Submission—Weapon of Warfare or Tool of Orderliness and Stability? by Sharon Graber Carpenter

Have you ever contemplated walking into a battlefield carrying an umbrella? Would you feel safer carrying an umbrella or wearing body armor if you knew there was a formidable enemy wishing to destroy you?

Why the ludicrous comparison of umbrellas and body armor?

Both have specific purposes and can be used for physical protection. The similarity ends there though. An umbrella protects only from lightweight objects falling from above and could never be used to protect a person from any serious threats.

It seems like such a ludicrous comparison. Why would anyone choose an umbrella over body armor?

Recently I’ve been involved in several conversations regarding Bill Gothard’s “umbrella of protection” diagram. Gothard uses this illustration to demonstrate the headship order, but he takes it a step farther and says as long as you stay under your “umbrella of protection” by submitting to your authority, God will protect you from Satan’s attacks. But if you do not submit correctly, God will remove your protection (and that of anyone under your own authority) and you will be open to attacks from Satan.

It all sounds good at first glance. If I just submit to anything my husband says, I will be protected from Satan’s attacks. God is going to bless me if I just submit well to my husband!

But what about when it doesn’t work? When things aren’t going right, when I feel like I am under spiritual attack, does that mean I am somehow failing to submit enough?

Honestly, I can’t find any scripture to back this up.

Satan sends fiery darts and attacks us no matter how right we may be living. Job’s life is the perfect example of this. We simply have no guarantee of God’s special protection against the enemy if we are doing the right things. The apostle Paul—and many other godly men and women—spent many years in prison as well as beatings, shipwrecks, stoning, etc. Did they step out from under the “umbrella of God’s protection”?

As many of Gothard’s teachings, this picture seems to promote a works religion that denies the power of Christ. It expresses that anyone can achieve divine protection against attacks from the enemy and receive special provisions simply by submitting or doing what He wants. You obey, and God will bless. You rub His back and He will rub yours.

When I think of women in Scripture who stepped out from under their “umbrella of protection”, I don’t see God allowing Satan to then attack them.

Satan attacks us no matter what. Ephesians 6 makes it clear that spiritual warfare will be part of every believer’s life and tells us to put on the whole armor of God in order to “withstand in the evil day”. We are to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.

Paul must have forgotten about the umbrella of submission that would protect us from the darts of the enemy falling from above…

The problem is that submission is not mentioned as a weapon of warfare.

Does that mean submission isn’t important or that the headship order shouldn’t be practiced? Not at all! The Bible has much to say about submission and men and women’s roles, but not as a part of spiritual warfare or protection from the darts of the enemy. That is what the shield of faith is for!

What is more important in the life of a Christian? Should we be more concerned about safety–or fighting the “good fight of faith” and not growing weary so we can “lay hold on eternal life”? (1Tim. 6:12, 2Tim. 4:7, Gal.6:9)

The Wrong Role Emphasized?

I believe that God ordained the headship order for marriage (1Cor. 11:3, Eph. 5:23-24). I also believe women are commanded to submit to their husbands. Leadership is an assumed role as being the “head”, but a man isn’t commanded to lead by force or to push his wife into doing anything. Rather he is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church. That means being willing to lay down his life for her.

If a woman knows her husband has that mindset, she will respond a lot differently to him than a woman who has a husband who “lords” his power and authority over her. How did Christ “win” His bride’s heart? Did He demand His own way? Did He force her to do what He wanted? Or did He win her heart and show her so much love that she loved Him in return and wanted to please Him?

In the same way, a woman who shows her husband “reverence” (to respect, treat with deference) will find her husband will likely respond a lot differently than he would if she speaks scornfully or rudely.

When both husband and wife are doing this, there will be a mutual yielding to each other’s preference, judgment, or opinion. It’s Ephesians 5:21 in action. (“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”)

Who has the responsibility in marriage to make the headship order happen? All too often, churches tend to put the full weight of it directly on the wives, forgetting that men have a role too. If the man is “trying to lead” and “providing and protecting”, the assumption is often made that the woman must not be submissive enough (even if she is “bearing children” and being a “manager of the home”). But that is not the role assigned to him in the headship order. No matter how much a woman submits, it will never be enough if her husband is not loving as Christ loved the church.

More Wrong Umbrellas

I have seen another umbrella diagram showing up as people react against the Gothard one. But this one has even more flaws.

The first flaw is that they are still trying to show roles as a protection mechanism. They don’t include the headship order at all because they are reacting against some things they disliked in the first diagram. Gothard’s diagram could leave you with the impression that a woman’s worth is less than a man’s and that she can only access God through her husband. They want us to see that God sees men and women as being “equal in Christ”. I agree with this, but while men and women are equal in Christ, their roles in marriage are still different.

A corporal and a sergeant might be equals in life, but while in battle or decision making; their roles differ. Someone must outrank the other for there to be order and stability.

