In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty and begins a rather frustrating conversation with him over the correct meaning of words.
During their conversation, Humpty Dumpty uses the word glory in a way that has no relationship to its dictionary definition. When challenged by Alice on his misuse of this word, Humpty Dumpty becomes indignant and tells her: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”1
When Alice confronts him with the fact he can’t make a word mean so many different things, he scornfully responds: “The question is, which is to be master—that’s all.”2
Humpty Dumpty and self-styled, parenting guru Gary Ezzo have much in common. Both redefine words to suit their own agendas.
Ezzo and his wife, Anne Marie, are co-founders of Growing Families International (GFI), a for-profit publishing company the Ezzo’s promote to churches as a “ministry.” A business, of course, is not a ministry. As with Humpty Dumpty, Ezzo frequently defines words to mean what he wants them to mean, which may have little or nothing to do with their dictionary definition.
I fell down the Ezzo Rabbit Hole on April Fool’s Day in 1996 when I went on staff as the Ezzo’s editorial director. It was a frightening two-year experience that mercifully ended with my firing on May 11, 1998. The first two weeks of my employment were a pleasant honeymoon. This ended when what I can only describe as the dark side of Ezzo was revealed within few weeks after I went on staff. I quickly learned Ezzo’s public persona was a façade that covered a personality that might best be described as deceitful and vengeful.
My wife, Barbara, and I first encountered the Ezzo’s parenting curriculum, Growing Kids God’s Way, when we were involved in a ministry to single moms at our church in Colorado Springs. We were looking for a curriculum that would help these struggling mothers raise decent, God-honoring children. I was also going into my ninth year as an editor in the Public Policy Department at Focus on the Family.
When we ran across Growing Kids God’s Way, we ordered it for our single parent outreach. As my wife was looking at the back cover photo of the Ezzos, she realized Anne Marie was the daughter of her mother’s friend from their childhood in Belmont, Massachusetts. Barbara had gone to school with Anne Marie’s brother and sisters but had lost contact with the family 30 years before.
We soon learned the Ezzos were coming to Colorado Springs to conduct a parenting seminar. While attending the conference, we introduced ourselves to the Ezzos and were immediately seduced by their seeming warmth and friendliness. We would discover later this was less than genuine. The following evening we went out to dinner, and Barbara and Anne Marie attempted to catch up on three decades of family news.
Ezzo, however, dominated the conversation when he found out I was an editor at Focus. For more than an hour, he peppered me with questions and then offered me a job to come to work for him as his editorial director in California. By the end of the evening, we had agreed to fly out to California to meet his staff.
Once in California, we spent an evening at the Ezzo’s with their three vice presidents and wives. Present were Robert Garcia (who married the Ezzo’s daughter Amy), Tom Buell, Nick Carter, and their wives.
It was an uncomfortable evening. It seemed as though I was violating some unspoken rules known only to the “initiated.” I was also not sure I wanted to go through the initiation if this is what it led to. As we were getting ready for bed that night, Barbara and I discussed our uneasy concerns about the rigidity and coldness of our dinner experience. We agreed we probably would not accept the Ezzo’s job offer.
During our visit, however, we drove with the Ezzos out to Riverside, California for an “Evening with the Ezzos” sponsored by a local church. The Ezzos sat on chairs on the auditorium stage while young, naïve parents asked them questions about their parenting philosophy.
As we were preparing to sit down, we were thrilled to see the face of one of our dearest friends from our former days at a church in Pasadena. It turned out she and her husband were involved with GFI and oversaw eight Ezzo classes at their church. They told us how much they enjoyed the Ezzo’s material and how it had benefited their family. Their testimonials overrode our uneasiness about the Ezzo dinner experience. This encounter tipped our decision to join the staff at GFI. We took this to be one of those “divine coincidences” that we didn’t feel we could ignore.
We accepted the Ezzo’s offer and made plans to move to California. I gave my two-week’s notice at Focus and began work for the Ezzo’s on April 1, 1996 from our home in Colorado Springs. We relocated to Simi Valley, California in June of the same year.
