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3 more denominations voice concerns over Disney values

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Three denominations have been added to a growing list of Christian groups calling on the Walt Disney Company to return to a more pro-family approach in its entertainment offerings.

The three groups whose stances have received recent attention are the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), the Presbyterian Church in America and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Last June, messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling on Baptists “to give prayerful and serious consideration” to whether to attend Disney theme parks and purchase Disney products. The resolution suggested a boycott of Disney if it continues “this antiChristian and antifamily trend.”

After the SBC action, other denominations followed a similar course, while some Christian groups earlier had expressed concerns about Disney’s direction.

The executive council of the Church of God adopted a resolution strongly critical of Disney and calling on the church’s worldwide membership of 4 million members and 2,500 congregations to consider a boycott, according to Mike L. Baker, director of communications. The church has 800,000 members and 6,500 congregations in the United States.

“Generally speaking, our people seem to be appalled and shocked at Disney’s movement in the direction they’ve been going,” Baker said. “We have published the resolution in all of our publications and transmitted it throughout our church.”

The resolution listed several concerns, including:

— publication of “Growing Up Gay” by Disney-owned Hyperion Press. The book encourages teens to explore homosexuality, the resolution said.

— release of the movie “Priest” by Disney-owned Miramax, an action the resolution called “a disappointing departure from Disney’s image of producing wholesome family films.”

— provision of health insurance to “same-sex companions of gay and lesbian employees” of Disney.

— Disney’s hosting of “Gay and Lesbian Day” at Disney World in Orlando.

The Presbyterian Church in America passed a similar though much shorter statement against Disney during its assembly meeting in Coral Ridge, Fla.

The one-sentence declaration adopted by the meeting of 2,000 PCA delegates said: “We abhor what Disney and other corporations do to promote the homosexual lifestyle.”

Charles Dunahoo, PCA coordinator of Christian education and publications, noted the statement does not call for a boycott. “We leave that up to the individual churches. There are churches that have taken that statement and encouraged their people to do that.”

Dunahoo indicated the assembly’s statement has received widespread affirmation in the PCA, which has 275,000 members in approximately 1,300 churches and missions. “Being a conservative denomination, our people feel strongly about those things. I think there is general appreciation from our rank and file that we made a statement.”

The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel stopped just short of a boycott when the church’s board of directors asked member congregations to review their ties with Disney, according to Foursquare spokesman Ron Williams.

Since the vote last summer, Foursquare leaders have changed course and opted “to take a proactive approach,” said Williams, communications officer for the denomination of 2.1 million members in 19,000 congregations around the world. The church has 210,000 members and 1,900 congregations in the United States.

“We remain strong in our uncompromising stance for righteousness and family values,” Williams said. “Yet we are seeking and suggesting to Disney that some sort of forum of national religious leaders be had with leaders in the industry.”

Williams said the denomination’s churches have largely been pleased with the idea. “We have received a very strong favorable affirmation. They have greatly supported us in trying to find a positive solution to the problem.”

After the initial resolution, Foursquare officials received a letter from Disney “that gave us answers to some of the specific questions that we had. It was during this time that we felt led by the Lord — not in opposition to anything anyone else had done — to take a proactive approach,” said Williams, noting the church’s leaders are now awaiting Disney’s response to the proposal for a national forum.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, was assigned responsibility in the SBC resolution for monitoring Disney’s willingness to change and issue a report for the 1997 SBC meeting in Dallas.

“The clock is running; the alarm goes off next June,” Land declared. “Unless Disney is far more forthcoming in their sensitivity to Southern Baptist concerns, I predict it will be a bumpy road ahead.”

Other Christian denominations and organizations attempting to influence Disney include:

— the California Southern Baptist Convention, which passed a resolution strongly critical of Disney although stopping short of a call to boycott. Similarly, the Florida Baptist Convention in 1995 passed a resolution challenging trends at Disney.

— the Assemblies of God, the nation’s largest Pentecostal body, which includes more than 11,800 churches and 2.5 million members. The AOG’s general presbytery called for an outright boycott of Disney by AOG constituents.

— the Oklahoma State Church of God Ministerial Fellowship, which includes 100 Oklahoma ministers affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.). The Oklahoma group voted to adopt the SBC resolution as its own.

— Texas Catholic, newsjournal of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, which has a circulation of 75,000. The publication editorialized in support of the SBC Disney resolution: “… we applaud the Baptists for getting the message sent loud and clear to Disney.” Additionally, the Oklahoma City Archdiocese and Tulsa Diocese sold 4,600 shares of Disney stock last September in protest of “Priest.”

— Charisma, the leading periodical of the charismatic movement with a circulation of 225,000, which editorialized in support of the SBC resolution.

— the National Association of Free Will Baptists, with 2,500 churches and 250,000 members. During its annual meeting, the association adopted a Disney boycott resolution, citing Disney’s “support and approval of homosexuality, which we consider a perverted lifestyle and sin against God.”

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