Edward E. Coates, Ed.D.
Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo founded Growing Families International (GFI) for the stated purpose of providing help for parents raising morally responsible and biblically responsive children. GFI publications include Growing Kids God's Way, Preparation for Parenting, Preparation For the Toddler Years, On Becoming Babywise, Babywise II, and Reaching the Heart of Your Teen all written by the Ezzos. Recently they produced Reflections of Moral Innocence (RMI) a series proposing guidance for parents assisting children develop Christian sexuality.
This is a review of Reflections of Moral Innocence. It concerns only textual content and was based on RMI Audio Tapes and the accompanying Student Guide. Distinctive attributes of RMI have been evaluated using criteria of Biblical fidelity, academic respectability and parenting effectiveness.
In contrast to a formal academic style with extensive footnotes or a line-by-line analysis, pragmatic considerations resulted in a document that responds to overarching RMI characteristics. This approach should enhance readability and utility.
Summaries and recommendations reflect professional opinion and are presented for educational purposes only. Nothing in this critique is intended to constitute an endorsement for nor a restraint to the sale of RMI or other GFI materials. Quotations from this review must cite the author and the source.
Reactive authoritarian parenting is advocated throughout the program. Parents are directed to refrain from discussing human sexuality until a question is asked or a sexual incident is related by the child. At that point parents are charged to provide a minimal response, pronounce a judgment and prescribe how the child is to think and act in the future. RMI presumes the child will then be satisfied and compliant. The Ezzos term this "The Indirect Method of Sex Education."
RMI assumes sex education is essentially an explanation of human reproduction with parents posited as the principle information source. According to this paradigm, if parents do not inform children they won't know the details of genital activity, and if they don't know these specifics they won't act out.
RMI methodology is predicated on the premise that word connotation and denotation are essentially invariable. Ezzo accents two techniques. First is reliance upon ambiguous genitalia names ("hiney," "bottom," " pee-pee," and "little bum") that are judged to be "morally neutral." In contrast, specific labels or medical terms are indicted for encouraging "evil imagination" that "runs wild." Similar censure is directed toward anatomically correct dolls, home birthing videos, explicit books and pictures.
A second RMI instructional feature is utilization of flowers as models to explain human reproduction. Like vague names for genitalia, flowers are postulated to be "morally neutral" and are extolled as accurate illustrations of human beginnings. RMI clients are frequently reminded to go back to the flowers.
The Ezzo emphasis for the need of equipping parents to function as primary sex educators for their children is desperately needed. Another positive recommendation is that parents refrain from compelling children into premature adulthood.
A pervasive RMI theme, typical of many religious approaches, is repression of sexuality. RMI's operative expression is "moral innocence," which unfortunately has been interpreted by the Ezzos as moral ignorance. Priority is given to avoiding bad things. A more successful tack and one that is more Biblical is to facilitate appropriate expression of human creation as male and female beings.
RMI perpetuates the notion that sex education is a one-time genital-oriented description of human reproduction. Many well-intentioned Christian parents have similar misconceptions. Sexuality should be understood as the combination of all God created features that characterize maleness and femaleness. Effective sex education must also encompass male and female persona, mutual respect, appropriate gender roles and celebration of our divine endowment to become one as He is one.
RMI contains many unsubstantiated claims. For example, years of research presumably to verify effectiveness were alleged to precede publication. No documentation is provided. To contend that RMI is "truly reflective of God's heart as it relates to this topic" is impertinent.
Sexism abounds in RMI. Examples of inappropriate sexual activity describe only male aggression. There are ominous references to the boy next door. Purity is personified by innocent girls. Negative comments about primitive people, and advice that RMI followers should restrict personal association to other GFI devotees, reflect ethnocentric and cultist thinking.
A grossly inadequate feature of RMI is its focus upon flowers as the normative analog for teaching about human reproduction. Most complex flowers are beautiful, nude, fragrant, and are conspicuously displayed so as to maximize reproduction. Flowers symbolize heightened sexual activity - not sexual restraint. Many flowers reproduce in a pollen-laden environment more analogous to a sex orgy than a committed monogamous marriage.
Unlike humans, a single flower may have multiple reproductive organs - some male and some female. Plant reproduction often requires action by insects or other agents. This could convey the impression that a third party is needed for making babies. To note some other incongruities, there are no botanical analogs for a clitoris, circumcision, nor penial-vaginal intromission. Flowers wither and die before producing mature seed. This could be a frightening prospect for children, especially when parents announce they are going to have a new baby. Unquestionably RMI has provided a novel definition for "flower children."
The most substantial deficiency of flowers is they cannot be used to illustrate feelings, attitudes, beliefs and commitment. Emerging sexuality's affective components constitute the greatest developmental challenge to parents and their children.
Why use botanical examples to explain human characteristics? Among all creation, only mankind was formed "in God's image," and when God followed those plans "male and female created He them." We were created to reflect God likeness - not plant likeness!
RMI relies largely upon human wisdom and skill (i.e. knowing and following Ezzo approved practices). Reliance upon God's power and promises are minimized. The Apostle Paul describes the futility of such efforts, "'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!' These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based up human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence". (NIV Colossians 3:20-23).
A grave fallacy in RMI logic is its pervasive assumption that words convey intrinsic meaning. According to the Ezzos, generic terms such as "hiney" connote moral innocence and can never be distorted to threaten nor motivate children to explore genital activity.
