aren’t in line with what the Umbrella Person has said.
But Romans 14:4 says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Having an Umbrella Person as your “spiritual covering” means that Jesus Christ Himself is not sufficient spiritual protection for you as a Christian. This is heresy.
In the Umbrella Heresy, “rebellion” is defined as “getting out from under the human authority umbrella that Gothard has placed over you.” This rebellion is a serious problem, like witchcraft. But the source verse is I Samuel 15:33, is directed to King Saul, who was disobeying the direct command of God, not a human authority. As one of my own commenters pointed out, when David disobeyed Saul (by running away from him) God did not rebuke him for rebellion.
In fact, where are the Biblical examples of people waiting to get their orders from their earthly authority instead of just following God themselves? David? Jonathan? Daniel? Shadrah, Meshach, and Abednego? Paul? Peter? Stephen? Elijah? Elisha? Esther?
If Martin Luther had followed the Umbrella Heresy, he would never have challenged the Catholic church’s false teachings in the Middle Ages. The same goes for all the other Reformers.
The same goes for any Christian who challenges governments that overreach, “law enforcement” officers who are actually criminals, and “church authorities” who use their authority to abuse.
For your spiritual safety, trust not in a man, not in a woman, not in a church, but in Jesus Christ alone.
Though we look to the wise counsel of wise others in our lives, as adults our decisions are responsible before Him alone, through His Holy Spirit.
And when it comes to the spiritual attacks of the enemy, I’ll take a shield of faith over an umbrella any day of the week.