BEAUMONT, Texas (BP)–In one American city — Beaumont, Texas — viewers of the ABC-TV/Walt Disney Company sitcom “Ellen” heard the other side of the story.
Two 30-second ads were produced by Calvary Baptist Church for ABC affiliate KBMT in Beaumont offering reflections by Michael Johnston, president of a Newport News, Va., Christian outreach to homosexuals, Kerusso Ministries.
One of the church’s ads aired at the conclusion of the one-hour episode in which comedian Ellen DeGeneres portrayed her character “coming out” as a homosexual — a declaration DeGeneres also made about her own homosexuality in advance of the April 30 show.
“Ellen is witty and she’s talented,” Johnson, a former homosexual who has AIDS, acknowledged in the second spot. “But the subject matter of tonight’s episode is not a laughing matter. Looking back at the emotional and spiritual consequences of homosexuality in my own life … standing here tonight with AIDS, I find it difficult to relate to the humor. The celebration of depravity degrades the individual. But the greatest tragedy of all (is) that so many are willing to accept a counterfeit for real love … the love of God.”
In Calvary’s first ad on the show, Johnson said: “There is a lie out there. It promises acceptance, but delivers loneliness. It promises freedom, but delivers spiritual and emotional bondage. It promises life, but delivers death. Homosexuality … it’s full of broken promises. Hello, I’m Michael Johnson. I chose to believe those lies for years. Today, I’ve been set free. There is a key to freedom — his name is Jesus Christ.”
Both ads concluded with an announcer saying, “Something to think about. From the members of Calvary Baptist Church.”
The church’s stance was one of the most vocal among Southern Baptists and other evangelicals dismayed over ABC/Disney’s decision to make TV history by featuring the first openly homosexual lead character on a network show.
Dwayne Hastings, director of communications for the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, stated, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this pushes Southern Baptists to take a stand against the Disney Company at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June in Dallas.”
Disney is a key player in a TV trend which evangelicals see as intent on casting “the abnormal as normal and the normal as abnormal,” Hastings said.
Last June, well before the “Ellen” furor, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans threatened a boycott of Disney if the company continues its “antiChristian and antifamily trend.” For now, the resolution called on Baptists “to give prayerful and serious consideration” to whether to attend Disney theme parks and purchase Disney products. A number of other denominations have voiced similar concerns, including the Assemblies of God and Presbyterian Church in America.
Among sponsors of the “Ellen” episode April 30, Volkswagen drew a strong rebuke from the American Family Association, which began its own Disney boycott in 1995.
Donald Wildmon, president of the Mississippi-based AFA, said in a news release, “It is not a surprise that Volkswagen would be a sponsor promoting sexual perversion. Years ago, when other automakers refused to advertise in porn magazines, Volkswagen eagerly did. Volkswagen cares nothing about American families, but is willing to spend millions promoting sexual perversion of all kinds.
“It could be a very good reason to boycott Volkswagen,” Wildmon said.
Volkswagen products include Audi luxury cars. AFA, in a list of sponsors of the “Ellen” coming-out episode, listed the company’s toll- free number as 1-800-822-8987. The president of Volkswagen of America is Clive Warrilow. The company’s address is P.O. Box 3951, Troy, MI 48007; fax, 810-340-5025; direct dial, 810-340-5000.
Three companies, according to AFA, have announced they will no longer advertise on any “Ellen” episode: J.C. Penney, Pizza Hut and Wrigley chewing gum. AFA noted, however, that Pizza Hut is a subsidiary of Pepsico, which has not announced whether Pepsi products will be advertised on the show.
Wendy’s hamburger chain also has pulled its ads on future shows, while Chrysler pulled its April 30 “Ellen” ad and will evaluate future episodes on a case-by-case basis, according to an April 16 USA Today article.
Only one ABC/Disney affiliate refused to air the coming-out “Ellen” show — WBMA, Birmingham, Ala., according to news reports.
The 39-year-old DeGeneres allowed her personal life to additionally make headlines in April, especially in appearing for the first time in public with her 27-year-old homosexual companion, actress Anne Heche, at the April 26 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C.
And in an interview on ABC’s “Prime Time Live” after her April 30 episode, DeGeneres said she favors marriages between homosexuals.
At the tux-and-gown Washington event, DeGeneres and Heche were described in a Washington Post column as “indulging in huge Public Displays of Affection nearly every step of the way — even during their private meeting with President Clinton.”
