Is the Umbrella of Protection Changing?

Is the Umbrella of Protection Changing? February 19, 2018

I grew up in an evangelical homeschool community. Various leaders and speakers frequently invoked the imagery of the “umbrella of protection.” Children, the idea went, protected by being under the protection of their parents. The imagery was used to compel children to be obedient to their parents—the protection, we were taught, was contingent on obedience—but the umbrella of protection was about compelling the obedience of more than just children.

Last week I came upon an Answers in Genesis article titled “Protective Authority” that opened with a picture of the umbrella of protection—a picture that brought me up short. Can you see what caught my attention?

In Answers in Genesis’ illustration, the umbrella is held by two handles—the husband holds one handle and the wife the other. The children are in the middle, standing under an umbrella held up equally by both parents.

You’ll understand why I was so taken aback when you see the umbrella image I grew up with. Have a look:

In traditional umbrella of protection imagery, the wife is under the husband’s umbrella. In the image above, the largest umbrella is labeled “Christ”; the secondary umbrella, under it, is labeled “Husband,” with the words “protect family” and “provide for family”; and, unlike Answers in Genesis’ umbrella, there is a tertiary umbrella, this one labeled “wife,” which is under the husband’s umbrella, along with the words “children, managers of home.”

These umbrellas come with real meaning—and it’s not just about protection. It’s also about submission and obedience—or, perhaps, primarily about submission and obedience. As the Institute for Biblical Life Principles puts it:

We are responsible to submit to these authorities in order to receive their protection and the blessings of living in submission to God’s authority.

The blessings—the protection—comes only with obedience. In communities that adhere to the “umbrella of protection” imagery, children are taught that their parents will be able to protect them only if they obey their parents. If you leave the umbrella—step out from under your parents’  authority—bad things will happen to you. The imagery may give lip service to protection, but at its core it is authority driven.

Years ago, I read a fascinating Facebook post that examined various foundations for interactions between parents and children. One was authority driven—children are expected to obey because their parents are their parents, and for no other reason. One was permissive and based on bribery—parents controlling their children based on what they can give them. The others, though, were based on things like respect, understanding, and a bond between parent and child.

While there are certainly times where children need to obey their parents for their own protection, I would prefer for my children to follow me because they know that I listen to them and take their needs into account, and because they respect my greater lived experience, rather than simply because they are a parent. This may all be a bit of a tangent, though—the idea I’m trying to get at is that the “umbrella of protection” is as much (or more) about obedience and submission as it is about protection.

Given this emphasis on submission and obedience, whether the wife holds her own umbrella under her husband’s umbrella—or stands level with her husband holding one side of the same umbrella with her husband—is extremely significant. For many years the “umbrella of protection” concept has been just as much about ensuring the wife’s position under her husband—and her obedience to her husband—as it has been about ensuring the children’s obedience to their parents.

Have a look at this image:

This image is meant to show what happens when the wife steps out from under her husband and takes a position above him—this “allows Satan access to the children,’ “disempowers the husband,” and results in a household “in disorder.” In fact, Satan, rather than Christ, because “the lead,” holding the topmost umbrella.

In recent years Christian feminists have been pushing back against the traditional “umbrella of protection” imagery. The umbrella illustration included in last week’s Answers in Genesis’ article suggests that they may be making headway.

If you’re versed in the language of these communities, you’ll get the joke I imbedded in that last statement.

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