The Infamous Umbrella of Headship
If you come from a Complementarian theology background, you may be familiar with this model of Christian Family Hierarchy. The umbrella illustration is the top image result when you google the phrase, “Christian Family Hierarchy.”
It depicts a hierarchical relationship between God, men, and women within the limited context of marriage. It also goes so far as to suggest upsetting this hierarchy, “Allows Satan access to the children.”
Let’s Lose the Umbrella
Too often considered the standard for not only Christian couples, but singles as well, the ideology behind the umbrella of male headship informs behavior throughout Christian culture. This impact causes waves of harm for many people of faith, but particularly for women.
Much has already been written about the unChristlike nature of this theology, and the way it promotes manipulation, misogyny, and abuse.
For more: Male Headship Theology Enables Abusers by Kelly Ladd Bishop.
Christian Feminist Watershed Moment
The church needs an alternative option to this model from a Christian Feminist perspective. One that takes into account the equality of the sexes, the normalization of singleness, and the sufficiency of God’s grace.
I did a redesign on the old classic in order to illustrate what these relationships look like under the lens of Christian Feminism.
Check It Out
If you’re new to Christian Feminism, this may be very different than the view you grew up with. Let’s break it down by level to see the mechanics behind the model.
God → Christian Women and Men
I chose to illustrate God’s relationship to the church in three actions: Instructs, Equips, and Saves. These three ideas sum up the dynamic between God and the church. Notice, there is no difference in this relationship based on gender. God instructs us in the same way regardless of gender. God equips us in the same way regardless of gender. And God grants us salvation in the same way regardless of gender. There is no different path to salvation for women. And men do not serve as “high priest” over women. We are all on equal footing and in equal need at the throne of God.
For more on Equality in Christ see: In The Image of God: Implications for Gender Equality by Gail Wallace.
Christian Women ↔︎ Christian Men
While the original graphic speaks only to wives and husbands, this model is for all Christians. When we teach that it is the husband’s duty to be a spiritual leader or covering for his wife, we draw a veil between women and God that was torn in two long ago. This relationship should reflect the love of Christ and work in unity as a body. Instead of limiting it to the male and female spheres, we need to see the church as one body with many parts, not just two halves.
We also need to recognize the lives of single Christians. Single women are completely covered by God and have no need for a spouse, unless they choose it. Likewise, Christian men are not bound to find a partner to lead. We must make the model inclusive for couples and singles of all sorts that make up the body of Christ.
For more on Mutual Submission try this: Co-Leadership In Marriage: Let’s Talk About Submission from The Junia Project.
The Church → The World
Another weakness in the original model is that it stops at the front door. Focusing on marriage as the ideal or only expression of Christian relationships is how we become blind to others and enslaved by expectation. Since Christian women and men are created in God’s image equally, and view each other as equal members of the body, their relationship to the world is also based in equality. The responsibility of “feeding the sheep” falls to all our shoulders. And while we all have different abilities and passions for the work, none of these are dependent or decided based on gender.
For more on Equality in Ministry check out: Equality and Unity in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 12 by Marg Mowczko
Want to See How Your Relationships Compare?
If you’re interested in processing through your own thoughts on the subject, or you’re in love with the graphic and want to print it out for keeps: good news! I’ve created a printable worksheet to go along with this post. The worksheet will give you some practical instruction to get you thinking about how this model might look in your own life. Interested? Just drop your info in the sign up box, click the confirmation email, and your downloads will be in your inbox!