In addition to Clinton, the glitzy media dinner was attended by members of the Cabinet, a few dozen members of Congress, news reporters and execs and an array of pop culture figures, including John Kennedy Jr., Tom Selleck, Robert De Niro, Kim Basinger, “Dr. Ruth” Westheimer and former senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy.
Heche currently is starring as Tommy Lee Jones’ leading lady in the film “Volcano,” has just finished a political satire with Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro and is scheduled to be the romantic lead with Harrison Ford in a film soon to begin shooting.
The Washington Post reported Heche is in her first homosexual relationship, while The New York Times recounted: “She grew up in a strict home in Ohio, where her father, Donald, was a minister. He died of AIDS at the age of 43. Various published articles said Mr. Heche had lived a gay double life.”
At Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas, pastor John Powers said the two ads were aimed at “hitting while the iron was hot.” He said he discussed the ads in two different church meetings and, “To a person, they said, ‘Go for it.'” Powers said the ads cost several thousand dollars to produce and air locally.
Jon Walker, editor of Home Life magazine of the Baptist Sunday School Board, observed that “as much as I’m grieved by Ellen’s irresponsible use of her fame and fortune, I hope Christians can send her a message of hope, that God forgives even those entrapped in a gay lifestyle if they come to him truly seeking the truth. Even as we oppose this sad step by Ellen, we need to pray for her.”
The CLC’s Hastings noted, “Short of putting a lock and key on the family’s television remote, this latest twist in TV programming suggests parents need to be extremely vigilant about their family’s TV fare.”
Movie reviewer Phil Boatwright of Thousand Oaks, Calif., stated:
“In the ’90s, Hollywood has taken upon itself to set us straight (excuse the pun) when it comes to homosexuality … . Film after film encourages us to believe that it is an alternative and accepted lifestyle. There’s just one little problem with this belief. God says it is immoral. (Romans 1:26-27).”
In a prepared statement, Concerned Women for America’s Carmen Pate said it is unfortunate “Ellen” and other TV programs “portray their homosexual characters as normal without acknowledging their immorality or the health threats that exist within their behavior. As a result, many unknowing children and teens are lured into believing that homosexuality is not only acceptable but a behavior to be proud of. Television gives legitimacy to those ideas.”
Pate, CWA’s vice president of communications, told Baptist Press, “It opens up the door for other producers and writers to come up with similar programs to reinforce the message that was seen on ‘Ellen.’ We can almost be sure that a precedent has been set and we’ll see many, many more programs” with a similar theme, she said.
The American public is “sick and tired” of Hollywood and the media promoting homosexuality, said Peter LaBarbera, editor of the Lambda Report, which tracks homosexual activism, and president of a new organization, Americans for Truth about Homosexuality.
“They hype surrounding Ellen Degeneres’ sad decision shows the cultural elite is woefully out of touch with the average American on this issue,” LaBarbera said.
Other “Ellen” sponsors April 30 and their products, according to the American Family Association, were:
— Bayer Corporation — Alka-Seltzer; Midol and Actron pain relievers; One-A-Day and Flintstone vitamins; Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia; S.O.S. soap pads; Femstat 3 feminine products; Stridex acne treatments.
— News America Publishing, Inc. — Fox Broadcasting Company; 20th Century Fox films.
— Sony Corporation of America — Columbia Pictures Industries and Tri-Star films; Columbia, Epic and CBS Records; Sony electronic products; Columbia House distributors; Loews theaters.
— Time Warner Inc. — CNN, Home Box Office and Cinemax cable services; Primestar satellite service; Warner Brothers productions; Time Life books; Turner Pictures and New Line Cinema; TIME, People, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Southern Living magazines; TBS and TNT Networks; Book of the Month Club.
— Unilever United States Inc. — Calvin Klein; Lipton tea and soups; Dove and Lever 2000 soaps; Degree deodorant; Finesse and Suave hair-care products; Q-tips; Pond’s Cream; Vaseline products; Wisk detergent; Pepsodent and Mentadent toothpaste; Country Crock spread; Wish-Bone salad dressings; Ragu Italian foods; Wyler’s drink mixes.
— Warner-Lambert Company — Listerine mouthwash; Trident gum; Certs breath mints; Rolaids antacid; Actifed and Sudafed cold tablets; Benadryl; Halls cough drops; Neosporin; Parke-Davis pharmaceuticals; Lubriderm Lotion.
— Burlington Coat Factory — clothing stores.
— Slimfast Foods Company — diet aids.
— Viacom International, Inc. — Blockbuster video stores; MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime and Viacom cable services; Paramount Pictures; Prentice Hall book publishing.