When I first saw these two diagrams, I kept wondering how I could rearrange the umbrellas to show a more accurate picture of the headship order. Nothing seemed to work, and while in a group discussion, a friend concluded that the umbrella diagrams could not show an accurate picture and there should a completely different picture altogether.

I asked my daughter, Tanisha, if she could draw the picture that my friend described. So here it is.

I wish husbands and wives could see themselves as standing back to back, swords drawn, shields out, in full armor, fighting, quenching the fiery darts of their common enemy. When you are in combat together, it doesn’t matter who has the most stripes on their sleeves, one may be the sergeant and the other may be the corporal, but you both watch for onslaughts from the enemy and listen for the Voice of the Commander because you both must obey His orders. Yes, my husband must take the lead, and I must understand that he is the leader and be willing to trust his leading, but we are both under and can hear the Voice of our Commander.

Trying to stay “safe” is not the goal in our Christian life. A “life of ease” is not the goal of our Christian life either. The Bible uses words like “being strong”, “running”, “resisting”, “wrestling”, “be vigilant”, “withstanding”, “keeping alert”, and “standing firm”. We are to “fight the good fight” and not “be weary in well doing”.

Submission has more to do with humbling ourselves, (1Pet.5:5) learning patience (1Pet. 2:13-20), and keeping stability and order in the home, church, and government. We must submit ourselves to God and draw near Him before we can begin to resist the devil and do spiritual warfare. (James 4:6-7) Submission is a necessary element in marriage, but it is not how husbands and wives are to do spiritual warfare against the fiery darts from enemy of our souls.

Our time on earth is not about staying “safe” from our enemy. Pick up your sword and shield and fight alongside the partner God gave you!


Sharon is one of my best friends, and originally published this article as a Facebook note. It’s reprinted here with Sharon’s permission.

The umbrella analogy has bothered me for a long time. Besides not being something described in the Bible, the umbrella picture shows God as being above and distant from us, rather than dwelling within us. And truly, why would we want to replace with an umbrella what God has offered us–HIS armor! Just as King Saul offered his armor to David in the Old Testament, God offers us His personal armor. Unlike the Saul-and-David story, God’s armor fits and protects like nothing else can.

Submission without strength has been taught and glorified so much that many women have either become passive-aggressive, or simply passive. That is not at all how the Bible portrays good women.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


18 thoughts on “Submission—Weapon of Warfare or Tool of Orderliness and Stability? by Sharon Graber Carpenter

  1. This is really good.
    I’ve often thought of the women like Abigail in the Bible. Who’s umbrella would she have been under?
    Sometimes women (and men) fight and wear Gods armor without a partner. But His armor is still enough. It still covers and protects.

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    1. YES. Who is the grown unmarried woman, or the woman with an unbelieving husband, or any other woman without a trusted male partner supposed to be “under”? I think Gothard suggests her father, which goes really yucky places very quickly.

      In the Bible, women weren’t praised for their submission. They were praised for things like confronting a king (Abigail), leading an army (Deborah), buying a field (Prov 31 woman), and teaching a young male leader (Priscilla). Where did we get the idea that being godly means becoming passive?

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  2. Victoria

    Great post! I think I better get to know your best friends, sis! 🙂 Just for the record, every time I read your own posts, Ro, I am blown away by your wisdom and grace and honesty. Thanks for speaking the words of God into a parched land that cries out for revival. Love you!

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  3. Sandra Miller

    Well said.

    The following quote describes well my understanding of the error found in Gothard’s teachings: “As many of Gothard’s teachings, this picture seems to promote a works religion that denies the power of Christ.”

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    1. Good point! I think Gothard would say they ought to be under their fathers, or perhaps another trusted male authority. That plan turns sour very fast, in my opinion!
      Single women are among the most misunderstood, unheard, and undervalued people in conservative churches.
      But they are fully qualified to fight alongside everyone else. They have access to God’s armor, too! Churches that do not see the value of their unmarried women are missing an incredibly strong component of God’s church, and they suffer for it.

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  4. Browsing

    I feel a little guilty making yet another comment within the last 36 hours 😕, but your blog is helping me keep from complete boredom while my sinuses throb and my lungs struggle as I lie here with my tablet in complete exhaustion, and I can’t resist.😘

    I don’t know who Gothard is, but I’ve known too many like him to want to Google him to find out. Misogynistic legalists are a dime a dozen in Christendom, and if he fits the bill may God soon grant him godly sorrow and genuine remorse. From what’s been quoted here, he shows little understanding of who Jesus is or the significance of his work on the cross.

    The quick answer to why the umbrella illustration is faulty is because it’s an object. The Good Shepherd who laid his life down for the protection of the sheep from the predator is a person. Jesus and his blood redeemed us from the enemy, and it’s that redemption, and the authority of his name for us who are his, that grant us protection from Satan. Submission is a characteristic of God himself, and has nothing whatsoever to do with being passive, or having one’s individuality subsumed to the point of leading a utilitarian robotic existence. When we study submission within the godhead, we find out quickly how it differs from the bullying and condescension which is too often taught in the church, and which results in traumatized, scarred people who don’t experience love and respect.

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    1. I like how you defined the Good Shepherd as a person who protects us, rather than an object to come under. Having one’s individuality disappear in the crush is a painful thing to see and feel. I hope we can learn to see submission as God sees it.

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      1. Browsing

        To see and live submission as God practices it, and to see and live headship as God practices it…that would change the church overnight, wouldn’t it?

        I say “practices” because I don’t know a better verb for something which is intrinsic to his character. God doesn’t demand submission, and throw his weight around and “lord it over others” as Jesus pointed out is the way of the world. (Instead, God tells us we’re sheep that need to obey the voice of our shepherd, and there are terrible consequences if we do not because of the predator. If we choose to actually align ourselves with the predator rather than the good shepherd, there are worse consequences still.) Jesus told his disciples specifically they were not to lord it over others, and then modeled humble service for them. We’re fooling ourselves if we boss and bully and then take off our socks and wash feet and think we’re “doing likewise.”

        We Christians can be so purposely obtuse. Servants washed feet as soon as masters and their guests entered the home 2,000 years ago because the feet were filthy, and it was a lowly job. So now what do we do? We have Maundy Thursday services, etc., according to denominational traditions, and engage in playacting. No one, expect for maybe the mentally ill, shows up for a footwashing with dirty feet and unkempt toenails. No one at a footwashing actually needs it. We must make God roll his eyes. We can neglect actual humble service to one another, but think we’ve fulfilled it by acting out a scene from a culture of thousands of years ago that’s no longer actually necessary. We miss Jesus’ point to take on the lowest role and to serve like him in love, and instead settle for a kind of communal blush over the over-familiarity of washing another church member’s already clean feet.

        You have to wonder how different church history would be if instead of “acting out” a footwashing, we’d been in the habit of asking ourselves how our marriages are supposed to resemble “Christ and the church” and how that is supposed to be “acted out.” Headship is sacrificial and nurturing, if we examine Jesus’ care for his bride. Yet the stereotype of the husband who wants headship and submission is a tyrant who takes and leeches, with a shell of a wife who is the opposite of the image of vitality. How grievous it is when the stereotype is found in reality.

        P.s. I’m not receiving email notices of posts or follow-up comments. Can this be fixed? Thanks!

        P.p.s. Praying for you!❤

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        1. We simply can’t make ourselves “do” a reality that only God can create in us. I agree that it would make a seismic change in the church.

          I’m not sure why you aren’t receiving email notifications. Did you use the follow button? There’s one for following the blog, then I think each post has one for following that post’s comments.

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  5. Browsing

    Yes, I’ve consistently clicked on all the “follow” buttons.

    “We simply can’t make ourselves ‘do’ a reality that only God can create in us.” I’m not sure what you mean by this. “Submit to God. Resist the devil” are our instructions, and we can choose to do that. God the Son submits to God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit submits to Jesus. God the Father is the head of Jesus, who is the head of man, etc. Submission and headship are modeled perfectly in God, for that is how he “is.” Yet that is not how we “are” in our fleshly nature. We have to choose to follow in obedience. That’s why we’re told we must die to ourselves daily and carry the cross. We can “do” what he tells us; we’re not to wait on Him to create a change in feelings in us before we’ll follow in obedience. We can ask for help with our unbelief, but we need to be clear about the role our will plays. People don’t always like that he gives us a choice, and that we have a will of our own, but we do.

    We’re to follow Jesus in loving, compassionate, sacrificial headship. We’re to follow Jesus in submitting to loving, compassionate, sacrificial headship. Jesus models both headship and submission for us, and we’re to follow in the attributes of character as well as the action. Counterfeits abound, but only the godhead shows us what headship and submission really are — orderliness within an authority who is love personified. When we see tyranny or sulking we know we’re looking at the counterfeit. We have to fix our eyes on Jesus.

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  6. Petri

    So, Rosina, as the first male comment (I presume!) here, I must say you have swayed my viewpoint and made me think VERY differently about the subject matter… I grew up in the culture-type that describes, lives, and enforces the umbrella-memo. I want to really thank you for this piece. You have made me realize that the picture painted by the umbrella-view is totally not Biblical and is contradicted so many times in the same Bible they use for the umbrella-idea (I like the Esther example!). Thank you for this. I am a better (Christian) man after reading your piece.

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    1. Petri, I’m glad you enjoyed this article. The umbrella model has so many problems with it when you start looking at it closely! And men are always welcome to comment. 😊

      Like

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