Southern Baptists May End Disney Boycott

A vocal supporter of the Southern Baptist Convention's 1997 boycott of Disney says he may ask the convention to declare the effort a victory when it meets June 21-22 in Nashville.

"I'm already considering asking them to lift the boycott," Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., said in an Saturday story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


Two weeks ago the American Family Association called off its nine-year boycott of Disney, saying there were signs that the company was making an effort to "clean up its act."


The SBC joined the boycott effort with a 1997 resolution on "Moral Stewardship and The Disney Company," which called on Southern Baptists "to refrain from patronizing The Disney Company and any of its related entities." It was based on a 1996 resolution citing corporate decisions to establish an employee policy granting insurance benefits for same-sex couples, hosting of homosexual theme nights at parks and controversial films.  


Since the convention voted in a resolution to start the boycott, messengers would have to vote again to call it off. Richard Land of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has suggested it might be time to "declare victory and move on" in the Disney boycott.


Drake, a longtime Disney critic who vocally supported the boycott in the 1990s, said he now believes there would be much support for ending it.


"Disney is very attractive to our families," he said. "And many have short memories. Many families are already going back to the Disney attractions."


Disney officials have said the boycott had no impact on their bottom line.


The company recently reported a 30 percent rise in earnings the first quarter of this year, driven by success of movie hits including "The Pacifier" and "The Incredibles," strong DVD sales and increased attendance at theme parks.


The boycott also didn't succeed in its stated goal of ending homosexual-friendly company policies. A Michigan gay-rights group called the AFA decision to end it a "victory" and "a terrific step for equality."


The SBC's Land said in Baptist Press that anyone who says the economic action against Disney failed isn't looking at the whole picture.


"The Southern Baptist Convention's resolution on moral stewardship may well have ushered in a whole new era of corporate awareness and activism among evangelical Christians," he noted. "The resolution made the point--straight out of God's Word--that Christians have an obligation to take account of what enterprises they are supporting."


The AFA said in dropping its boycott that it wasn't endorsing Disney and still considered the company "on probation."


Yet the group identified "positive signs" that Disney was beginning to recognize its family friendly image was suffering among Christians. They included the upcoming departure of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whom they blamed for many of Disney's missteps, and the breakup of Disney and Miramax, whose controversial films include "Priest," "Dogma" and "Pulp Fiction."


But some observers viewed the most important factor as news that Disney is co-producing a film on the Christian literary classic "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis, with Walden Media, a family friendly company with films including "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "Holes." The movie, due for release in theaters Dec. 9, is being marketed to Christians.


"We know there are a lot of evangelicals who are going to want to go and see that and they appreciate that Disney is producing that kind of movie," AFA President Tim Wildmon said in Reuters.


Experts see it as part of a trend toward "faith-based marketing," a result of "The Passion of the Christ" earning $370 million in domestic ticket sales last year, prompting executives to look for a religious angle in marketing other products.


Greg Wright of said Disney's signing on as a producing and distribution partner with Walden Media had nothing to due with religion or morality but was a business decision.


"If Disney didn't think they'd make money backing the Narnia films, they wouldn't be doing it," Wright said.


Wright said he views the continuing story of AFA's announcement that it was dropping the boycott to be one of "the shallowness and convenience of much Christian activism."


"In the same way that 'Christian' media outlets quickly scuttled their proud refusal to air ads for 'R' rated movies when one they actually liked finally came along (last year's 'The Passion of the Christ'), the AFA is now dropping its boycott in part because Wildmon knows 'there are a lot of evangelicals who are going to want to go and see' the Narnia film," he wrote.


Wright said he believed the Disney boycotts to be "wildly misguided," and that boycotts "should always be a matter of personal conviction."


"And if, on principle, you believed that 'R' rated movies should be avoided (which I obviously don't), then you should have avoided Gibson's 'Passion,' too. If you didn't, you compromised your principles."


Wright said people who believed Disney was worth boycotting nine years ago should make their boycott really count by vowing not to see "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."


"Why? First, because Disney has not substantially changed its tune. Disney doesn't really care about Christians, or the Christian themes of Narnia. And it shouldn't, any more than it really cares about gay themes. What Disney does care about is ticket sales. That's merely good business sense—which I also consider generally misguided, by the way.


"Second, and more importantly, your boycott now has real meaning because sticking with it will actually cost you something. What good is boycotting something you don't want in the first place?"


Miramax, which released more than 300 movies generating $4.5 billion in ticket sales during 12 years with Disney, broke with the company recently in a contentious split. It won best picture Oscars for "Shakespeare in Love," "The English Patient" and "Chicago."


But Miramax also made some of the films most objectionable to religious conservatives. They include Quentin Tarrantino's "Kill Bill," which the Village Voice called "probably the most violent move ever made by an American studio."


Last year Disney blocked Miramax from distributing Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," a documentary that criticized President Bush.


Bob Allen is managing editor of

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