Features

Disney boycott

National | Clash of the kingdoms

Issue: "Hong Kong," June 28, 1997

First it was domestic partner benefits for companions of homosexual employees. Then it was an annual "Gay Day" at the two Disney parks. But it wasn't until Ellen came out of the closet that Southern Baptists decided to come out swinging.

The denomination resisted pressure last year to boycott the giant entertainment conglomerate, deciding instead to warn Disney that Baptists would be monitoring the company's "anti-Christian and anti-family" bias for 12 months. But any hope that the matter might end there was dashed when ABC, the latest addition to Disney's corporate magic kingdom, allowed Ellen DeGeneres to use her sitcom to publicly announce her homosexuality.

Disney "contemptuously gave us the back of their hand," announced Richard Land, president of the denomination's Christian Life Commission. In this case, few Baptists were in any mood to turn the other cheek.

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Instead, the convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on members to "refrain from patronizing" both Disney and its bewildering array of subsidiaries. Keeping oneself unspotted from the wonderful world of Disney could prove difficult, however. The CLC's own list of Disney companies-including Capital Cities/ABC and all of its many subsidiaries-runs three typed pages, and the commission acknowledges that the list may be incomplete.

Georgia pastor Rick Markham warned fellow messengers that "if we approve this resolution you have a moral responsibility to go home and cancel your ESPN, turn off your A&E, stop watching Lifetime ... and I'm afraid I'll have to tell my wife, no more Regis and Kathy Lee.... If we are not willing to do that, we are no more than 20th-century Pharisees," he concluded.

Mr. Markham and others urged Southern Baptists to concentrate on winning souls, insisting that a boycott would hurt the image of Christians while failing to hurt the bottom line of Disney.

Such arguments appeared to hold some sway until Lisa Kinney, an admittedly terrified

homemaker from Florida, stepped up to a microphone on the floor and told the messengers in a trembling voice, "I met Mickey Mouse when I was a small child. Six years ago I met Jesus Christ and he changed my life. He not only saved me but calls me to a life of personal holiness according to his Word.

"I will not visit the park; I will not buy the products. Do I think that my stand will change them? No, I do not. But I know that it has changed me. A boycott will prove to the world that we love Jesus more than we love entertainment."

Mrs. Kinney's speech brought about 10,000 messengers to their feet, but can such sentiments bring Disney to its knees? The boycott's chances of economic success look mixed. Convention actions are not binding on local congregations, which remain completely autonomous. This leaves individual churches free to decide what action they wish to take, if any.

At the same time, if action against Disney comes to be seen as a matter of personal loyalty to Christ, as portrayed by Mrs. Kinney, other denominations could find themselves under pressure from their members to prove that they, too, "love Jesus more than entertainment." A boycott that united America's largest Protestant denomination with conservatives of other denominations could hardly be considered Mickey Mouse.

At any rate, broad-based action against a company as big and diversified as Disney is bound to lead to some unanticipated problems. In Orlando, for instance, the 10,000-member First Baptist Church has broadcast its Sunday services for 25 years on none other than the local ABC affiliate.

It is a small world, after all.

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