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ABC Easter special on Jesus’ life draws Jim Henry’s support over Disney boycott

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A former president of the Southern Baptist Convention has joined in a call for Southern Baptists to support the ABC-TV animated Easter special on the life of Jesus, “The Miracle Maker” — publicly breaking with the SBC’s boycott of The Disney Company, if only for Easter Sunday.

Jim Henry, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., and SBC president from 1994-96, and Jess Moody, well-known former pastor of SBC churches in the Los Angeles area, joined in an April 17 statement issued by The Dove Foundation supporting the special on ABC, a Disney subsidiary.

Henry said: “Having seen ‘The Miracle Maker,’ I found it to be a true depiction of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is extremely well done, persuasive and powerful.

“This two-hour made-for-TV movie could impact millions of people, especially children,” Henry continued. “The opportunity that we have to encourage the Christian community and others to view this accurate biblical explanation of who Jesus is could be unprecedented. Proclaiming the Good News is what we, as followers of Jesus are all about, and this movie makes that proclamation so clear.”

Using claymation and two-dimensional animation, “The Miracle Maker” presents the life of Jesus through the eyes of a sick 12-year-old girl who encounters the Messiah through different stages of his life. The ABC Easter special is scheduled at 7 p.m. Eastern time, April 23.

Moody, former pastor of the Los Angeles-area First Baptist Church, Van Nuys, and The Shepherd of the Hills, Porter Ranch, said it would be “a disastrous mistake for the Christian community to ban ABC’s story of Christ. We should be grateful to ABC for having the courage and integrity to run a film aimed at children that clearly presents Jesus as the Savior of the world. … If a Disney company is extending an olive branch, shouldn’t we reach back with gratitude?”

The Southern Baptist Convention, at its 1997 annual meeting in Dallas, adopted a resolution urging Southern Baptists to refrain from patronizing Disney theme parks and retail outlets, as well as the entertainment conglomerate’s numerous subsidiaries, to protest Disney films and corporate policies regarded in many Christian circles as “anti-family” and “anti-Christian.”

Among key concerns about Disney’s moral direction: its openness to yearly “Gay Days” at its theme parks; the R-rated sexual, violent and anti-Christian fare of its Miramax film subsidiary; ABC’s embrace of Ellen DeGeneres as an openly lesbian lead character on a network TV sitcom; and Disney chairman Michael Eisner’s support of the homosexual movement’s political agenda.

Viewing “The Miracle Maker,” however, may not put a Baptist at odds with the boycott, Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said April 17.

“It has always been my contention and my understanding, articulated numerous times in print and interview, that this boycott means you don’t take money out of your pocket and put it in Disney’s coffers to help subsidize that which ridicules and attacks our biblical beliefs and convictions,” Land said.

“Thus the boycott never meant not watching ABC Television, although I have not found much, other than sporting events, worth viewing on that particular network in recent years,” Land continued.

“So, given my understanding of the convention’s vote on the resolution, which encouraged a boycott of The Disney Company, there is no need for any disposition or lifting of the call to boycott for a concerned family to watch a particular program on ABC-TV,” he said.

The Disney boycott was launched in 1995 by the Donald Wildmon-led American Family Association. Following the SBC’s 1997 action, the boycott was joined by Focus on the Family, the Assemblies of God, Concerned Women for America and other religious groups. Also in 1995, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights also began a Disney boycott over the Disney/Miramax film “Priest.”

The Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization seeking to promote family entertainment, in addition to releasing the comments by Henry and Moody, challenged the Disney boycott in comments by Dove founder and CEO Dick Rolfe, who said: “From a Christian point of view, it seems to me that organizing a company-wide boycott of Disney is rather like committing spiritual capital punishment. Shouldn’t we build bridges to reach non-believers with the truth rather than cut them off before the truth has been revealed?” Rolfe also asked, “What if we actually did boycott the Walt Disney Company right into bankruptcy? We would have succeeded in ruining the largest single supplier of family entertainment in history. That would certainly be a hollow victory.”

The boycott, however, has never aimed at pushing Disney into bankruptcy.

The SBC boycott resolution in 1997 noted, “… this is not an attempt to bring The Disney Company down, but to bring Southern Baptists up to the moral standard of God,” because: “Everything Christians possess of time, money, and resources is given to them by God as a stewardship for which they will give an account before a holy God … .” The resolution urges “all Southern Baptists to graciously communicate the reasons for their individual actions to The Disney Company and other companies,” noting Disney “is not the only such provider” of morally objectionable movies and televisions programs.

Phil Boatwright, a Baptist layman in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and movie reviewer for The Dove Foundation whose reviews also have appeared in Baptist Press, described “The Miracle Maker” as “mesmerizing storytelling for all family members.” Adults hopefully “will not write this off as something just for the kiddies,” Boatwright commented in a review.

“Jesus’ baptism and God’s declaration of who he is, the devil’s 40-day temptation of the Savior, Christ’s parables and sermons, his miracles and final sacrifice are all depicted here, honestly and forthrightly,” Boatwright wrote. “I sat in my chair amazed that ABC would have the courage to bring the greatest story ever told to America’s hearth, without watering down its message or the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. … For a major television network to attempt such a project is unprecedented.”

The movie also has been endorsed by Mastermedia International, Inc., a ministry founded by Larry Poland under the Campus Crusade for Christ umbrella.

In a joint statement, Mastermedia and The Dove Foundation commented: “… every now and then the networks or studios produce something redemptive in content and … worth ‘shouting from the housetops.'” ABC “has done such a movie,” the two organizations said.

“Please promote the viewing of this movie special and support ABC Television in a rare, but significant venture in a godly direction,” the joint statement urged. “If we support this, there will be more.”

Boatwright predicted: “If the rating numbers are there, I suspect this could be an ABC seasonal tradition. Just think of how many families over the years could be inspired by this production, if we in the Christian community support ABC’s lionhearted experiment. If it isn’t successful, not only do I doubt it will again see the light of ABC, but most likely that network will be hesitant to attempt other such programming.

“It’s up to us, folks. We can either point a pious finger at Hollywood, or we can congratulate them when they present family friendly and, in this case, spiritually rewarding fare,” Boatwright wrote.

According to a report from Boatwright, Judith Tukich, ABC’s director of special projects, and an evangelical believer, said, “There has been marvelous support from Jeff Bader, senior VP of program planning and scheduling, as well as others here at ABC. We’ve been looking for a great Easter film for several years. I believe ‘Miracle Maker’ is it. It’s a quality piece, a very effective and engaging film for the entire family. We’ve had much success with running ‘The Ten Commandments’ at Easter time. But that’s not really about Easter. ‘The Miracle Maker’ reveals Christ to be the Son of God. It teaches children, while entertaining them. And it has just as much to offer adults.”

Boatwright encouraged Christians to contact ABC after viewing “The Miracle Maker.” “If you are on the Internet, sign onto the ABC website at ABC.com and send an appreciative note,” Boatwright advised. “Or, mail a note to Jeff Bader, senior vice president in charge of program planning and scheduling at ABC, 2040 Avenue of The Stars, Suite 500, Los Angeles, CA 90067.”

Dwayne Hastings contributed to this article.