Over the weekend I caught up on some of the current thought on complementarianism and read through the comments on the posts I linked to by Mary Kassian. I keep hoping that she will answer the direct questions being put to her and perhaps this week she will. If not, I see nothing more than lots of confusing rhetoric that only makes it more difficult to understand this topic, both in thought and in application. Particularly confusing is Mary’s insistence that complentarianism does not equal “hierarchy,” that it does mean “mutuality” but not “equality.”
I have written a lot about this subject over the past couple of weeks and know some people are wondering “why in the world does this stuff matter?” I want to share one example of why these things are so important, especially for homeschooling moms who are often exposed to teachings that can have huge ramifications.
Last week I saw this picture of the umbrella shared by a homeschooling curriculum supplier. Immediately I thought of Bill Gothard’s “umbrella of protection” and wondered if that was what it was supposed to be. According to Gothard, the benefits of proper authority are represented by this chain-of-command picture of hierarchy within the home. He instructs his followers that when you stay under your proper authority, the protection is like that of an umbrella, the “rain” that glides off symbolizing anything bad that can happen to you. His premise is that bad things can be traced to sins we have committed against authorities. To demonstrate this, he shared how if you go over the speed limit you are coming out from under your God-given authority and getting a ticket or having an accident is Satan’s attack for getting out from “under your umbrella of protection.” I am quite familiar with this teaching and believe it to be not only manipulative and teaching a works based salvation but also reflects the blessing/cursing mentality of so many within the patriarchy movement.
So, when I saw this, I asked the homeschooling vendor if it is a picture of Gothard’s umbrella of protection. I was told that it “represents God’s plan for the family and shows the sin of gay marriage.” Immediately he said to me: “So you don’t believe there are consequences for usurping God’s design for the family?” Why in the world that would be the conclusion after I asked my ONE question? I proceeded to explain that I had never seen this diagram used in any other way. He went on to tell me that he had never heard of Gothard, which is hard to believe given that he is a homeschooling vendor who promotes Voddie Baucham along with other patiocentrists and that the Duggars, who are watched by millions of viewers each week, are very openly associated with Gothard. So, again, understanding the importance of sound theology in life application, I asked the man outright “what does the rain represent in your picture?”
His response: “I have no idea.”
Did you catch this? A man who is brought in to speak at homeschooling conferences and who markets and sells materials for homeschooling families to use for instruction with their children has no qualms about presenting a doctrinal “truth” that he cannot explain, of sharing a picture to represent that truth not knowing what key elements of the picture even mean.
Does it matter that he doesn’t know what he is teaching? Am I causing trouble by asking for clarification? Are there consequences if we don’t get it right? Let me share an example from my own life.
When one of our sons was 2, we had missionaries who stayed in our home for a week one fall. The wife was Indian by birth and still wore the traditional clothing. My son was enthralled with her long, flowing skirts and wanted to run in and out from under them, wanting her to play. Over the next year, he exhibited more and more aggressive behaviors and didn’t respond to the type of corrections his other siblings had responded to.
That next summer, we attended a Gothard homeschooling seminar where we were taught that the Satanic spirit of foreign gods could come into our home through inanimate objects, using the now infamous Cabbage Patch kids story, and immediately I thought of the foreign dress our houseguest had worn and how I had seen our son’s behavior begin to change the week they had stayed with us. The teaching then went on to warn us that we had violated the umbrella of protection somehow if we saw disobedient behavior in our children. Of course I was convinced that this is what had happened and began to think that there was unconfessed sin of rebellion (witchcraft) somewhere. You can only imagine the other thoughts that this led to. Someone along the chain of command had opened the floodgates for Satan to attack us!
Of course, years later we realized that our son was suffering from learning disabilities and perhaps he could even be placed somewhere along the Asperger’s spectrum; all of his symptoms and behaviors are consistent with what we have learned. Oh how I grieve when I think of the spiritual burdens I carried for several years because of this teaching and the pressure I felt to examine every thought, every action, every motive of not only myself but those I saw as “under my umbrella” and to look with suspicion at those above me in Gothard’s (not the Bible’s) chain of command.
There can be lots of big words used to explain the dogma of family relationships and, sadly, the reckless assumptions being tossed about when it comes to complementarianism have consequences in real life. Do all complementarians teach hierarchy? In my opinion, yes they do. Do they all take it to the extreme of the umbrella of protection? No.
Those who claim to be “complementarian” and who influence homeschooling families need to be sure they are teaching sound doctrine and that what they are saying is what others are hearing, using clear words and answering questions with honesty and integrity. They need to recognize that this is a nebulous term that changes with each convention or each pastor who preaches and owns this label. Most importantly, those of us who live within real relationships need to set aside the labels and identify ourselves in ways that reflect something real and true and full of grace.