Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Getting Free of Gothard and the Condemnation of his Umbrella of Authority Doctrine

 30Nov11 edit for sinus infection induced grammar issues.  ;)

On this site, I tend to focus on the process of spiritual abuse and how one gets caught up in aberrant or misguided Christianity. Part of my own journey involved the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement.   The church I attended for four years followed Bill Gothard as well as Christian Growth Ministries, and then I had  an experience at an unhealthy Presbyterian church where Doug Phillips of Vision Forum attended for a time. (Phillips teaches an extension of Gothard's core doctrine.) Needless to say, for those looking for specific information about Bill Gothard's teachings, you have to sift through a great deal of material to find it here.

Concerning Bill Gothard, I believe that the most helpful and telling piece I've written to date can be read HERE.

But for some time, the site Recovering Grace has focused on the Gothard-specific issues that one faces when affected by his Bible-distorting teachings. I've graciously been granted permission to repost some of the articles found at Recovering Grace here. One of the most troubling foundational concepts of Gothard's perspective can be found in his doctrine concerning what he calls “the umbrella of authority.”    Midwest Christian Outreach addressed this doctrine in their book and in online articles, however, those works do not focus only upon the umbrella doctrine but include it an overall discussion of problems with all of Gothard's problematic teachings. Though I've written about aspects of this doctrine and others have discussed the concept of spiritual “covering,” there are few single online articles concerning the umbrella doctrine specifically. 

 I'm now pleased to offer you this article from Recovering Grace on the subject, and I encourage those of you who are working your way through Gothard's aberrant teachings to read deeply at Recovering Grace.

Article by Joy Solano from the Recovering Grace website, 06Oct11

I remember the first time I heard about the umbrella of protection. It was when I was 13, at my first Basic Seminar. My younger sisters taught me about it initially. They had gotten the Children’s Institute lesson with the umbrella illustrations. It seemed simple and made sense to a child. Parents, church leaders, political leaders… they were all there to protect me, just like an umbrella protects us from the rain. If I didn’t listen to and obey the instructions of those placed in authority over me, I would not be protected from the rain of “the enemy” and “the world”.

According to the ATI Family Support Link website, “An umbrella is designed to provide protection from various elements of nature: rain, hail, snow, wind, or sunshine. 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.”

“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.”

Not submitting to those in authority is equated to rebellion, which is further equated to witchcraft through the twisted application of one Scripture: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (I Samuel 15:23). Additionally, Gothard claims that resistance to God-given authorities will bring God’s judgment upon you.

When I was 18, I went to Mexico for a 5-month discipleship training school with YWAM (Youth with a Mission). It was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt closer to God then ever before and I felt a calling to stay with YWAM doing medical missions work. I felt impressed by God that when the school was over, I should go home, raise funds, and go back to Mexico to live and learn Spanish through immersion. I had met a family there that was happy to take me in, and had friends in the village from the church where my YWAM group had ministered.

Upon returning home, I enthusiastically shared my vision with my parents. They thought about it, and then my mother approached me several days later. She insisted that I should go to college first and go into nursing. But that was a complete different direction from my plan. She thought that it would be better for me to have a medical degree so I could be more prepared for medical missions work. Additionally, she didn’t feel comfortable with me just moving to Mexico without solid plans in place. It was a clear fork in the road for me: the path that my parental authority figures thought was right versus the path that my heart desired to follow. Either choice would lead me in a completely different direction in life than the other.

Ultimately, I submitted to my parents’ wishes. I know they had only the best intentions in mind, and the advice my mom gave me makes a lot of sense now to me. At the time, however, it made me wonder if I had heard God correctly. I thought He wanted me to go back to Mexico right away. But my parents heard differently, and that shook my faith.

Since Authority is one of the “Basic Life Principles” in the seminars, it is taught as “one of the universal and non-optional Biblical principles of life”. Submitting to authority is heavily emphasized within ATI/IBLP. It’s a teaching that was drilled into my head from that day until the day I married my husband.

Due to this 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.

I’ve also struggled in how to relate to my professors at college and bosses at work. When they were demanding, unkind, or unreasonable, I would merely try to deal with it, because I did not know how to discuss my issues with them. I was afraid that it would be perceived as disrespectful. I was afraid to ask a question because I thought that I should already know what was expected, and then I would be scorned. I was scared to express an opinion because I felt that it was bad to have ideas that differed from the normal standard.

The problem of submitting blindly to authority is that “When a leader fails, he is no longer protecting those under his care, and therefore they are exposed to the attacks of Satan. Those under authority may feel the impact of the leader’s failure so acutely that they notice the problem even before the leader himself is aware of it. The attacks of the enemy can be manifested in many forms, including health problems, overwhelming temptations, unusual cycles of doubt or depression, nightmares, or unexplained conflicts.” This statement from the ATI Family Support Link website is quite intriguing, considering the many people under the authority of Gothard’s own teachings who have experienced these types of symptoms.

By blindly trusting those who are in authority over us, we also trust that they somehow will stay on track spiritually and make the right decisions. In my opinion, this is an irresponsible choice for a Christian and an individual. We each have the responsibility to own the decisions we make and the choices we take. To divert the privilege of that is to become a victim. It gives us reason to become resentful or bitter, which ironically defeats the whole purpose of the principle.

Joy Solano is a married 32 year old, currently staying home with her 3 active young boys. She holds a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Bowie State University. Joy has worked as an addictions counselor and also as a career counselor. Her future plans include pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology and working with veterans and military members to treat Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). As a military spouse, Joy has followed her husband as he has been restationed 3 times to locations in the U.S., Italy, and their present location in Germany. Joy was homeschooled from the age of 7, along with her three younger sisters. Her family joined ATI in 1987. Joy attended several Basic and Advanced Seminars, and also attended Excel, an 8-week training for girls at the Dallas Training Center.

Good critical articles about the teaching of spiritual covering and its implications include: