Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection

In my fundamentalism of the 1960s, it was widely believed that the husband was the head of the house and that women were not allowed to preach. Many even objected to their wives working outside the home. The ideal wife was June Cleaver who kept the home spotless, had meals ready, and was always nicely dressed, with earrings, as though she might go out in public at any moment.

Among many fundamentalists over the next decades, family roles became more rigid as ‘God’s plan for the family’ became a focus issue. Among the leaders of this calcification perhaps none was more influential than Bill Gothard (not to be confused with popular Christian singer, Bill Gaither).

Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles

Gothard began seminars called the Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts that became hugely popular. I probably first heard of them during college in the early 1970s, and during my 21-year career in Christian Bookstores his seminars grew in visibility within the fundamentalist and some evangelical communities—though he changed the name in 1989 to the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

I was never attracted to his seminars, so it was not until later that I began to realize the scope and influence of Gothard’s movement—and the extremely harmful religious baggage he taught. Among the developments he promoted were fundamentalist homeschooling, courtship, authority, and others. Today we will take a look at Gothard’s teaching on authority.

Gothard’s Teaching on Authority

God-given authority

Being under authority is one of Gothard’s most central teachings. His idea is that God has ordained authorities and that believers must submit to those authorities in order to live a proper Christian life. If we do not submit to God-ordained authorities, then we will have no protection against spiritual chaos.

Instead of reviewing Gothard’s views by quoting critics, we will look at a post on the Institute in Basic Life Principles website called What is an “umbrella of protection”?

The introduction states:

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. [Emphasis in the original]

The article identifies four areas of God-established jurisdictions of authority, along with proof-text references for each one. They are: 1) Family: husbands and parents; 2) Government leaders; 3) Church leaders, elders, and other believers; and 4) Employers. The article explains:

God works through these areas of jurisdiction to train up and protect children, to restrain evil and protect citizens, to stand against Satan and advance the Gospel, and to provide necessary resources for life.

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 consequences of rebellion are said to be that:

Through disobedience you remove yourself from God’s full protection and are therefore far more susceptible to the attacks of Satan. [Emphasis in the original]

Gothard takes these lines of authority very seriously. Particularly damaging is the way Gothard applies authority and the ‘umbrella of protection’ to family relationships. His teaching is strict, specific, and detailed, as though he has any business interfering with families.

The Rigid Concept of the Umbrella of Protection in Family Relationships

umbrella of protection

Gothard’s umbrella of protection in family relationships puts the husband in charge under Christ and the wife totally subservient to the husband; her access to God is through her husband. The husband is responsible for making the decisions for the family, and it is her job to properly instruct and manage the children; the children’s spirituality and access to God is through their mother as she submits to her husband. Children must be totally responsive to their mother’s authority.

I am indebted to Sara Jones for these quotes from Gothard’s own literature:

Many husbands have acknowledged that their motivation for spiritual pursuits can be quickly destroyed by negative attitudes or lack of enthusiasm from their wives. When a husband gives a command to his family and the wife fails to work out the proper procedures to carry it out, many consequences may occur.

First, the father may attempt to give the laws himself. Very often, however, he is not sensitive to the needs and responses of the children; thus, he may be too harsh or demanding. The wife will then try to compensate by being more lenient than she should be, and the children will sense a divided authority.

Meanwhile, when the wife does not fulfill her function in the family, she will feel inadequate and inferior. She may try to compensate for these destructive feelings by withdrawing, reacting, or looking outside the family for her approval and fulfillment. (WB 15, pp. 615-616, first edition)

Bill Gothard seems to know how my family should function even though he doesn’t know my family.

One Additional Level of Authority in the Umbrella

Although not pictured in the umbrella illustration, there is in practice an additional layer of authority. For those in the sway of Gothard’s cult-like teaching, Gothard himself is part of the hierarchy of authority—holding the place between the husband and Christ. This is because Gothard is the source of the teaching; he is the one who knows everything. Without his authority it all falls apart.

The doctrine of the patriarchal umbrella of protection is a major piece of harmful fundamentalist baggage, and happy are those who survive it. However, healing for those survivors is often slow and many are scarred for life. This is only one serious baggage issue in Gothard’s teaching. We will talk about others in future posts.

Note: Gothard is no longer with the Institute in Basic Life Principles, but to those loyal to his teaching he is still the authority for the teachings.

Articles in this series: Today’s Extreme Fundamentalism

My Fundamentalism of the 1960s Has Changed for the Worse—Considerably Worse Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection
An Overview of Bill Gothard’s Role in Today’s Cultish Fundamentalism
See also:
Resources on Today’s Extreme Fundamentalism


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34 Responses to Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection

  1. Nickel Boy Graphics says:

    I had heard of this before through a different blog. Your graphics and quotation made this easier for me to understand in greater depth. Fortunately for me, I believe, I’ve never been aware of this type of structure in any of the churches that I’ve been a member. Women have been treated as men’s equals. I can see how this type of teaching could be very harm and not what Jesus intended. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nickel, I am glad you have never been affected by this baggage. Your churches that accept women as equals are leading the way!


  2. LorenHaas says:

    My former wife’s family was all into Gothard and she tried to drag me into seminars. I have always been suspicious of control based groups and greatly resisted. She later cited this as evidence of my “lack of leadership” in the home.
    Thanks Bill!
    I avoided church all through my first marriage because of crap like this. After divorce I found a relationship with a different kind of loving God and non-authoritarian churches.
    I believe my divorce can be attributed in part to my ex’s cognizant dissonance in regards to her spiritual upbringing. She was part of a generation of women discovering independence and desiring equality, but weighed down and guilted by family of origin patriarchal baggage.
    Thanks Bill!
    So now my heart is breaking because my firstborn and his wonderful wife are divorcing. I fear the roots of that are from their parents divorce.
    Thanks Bill!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “I have always been suspicious of control based groups and greatly resisted. She later cited this as evidence of my “lack of leadership” in the home. Thanks Bill!”

      Loren, I am so sorry! I grew up in the 1960’s controlling fundamentalist environment, but it was not nearly so controlling as Gothard’s movement. Your story confirms what I have heard from many others, and I am sorry you suffered from it.


  3. tonycutty says:

    Scary stuff. Thanks for exposing this crap for what it is, Tim. Good man. )

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anthony Paul says:

    This article is very interesting to me, Tim, mainly because I don’t believe I have ever heard of Bill Gothard until today… although his ideas about patriarchy are pretty well known to many. Being a subject I have never spent a great deal of time on, I found your article (and the enclosed link to his site) very enlightening.

    Please understand that I am not advocating Gothard’s ideas in any way… as a matter of fact, several people who commented earlier had a very appropriate name for this kind of theology. But that aside, I must disagree with one point you made about this man setting himself up as the authority on this matter of obedience to authorities in the home, government, work, etc. If he were discussing this with us I believe he would be pointing to those Biblical references which he cited as the true “authority” for these outlandish claims. Like any decent cult leader, he would have us believe that God, not Bill Gothard, is the final authority… and so Mr. Gothard can accept neither praise nor blame “for the will of God” (at least in his own mind).

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony, I think you are right. Gothard does base his teaching on (inerrant) Bible verses as other inerrantists do. And he would agree with you that God is the final authority. But he did set himself up as the one who understood, explained, and delivered God’s authority so, in practice, he became the authority since he was the one who interpreted God’s intentions.

      I don’t think his followers considered him to be an independent authority but, in ‘practical terms’, it was Gothard who determined, organized, and distributed these teachings. He was the sole leader; there was not another voice in the movement that could balance his thinking.


      • Anthony Paul says:

        Yes, Tim… you make a very valid point about Gothard’s authoritarianism as a lone voice without much opposition… I totally agree. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So that’s where it came from! My parents always seemed equal, despite being fundamentalist. I can’t imagine my dad “commanding” my mom on anything. 😉 But much of this sounds like what I heard in the E-V Free church years later.

    I also wonder how many women in the 50s truly dressed like June Cleaver while doing housework. You simply can’t do much of it in clothes like that. Of course, “Father Knows Best” and “Donna Reed” occasionally showed a wife in smudges and kerchief…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Nyssa, not all fundamentalists are under the sway of Gothard’s teaching, and I am glad your parents were not. I agree that June Cleaver was a fantasy; who can do housework in high-heels? And how about that Lucy Ricardo? She was no June Cleaver.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Alan C says:

      I think many people are better than their theology. I’ve known many Christian couples who accept a more hierarchical view of “biblical” marriage but in practice have relatively healthy, egalitarian relationships.

      Liked by 2 people

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Alan, I agree. And I like that: “Many people are better than their theology.” Yes there are.


  6. sheila0405 says:

    I couldn’t read past the introduction of this post. I was forced to attend Basic Youth Conflict seminars, and my dad used their stuff for family devotional resources. His ministry wreaked havoc.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. “…face life’s challenges and temptations on your own.”

    That’s a bad thing? I thought that’s how we grow, facing challenges and temptations on our own, learning from mistakes, learning to trust in God. One can easily see how so many who were raised in this environment complain of being emotionally stunted, insecure adults. The umbrella metaphor and graphic is perfect for this group, because as one gets farther down the hierarchy, the view of Jesus because more opaque, the poor children at the bottom have to try and catch some glimpse of him through multiple umbrellas–how apt!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Detector, I totally agree! It is NOT a bad thing. Of course, it is always nice to have good guidance from others; but that is not the same as the dictatorial control from this model.

      So I agree with you again when you say, ” One can easily see how so many who were raised in this environment complain of being emotionally stunted, insecure adults.” and that “as one gets farther down the hierarchy, the view of Jesus because more opaque”.


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  19. I was brought up, not with Bill’s teaching specifically, but basically the same thing. I think one group was called “Vision Forum”, which teaches similar stuff. It’s pure legalism that attempts to cage in people. I hate it with every fiber of my being, having lived it.

    Liked by 1 person

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