Down the Rabbit Hole
My experience of working for Ezzo was like dealing with a mixture of two characters: Humpty Dumpty and Mafia Godfather Michael Corleone (portrayed by Al Pacino) in The Godfather trilogy.
After going on staff, Ezzo’s son-in-law Robert Garcia gave me the job of surfing the Internet to “monitor” Ezzo’s enemies. Enemies, I thought? Why would a man who is teaching parents to raise “Godly” children have any enemies? I was puzzled, but I dutifully started reading materials from three anti-Ezzo web sites. I was stunned at what I was reading and began compiling reports for Ezzo’s review, and I kept copies of everything for my files.
The more I read, the more questions began surfacing in my mind about Ezzo’s character and his lack of expertise in areas where he claimed to be an expert. I was also having a growing concern over babies whose lives were being threatened by malnutrition, failure-to-thrive, and low weight-gain and the claims these were the results of following Ezzo’s misinformed medical advice.3
More and more, my personal encounters with Ezzo seemed to confirm what I was reading on these anti-Ezzo sites. The longer I worked for Ezzo, the more I noticed he had a habit of lying. I also realized, in Ezzoland, there are only three kinds of people: Blindly obedient employees, Ezzo worshippers, and enemies. I was being forced—by his questionable behavior—into the third category.
As I began to sink into a depression over my bad decision to work for GFI, one of my co-workers invited me out to lunch and asked me what was wrong. When I expressed my concerns about Ezzo’s lying, he confirmed my worst fears by telling me: “Oh, it’s generally understood by the upper management that Gary is a liar.”
I felt trapped. I had just moved my family half way across the country, bought a new home, and found a good church. We had no savings account to cushion a fall. I was trying to make the best of a very bad situation, but I was fearful of confronting Ezzo. One of his vice presidents had already warned me never to tell Ezzo he was wrong about anything. I feared being fired on the spot for daring to utter any criticism of his materials or his behavior. I prayed daily for a way out.
I also wondered how his staff could stand by and accept this behavior from a man who traveled the globe teaching churches about “biblical ethics.” By my observation, I eventually came to the conclusion he controlled his staff by giving them high salaries, cars, and prestige. He also controlled them by fear. Like Michael Corleone, Ezzo controls his family members and staffers through fear of reprisals. Employees operated under an “Omerta,” or Mafia-like code of silence.
Michael Corleone and Humpty Dumpty Converge
Within a few weeks after moving to California, Ezzo called me over to his home office and asked me to proofread a response he was making to an article critical of GFI written by Roy Maynard for WORLD magazine. It was published in May 1996. Ezzo called Maynard and challenged his facts in the article.4 After two phone conversations, Ezzo constructed a Q&A dialog which was presented as a “verbatim” transcript of his interviews with Maynard.
When I asked Ezzo if I could listen to his taped conversation with Maynard in order to make certain the Q&A was verbatim, he told me he hadn’t taped it. All he had was a legal pad with a few scribbled notes on it. When I compared the scribbled notes to the detailed interview, it was apparent he had fabricated most of Maynard’s answers, but he was going to post the Q&A on the GFI web site as though it had actually happened.
“Humpty Dumpty” Ezzo was not only changing the meaning of words to suit his purposes, he was now creating entire conversations that never took place.
He also claimed he had heard rumors Maynard and WORLD publisher, Marvin Olasky, had prison records. He wanted me to contact police departments and then publish their alleged criminal records on the GFI web site. It appeared to me Ezzo would stop at nothing to get revenge against his perceived enemies. (This behavior is coming from a man who claims to teach “biblical” ethics?)
Ezzo’s Humpty Dumpty ethics carried over into his Community Perspective newsletter—a publication that I edited. In the summer of 1997, I interviewed Scot Shier about his wife Patty’s use of Ezzo Preparation for Parenting materials after she gave birth to quintuplets. Shier told me he and Patty had learned about Ezzo’s parenting curriculum at a church camping trip in 1994. Shier said he and Patty had noticed well-behaved children at the camp and discovered two common threads: They had been home-schooled and were being raised according to Ezzo’s philosophy. I quoted Shier verbatim in the article and then sent the article to Ezzo for his approval.
