This article first appeared in the News Watch column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 23, number 3 (2001). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
Two and one-half years ago the Christian Research Journal published an article outlining the cultlike characteristics of Gary Ezzo’s Growing Families International (GFI): Scripture twisting, authoritarianism, exclusivism, isolationism, and physical and emotional endangerment of children.1 The organization, established in 1987, reaches over 1,500,000 parents around the world through church-based Christian parenting programs such as Preparation for Parenting and Growing Kids God’s Way and secular materials such as the top-selling On Becoming Babywise.
In the past, Ezzo has denied the validity of our concerns as well as similar issues raised by others, including Focus on the Family and John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church. He credits such concerns to bias or misperception2 — a point addressed in a follow-up Journal article on GFI.3
In the past year, however, Ezzo has faced new challenges. Several former supporters of his ministry have broken off their ties with him, citing character-related concerns.
Ezzo Excommunicated, Declared Unfit for Public Ministry. On 30 April 2000 Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship (LHEF), a church Ezzo had been a member of for years and that had previously stood by him,4 excommunicated Ezzo. The elders’ statement asserts that Ezzo had a “pattern of sin,” making excommunication necessary:
When it comes to himself and other matters that reflect upon the question of his integrity, there is a pattern in Gary of struggling with the truth. Rather than waiting on God’s provision, when confronted in his sins Gary readily sets aside integrity and seeks to protect himself by a rejection of the very spiritual authority God placed over him for his own spiritual welfare. Furthermore, by the fruits of his life, especially his words, Gary has manifested a lack of Christian character essential to leadership in the church.5
The statement adds, “As Gary’s elders we believe he is biblically disqualified from all public ministry.” Ezzo left the church several weeks before the excommunication was finalized.6
In a public response to LHEF, Ezzo states that “while at Living Hope, no accusation of wrongdoing or suggestion of misconduct was ever presented to us in writing, in person, by email, or phone, let alone the commencing of a church discipline process.”7 He says that LHEF brought forward charges against him only after he voiced concerns with them and “quietly” left the church.8 Ezzo’s comments contradict those of his former elders, who state that they confronted Ezzo with his sins, pleaded with him to repent, and excommunicated him on the “basis of facts established by biblical process.”9
Ezzo points to two committees he commissioned to look into the charges. Both committees “continue to affirm” Gary Ezzo, his wife Anne Marie, and their ministry. One committee is made up of GFI Regional Representatives and the other one Ezzo says is “independent of GFI organizationally,” but he has not named its members.10
Ezzo’s current pastor, Ron Seidel of Granada Hills Community Church, has also dismissed LHEF’s charges against Ezzo.11 He and the two committees Ezzo commissioned expressed frustration at LHEF’s unwillingness to meet with them to discuss Ezzo’s situation.12
Key Ezzo Staff Members Leave. Soon after Ezzo’s excommunication, several of his key staff members and associates resigned their positions. Not all would comment publicly on their reasons; those who did communicate with the Journal indicated that concerns about Ezzo played a role. Bob Gaby, a nine-year board member for Ezzo’s nonprofit organizations, resigned as Chairman of the Board of Christian Family Heritage (CFH) on 16 August 2000. Gaby expressed concern over Ezzo’s public response to the actions of LHEF, where Gaby is a member.13 Two days after Gaby’s resignation, CFH board secretary Sharon Nelson, a medical doctor who has endorsed Ezzo’s books, resigned.14 Laurie Moody, a visible GFI “contact mom,” resigned the same week, saying that Ezzo’s response to LHEF played a role in her decision.15
Two high-profile GFI employees resigned without public comment: Mark Severance, a frequent GFI spokesman and assistant to Ezzo,16 and Paul Luedke, Ezzo’s son-in-law, who had been at GFI for five years.17
MacArthur: Ezzo’s Problems Represent a Pattern. LHEF was not the first church to raise concerns about Ezzo’s character. John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church (Grace), where Ezzo had served as pastor of family ministries and developed his parenting programs, publicly rebuked him in October of 1997 for lacking accountability and truthfulness,18 the same issues raised by Living Hope.
On 25 July 2000, after LHEF excommunicated Ezzo, John MacArthur issued a new statement: “This has clearly become a pattern of behavior with Mr. Ezzo….It appears rather obvious on biblical grounds that Mr. Ezzo’s refusal to heed his own church’s discipline disqualifies him from Christian leadership or public ministry in any context. After all, the first and most important qualification for those who would lead the church is that they be above reproach.”19
The church that Ezzo had been a part of before coming to Grace had also raised concerns about him, asking him to resign his positions due to his “authoritarianism, exclusivism, and division.”20