English is a dynamic vehicle for exchanging concepts. In disparate contexts the same word may express diametrically different meanings. This occurs because meanings become associated with words through usage. RMI presumes that definitions and words are invariably linked. In reality, how words are used determines what they mean. Consider "meat." Is meat a morally neutral, non-sexual term that refers to something eaten between two pieces of bread? It can be - or it can refer to genitalia or sexual activity. Even kids who have only heard "hiney" will quickly learn this new translation for meat. And with equal facility, they will understand that meat has one definition in the cafeteria and a different one in a group of peers. Instead of protecting kids, ambiguous vocabulary will heighten their vulnerability!
The Ezzos warn that specific terms for sexual anatomy and functions will excite kids to act out sexually.This dire prediction is unsubstantiated. RMI advocates avoidance of words like "rape" and "abortion" because children do not understand them. Are words like "electricity" and even "God" to be avoided because children do not fully understand what they mean?
Specific names for non-genital body components are sanctioned by RMI because arms, ears, livers, etc. are not considered sexually enticing. However, any body part may acquire sexual innuendo. This process can be illustrated by the development of a foot fetish. Another example of convoluted semantics is the allegation that precise or medical words instigate sexual activity, while "hiney," "bottom," " pee-pee," and "little bum" supposedly connote passivity.
Because they are not found in the Bible, the Ezzos argue against using specific genital names. The absence of "penis" or "vagina" in the more popular English translations is a consequence of word choice by the translators - not God's disapproval. In what translations do "hiney" and "pee-pee" appear?
It is difficult to protect children from sexual abuse if vocabulary is limited to "hiney," "bottom," " pee-pee," and "little bum." Attempts to obscure and ignore genitalia result in slang words (e.g. "hiney," "bottom," " pee-pee," and "little bum") that seldom dignify God's creation.
Where is the evidence that specific terms "inflame" curiosity? Prevailing professional opinion is that evasion and imprecise language contribute to experimentation. Avoidance encourages irresponsibility. Secrecy fuels obsession, addiction and seduction. Dialog with trusted care givers who provide unequivocal information and demonstrate authentic affirmation will facilitate moral development.
Like many comments about the good old days, the claim that society embraced conservative sexual values in the past is inaccurate. History records the greatest percentage decrease in premarital virginity in America occurred soon after the First World War. This indicates a great American sexual revolution occurred in the 1920's. Great grandmother was a teenager during perilous times. Christians cannot rely upon the world to provide a positive cultural context to validate Godly values.
Christ and Children
The Ezzos interpret Matthew 18:1-9 with emphasis upon verse 6 ("But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" ) to imply divine disapproval for precise sexual nomenclature. This is an incredulous interpretation. A millstone around the neck is more likely to be the fate of those who intentionally perpetuate ignorance and evade candid discussion of life's realities with children.
RMI fosters unhealthy fear of nudity. Godly parents are urged to meticulously avoid exposure of genitalia or female breasts and to insist their children scrupulously do the same.
Human bodies were created in God's image. He used no evil parts. A more reasoned approach is that uncovered bodies, like words, acquire and communicate meaning by the manner in which they are used. Incidental exposure and seductive behavior are vastly different. Appreciation for diversity c an accrue from awareness that few of us qualify to be a number 10 or a hunk.
When entering an occupied room, it is a matter of manners, not modesty, to pause and ask, "May I come in?" To inquire "Are you decent?" is to impugn character.
As examples for us, RMI cites "primitives" who allegedly cover their genitals to reduce sexual activity. A casual look at National Geographic reveals this is not universally practiced. The Lord does not rely upon human clothing styles to define His will. RMI commends Adam and Eve as exemplars because they fashioned body coverings. Adam and Eve made garments to hide from Jehovah, not from each other. Their coverings did not extinguish passion but expressed fear - fear of impending punishment.
Larger undergarments and pants are recommended by RMI to reduce masturbation. Some parents report baggy britches increase self-stimulation - probably because genitalia are more accessible. Personal honesty and realistic application of God's Word are more helpful than larger clothes.
The RMI posture to wait until something happens and then do something about it is a gross distortion of Christian love for children. This is parenting by accident! Would this same sequence be used to teach how to play safely, drive a car, develop a profession, establish a family, manage money - or prepare for heaven?
RMI's insistence that sexal discussions continue to be characterized by hiney and flowers - right up to the child's marriage - is absurd. One of the most detrimental realities of contemporary society is its unrelenting pressure to hurry children through childhood. While intrusion of adult expectations into childhood is unconscionable, RMI's insistence that childish language be perpetuated into adulthood is no less abusive.
A major consideration in selecting family development materials is confidence in the source. For those who have purchased other Ezzo-authored materials and/or attended their workshops, RMI may fit comfortably into their mind set and parenting practices.
The helpful recommendations in RMI are more effectively presented in other sources which incorporate fewer adverse features. RMI has significant flaws in Biblical interpretation, biological science, language theory, developmental psychology, logical reasoning, and parenting techniques. Despite its claim to represent the mind of God, RMI lacks a coherent theology of sexuality. To believe RMI is God's definitive plan is ludicrous. Functional, Biblically literate families will likely consider RMI superfluous if not repulsive.
Edward E. Coates, Ed.D. (coateseREPLACE_WITH_AT_SIGNnicanor.acu.edu)
Dr. Coates' qualifications, at the time of writing:
Father of Five and Grandfather of Nineteen, married 44 years to Nancy Jane Coates
Professor of Educational Psychology Abilene Christian University 26 years
Ed.D. The University of Tennessee
Ministerial Experience 30 Years
Clinical Member of American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Certified Sex Educator and Sex Therapist
American Association of Sex Educators Counselors and Therapists
Professional Member of American Association of Christian Counselors
Texas Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Sex Education Consultant
High School Science Teacher, Principal, Coach and Curriculum Director
Founding Board Member of Two Christian Schools