In the final version of the article (printed in the Summer/Fall 1997 issue of the Community Perspective), Ezzo removed the factual reference to home schooling and then created a totally false quote for Shier. He had Shier saying,
“They [the children] would come to their parents when called and they would ask for permission to do something rather than tell their parents what they were going to do. Most amazingly was watching these kids politely touch their parent’s elbow if they needed to talk to a parent who was engaged in another conversation.”
This entire quote is fabricated. Shier never said it, and I never wrote these words in my original article. Like Roy Maynard’s allegedly “verbatim” interview, Ezzo simply made up Shier’s quote from thin air. Why was he was playing fast and loose with words and the truth? Couldn’t GFI stand up on its own under honest evaluation?
Not only did I observe Ezzo “making up” quotes like he did for Roy Maynard and Scot Shier, but recent evidence has surfaced which seems to indicate he also plagiarizes the work of others. In late February 2002, an historian who has been a long-time critic of Ezzo’s materials posted her discovery of Ezzo’s plagiarism on an Ezzo Internet debate forum on ParentsPlace.com.
She compared Ezzo’s article “Parental Affection and Character Development”5 (available on the GFI web site in early 2002) to “The Killer Narcissists” written by psychologist Barbara Lerner in the National Review on May 17, 1999.6
A side-by-side comparison of these two articles reveals how Ezzo freely copied her words nearly verbatim and never gave her credit for them. It appears Ezzo lifted large portions of Lerner’s article, but one example should suffice. In Lerner’s 1999 article, she writes:
Only the narcissist matters, and because his sense of self-importance is so grossly inflated, his feelings are easily hurt. When they do get hurt—when others thwart him or fail to give him the excessive, unearned respect he demands he reacts with rage and seeks revenge, the more dramatic the better.
In Ezzo’s 2002 article, he says:
To the narcissist only self matters, and because his sense of self-importance is so grossly inflated, his feelings are easily hurt. When they do get hurt, when others thwart him or fail to give him the excessive, unearned respect he demands, he reacts with rage and seeks revenge.
The rest of Ezzo’s article is filled either with Lerner’s exact wording or similar phrasing. In my opinion, her description of a narcissist seems to describe Ezzo himself: “… when others thwart him or fail to give him the excessive, unearned respect he demands he reacts with rage and seeks revenge …”
Beware of the Invitation of the Godfather
In Godfather, Part 2, Michael Corleone has his brother Fredo taken out in a small fishing boat by one of Michael’s bodyguards. As Fredo quietly recites a “Hail Mary” in hopes of catching fish, the bodyguard shoots him in the back of the head. In Godfather, Part 1, Michael has his brother-in-law gunned down.
Ezzo doesn’t physically harm his family members. But he does demote and humiliate them. Ezzo’s shameful treatment of his brother-in-law Tim Howard demonstrates this heartless attitude.
A few months after I went on staff at GFI, Tim Howard (married to Susan, Anne Marie’s sister), relocated his wife and four daughters from New Hampshire to California to start work for GFI as a vice president. (One of his daughters was already living with the Ezzos.)
During his brief tenure as a vice president, one of Howard’s daughters got into some minor trouble at her local high school. She repented and the issue was resolved. Resolved for everyone that is, except Ezzo and Garcia. Ezzo and Garcia viewed this as evidence that Howard’s parenting skills were flawed. According to former GFI insiders (who are still too fearful to speak out publicly), it is Ezzo’s conviction that parents who raise children according to his philosophy will not have problems with their teenagers. Howard had to be punished for the sins of his daughter. She apparently had not been properly “Ezzofied.”
Howard was demoted and placed in charge of customer service. We were forbidden (by Garcia) to discuss Howard’s demotion with him. He eventually left GFI and now serves as a pastor at a local church in Simi Valley. The Howards and Ezzos seldom see each other.
Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo
Ezzo’s War Against Focus on the Family and Dr. John MacArthur
One of the things that constantly annoyed Ezzo was the fact Focus on the Family maintained a letter on file that was sent to people who wondered where Dr. Dobson (founder and president of Focus) stood on Ezzo’s parenting philosophy. The letter stated in part:
... our ministry has received numerous letters from parents, pastors, midwives, physicians, and lactation professionals regarding cases of failure-to-thrive in infants subjected to the Ezzos’ program. We don’t believe their experience [sic] should be ignored. (7)
Ezzo and Garcia directed me to write a letter to Focus on the Family asking the Correspondence Department to stop sending out this very damaging letter to Focus constituents. At this time, Dr. John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church had also issued a damning indictment of Ezzo’s parenting materials. Grace Community Church’s statement was posted on the Internet. (8)
I was required to create a lengthy letter to Focus on behalf of Garcia. In it, I had to create the appearance GFI and Focus had similar parenting goals for children. I knew this to be false since, prior to being asked to write this conciliatory letter to Focus, I had been given the job of writing a pamphlet for Ezzo parents that would explain why Ezzo parenting was “biblical” while Dobson parenting was humanistic and based on secular psychology. On the one hand, Ezzo was attempting to undermine Dr. Dobson’s influence among churches while at the same time pretending GFI and Focus were allies.
Ezzo also waged a secret war against Dr. John MacArthur. In early May of 1997, Ezzo called me into the GFI conference room and held a finger to his lips as he signaled for me to be quiet. Ezzo closed the door to the conference room and asked me if I knew of a good non-profit lawyer who could give him some legal advice. He explained he wanted to contact a lawyer who could give him an opinion on an alleged practice at Dr. MacArthur’s Grace Community Church that he thought violated Internal Revenue Service code.
I told him I knew a very good lawyer in Washington, DC, who was a former IRS attorney, but he would charge at least $200 an hour for his services. Ezzo agreed. I was asked to contact the lawyer from my home, pay for his services with a personal check, and I then would be reimbursed with a personal check from Ezzo.
There was no doubt in my mind what Ezzo was doing. He was hatching a plot to turn in Dr. MacArthur to the IRS for an audit. He was using me to conceal his involvement in getting the legal opinion by having me take care of it from my home and paying for it with my personal check.
Fearing for my family’s economic future, I did as instructed, but I kept copies of the check signed by Anne Marie as well as the e-mail from the attorney. Ezzo also asked me to get the address of the local IRS office near Grace Community Church. Several months after I had left GFI, I alerted Grace Community Church to what Ezzo had done.
I continued to spend nearly every day on the Internet monitoring anti-Ezzo web sites and downloading information to send along to Ezzo. One of the most alarming sites was LACTNET,9 a discussion forum for lactation consultants and pediatric nurses who were exposed to what they termed “Ezzo Babies.” These were typically newborns who were being malnourished, allegedly due to Ezzo’s badly flawed “parent-directed” feeding control schedules.
I compiled numbers of these cases and gave them to Ezzo. In the beginning, I naively assumed he simply was uninformed about these cases—and surely would want to investigate them and change his parenting advice. I was wrong. Ezzo brushed aside my reports by saying these cases were either “fabricated” or “exaggerated.”
The following is one typical case I sent to Ezzo from LACTNET. The woman writing is a Registered Nurse and a certified Lactation Consultant:
Well, it has happened again! The doctor’s office referred a mother to see me yesterday because the baby had NOT gained ANY weight for the past 2 months, from it’s 4 month to 6 month checkup! Baby had gained fine up until 4 months, in fact doubled it’s birth weight, then stood still. She is following the ‘Growing Kids God’s Way’ (Ezzo’s) course and the very scheduled feeding plan. She stated that she will do anything BUT feed more often then every 3 hours …” (posted on LACTNET, February 28, 1997).
Public Rebukes and Ezzo’s Response
Ezzo has a history of relational problems. In the spring of 1998, the respected Christian Research Institute [CRI] Journal published an in-depth expose on Ezzo and GFI’s strange parenting philosophy. The article “More Than a Parenting Ministry? The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International”10 was a painstakingly accurate portrayal of Ezzo’s character problems and the cult-like organization he heads.
