Originally created 06/19/97

Baptists boycott Disney



The Southern Baptist Convention made good Wednesday on its threat to recommend a boycott of Walt Disney Co., and the convention appears to have the backing of most area Baptist ministers.

"(Disney Chairman Michael) Eisner can say anything he wants about discrimination, but they have completely gotten away from where Walt Disney started," said Jack Custer, pastor of Baker Woods Baptist Church.

The boycott came a year after the Southern Baptist Convention warned Disney that it believed the company was promoting the homosexual lifestyle.

Many Southern Baptists object to Disney's policy of giving health benefits to same-sex partners of employees and allowing "Gay Days" at its theme parks, and the release by Disney subsidiaries of movies with violence and sex, such as Pulp Fiction and Kids.

Disney hasn't changed its policies and even produced Ellen, a comedy on company-owned television network ABC in which the title character declared she is a lesbian.

Wednesday's resolution, passed on a show of hands by the Southern Baptist Convention's 12,000 delegates in Dallas, urges the 15 million members of the nation's largest Protestant denomination to take action against Disney's "anti-Christian and antifamily direction."

While the measure is not binding on churches, it asks members "to take the stewardship of their time, money and resources so seriously that they refrain from patronizing the Disney Co. and any of its related entities."

Disney sees itself as nondiscriminatory and the Southern Baptists as extremists, said Louis Wall, general manager of television station WJBF (Channel 6), the local ABC affiliate.

"I hope Disney will listen, but I don't think they will," said Mr. Wall, himself a Southern Baptist.

Ellen has drawn few complaints locally, although Mr. Wall said a majority of the community has concerns about it.

Disney said in a statement Wednesday: "We are proud that the Disney brand creates more family entertainment of every kind than anyone else in the world. We plan to continue our leadership role and, in fact, we will increase production of family entertainment."

In Augusta, Southern Baptist congregations number about 42,000 members, according to the Augusta Association of Baptist Churches.

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 at First Baptist of Augusta when it was on Greene Street. The convention was formed after a slave-holding candidate was rejected by the national Baptist Home Mission Society despite an earlier agreement to ignore slave-holding as a test of faith.

Craig Bailey, pastor of Second Baptist in Beech Island, said he was disappointed with Disney, calling Disney's lack of response to last year's concerns a slap in the face. Telling American families that the homosexual lifestyle is an alternate lifestyle without consequences is wrong, he said.

"We will choose not to support Disney anymore until something happens," he said.

He was not alone.

George A. Holcombe, Jr., pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, said, "I absolutely wholeheartedly support the boycott. I think Disney should return to the family values."

Larry Harmon, pastor of West Acres Baptist Church, said the boycott was one way to support Christian values.

"If we would stop supporting things that we believe are contrary to God's word, we could really make a difference," he said.

And Roger Bennett, pastor of Overcomers Outreach Baptist Church, said he and his family boycotted Disney before the Southern Baptists thought of it.

Overcomers is a church and also a counseling center, said the Rev. Bennett. "If I tell an alcoholic alcoholism isn't a problem, I'm being very cruel. Our stance is a desire to be helpful, and part of being helpful is to be truthful, otherwise you are being very cruel," he said.

It is part of human nature to think problems are caused by something external rather than looking within for the cause, he said.

"The homosexual lifestyle is detrimental to the individual and society," the Rev. Bennett said.

J. Andrew Menger, pastor of First Baptist Church in Evans, took a more moderate position: Decisions about what movies children watch are personal.

"At the heart of the Baptist faith is the individual's right to decide," he said.

The Rev. Menger said he thinks the verdict is still out on what exactly determines sexuality and believes research is leaning toward a genetic base for homosexuality.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.