In response, Ezzo issued a mind-numbing and confusing refutation of the article that was longer than the article itself. Ezzo questioned the motives of the authors as well as the accuracy of their statements.
CRI responded to Ezzo’s lies and half truths with the follow-up article “A Matter of Bias: Examining the Response of Growing Families International to Criticism”11 which appeared in the Fall 1998 issue of the CRI Journal. Both of these CRI articles are accurate and reflect the truth about Ezzo and GFI. The footnotes in these articles are as valuable as the articles themselves!
Ezzo has also been dishonest in his response to the public rebukes he has received by two of his former pastors—Dr. John MacArthur of Grace Community Church and Pastor Dave Maddox of Living Hope Evangelical Church.12 Their public rebukes have been posted on the Internet and were quoted in an article about GFI (“Unprepared to Teach Parenting?”13) in the November 2000 issue of Christianity Today.
In this Christianity Today article, Dr. MacArthur stated Gary Ezzo is disqualified “from Christian leadership or public ministry in any context.” The Elder Board at Pastor Maddox’s church issued the following comments: “Because of his persistent unwillingness to respond to biblical admonition … we are fearful that Ezzo’s heart has been hardened. … In the end, it was his impenitence that caused us to put him out of the church.”
And impenitent, Ezzo remains. In fact, early in 2001, he began circulating two lengthy letters to Ezzo-supportive churches in an effort to discredit Dr. MacArthur, Pastor Maddox, and many others.
Ezzo has also spread lies about his former accountant and friend Chris Hamilton who was brought in by Ezzo to conduct an investigation into the embezzlement of funds from GFI. When Hamilton confirmed Ezzo’s son-in-law Robert Garcia had misappropriated nearly a half-million dollars of company funds, Ezzo told Hamilton he had “loaned” the money to Garcia. Garcia, however, admitted to Christianity Today he had, indeed, misappropriated the funds. (14)
Hamilton’s accounting firm immediately severed its relationship with Ezzo over this incident. Ironically, Ezzo and Garcia are now friends again. Yet, the Ezzo’s honest son-in-law Paul Luedke resigned from GFI and now works for Chris Hamilton’s accounting firm. In addition, Mark Severance, the Ezzo’s former personal assistant, also left GFI and is on Hamilton’s staff.
Multnomah’s Deceit and Ezzo’s Guilt
In January 2001, I decided to write an “Open Letter to Multnomah Publishers”15 to ask them to conduct a thorough investigation of the charges being made against Gary Ezzo by myself, his former accountant, former friends, and former pastors. (Multnomah published all of Ezzo’s secularized versions of his parenting materials. This included On Becoming Babywise.) In an effort at damage control, Ezzo responded to my Multnomah letter by privately circulating a letter to “Ezzofied” churches attacking my professional writing abilities and my mental health. I responded to his blatant dishonesty point by point in a letter16 which I posted on the Internet.
To my surprise, I got an e-mail from Jeff Gerke, an editor at Multomah, telling me he’d been given the assignment of investigating the charges against Ezzo. I was wary of this contact because I believed Don Jacobson (president of Multnomah Press) and his brother Matt were “Ezzofied” parents.
I was surprised when Gerke submitted an honest report to Jacobson at Multnomah. It appeared the decision makers at Multnomah decided to very carefully sever their relationship with Ezzo and to return publishing rights to him. Christianity Today broke this story on March 3, 2001 before Multnomah wanted the publicity. The article, “Babywise Publisher Plans Contract Cancellation,”17 quoting Gerke’s private e-mails to a pediatrician was later followed up by “Babywise Almost Dropped,”18 an article that also quoted some of Gerke’s private e-mails describing the internal debates going on at Multnomah over Ezzo. Jacobson then issued a statement saying the investigation was still “ongoing.” Gerke no longer works at Multnomah.
Oddly enough, the day after 9/11, Multnomah issued a small notice on its web site saying it was returning publishing rights to Ezzo. The statement blamed his critics for being unwilling to reconcile with him.
This raises several interesting questions. If Ezzo is innocent of the charges against him, why did Multnomah sever the publishing relationship? If Ezzo’s critics are correct, why didn’t Multnomah thank them for drawing attention to the truth about Ezzo’s materials? In Ezzoland, however, everything is backward and upside down—the critics are painted as the villains, while Ezzo plays the victimology card.
Ezzo is now back self-publishing his books, his materials are still being taught in churches, and he’s still being invited by pastors to teach on biblical ethics and parenting.
The Michael Corleone of the parenting movement is still profiting off of naïve pastors and young parents who are hypnotized by what can best be described as his Clintonesque charm—and they still willingly give him their money and their undiscerning allegiance.
One can only wonder when rational Christians will rise up and put him out of the Church—as Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship did to him for his lies and unrepentant heart. Or, have churchgoers adopted the Gary Ezzo/Humpty Dumpty philosophy of truth: It can mean whatever they say it means? Only time will tell.
Frank York is a freelance writer working from his home office in Nashville, Tennessee. His book (co-authored with Concerned Women for America Attorney Jan LaRue) is Protecting Your Child in an X-Rated World published by Focus on the Family and Tyndale Publishers.
American Academy of Pediatrics Statement about Babywise and related links.
List of Resources on Healthy Baby Sleep
List of Resources on Sleep Training, CIO, Controlled Crying
List of Resources for Breastfeeding Mothers
List of Resources on Babywearing
1. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia, http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=CarGlas.sgm&images=
3. Dr. Matthew Aney’s Collection of Files, at www.ezzo.info.
4. Roy Maynard, “The Ezzos know best: Controversial parenting curriculum is sweeping the church, May 25-June 1, 1996, WORLD magazine. Web article: http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/05-25-96/national_4.asp.
5. Gary Ezzo, “Parental Affection and Character Development,” GFI Web site: http://www.gfi.org/java/art_ParentalAffection.jsp.
6. Barbara Lerner, “The Killer Narcissists,” National Review, May 17, 1999, Web site: http://www.nationalreview.com/17may99/lerner051799.html.
7. Focus on the Family Statement, published on the Ezzo.info web site: http://www.ezzo.info/Focus/FOTFstatement.htm.
8. “John MacArthur Comments on Gary Ezzo’s Break with Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship,” at: http://www.ezzo.info/GCC/macarthur.htm.
9. LACTNET can be accessed at: http://peach.ease.lsoft.com/archives/lactnet.html.
10. Kathleen Terner and Elliot Miller, “More Than a Parenting Ministry? The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International,” on the Christian Research Institute Web site: http://www.equip.org/free/DG233.htm.
11. Kathleen Terner and Elliot Miller, “A MATTER OF BIAS?: Examining the Response of Growing Families International Criticism,” on the Christian Research Institute Web site: http://www.equip.org/free/DG234.htm.
12. Pastor Dave Maddox, “Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship’s Statement About Gary Ezzo,” at: http://www.ezzo.info/LHEF/lhef_nov_2000.htm.
13. Kathleen Terner, “Unprepared to Teach Parenting? – Two churches long associated with Babywise author Gary Ezzo denounce his character and fitness for Christian ministry,” Christianity Today, November 13, 2000. This is available on Christianity Today’s Web site: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/013/6.70.html.
15. Frank York, “Open Letter to Multnomah Publishers,” posted on the Ezzo.info web site: http://www.ezzo.info/York/yorkletter1.htm.
16. Frank York, “A Response to Gary Ezzo’s Misstatements About a Former GFI Employee,” posted at: http://www.ezzo.info/York/yorkresponse_feb2001.htm.
17. Corrie Cutrer, “Babywise Publisher Plans Contract Cancellation,” Christianity Today, posted on C.T.’s Web site on March 23, 2001: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/112/54.0.html.
18. Corrie Cutrer, “Babywise Almost Dropped,” Christianity Today, July 9, 2001 and posted on the C.T. Web site on June 22, 2001: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/009/12.20.html.