LOS ANGELES (BP)–Last summer, when Ted Baehr moved the headquarters of the Christian Film and Television Commission from Atlanta to Los Angeles, one press report suggested Baehr intended to act as a “peace broker” between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Walt Disney Company.
CFTVC founder Baehr, who is not a Southern Baptist, denied any intention to impose himself between Disney and the SBC — or any of several Christian groups pushing Disney to return to a more profamily direction.
But Baehr acknowledged he does sometimes have opportunity to talk with Disney officials and employees about the concerns of some in the Christian community.
Messengers at last June’s SBC annual meeting urged 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.”
Other Christian groups took similar stances, with some calling for immediate boycotts of the entertainment giant.
Assessing various concerns voiced about Disney, Baehr said in an interview: “About a third of it is particular complaints on individual products: a complaint about a cover here, about a book there, which is fine.
“That product, if you complain about it, should be targeted. You need to be clear that what you’re saying is accurate and that your goals are achievable and biblical.”
Baehr suggested it is unwise, however, to attack the entire Disney organization because of a few questionable products, adding it likewise would be unfair to generalize about all Southern Baptists because of problems with a few Baptist preachers.
He noted Zondervan Publishing House is owned by the Fox Network, which has at times been suggested as a boycott target for the poor moral content of much of its programming. Also, he said, Word — another Christian publisher — was at one time owned by the ABC network, which is now a Disney subsidiary.
Still, Baehr emphasized, he does not want to be seen as one who opposes any and all boycott efforts against Disney. “I don’t want to be the anti-boycott nabob in the whole issue, the media pundit who says don’t boycott. I would like to call us to accuracy and excellence in standing for Jesus Christ.”
Baehr urged Christians to realize “Disney has always been a secular company. Walt would not allow a church on Main Street at Disneyland or Disney World.”
There is very little historical understanding of Disney, Baehr stated. “In the 1940’s, Disney was producing cartoons of lascivious girls, scatological characters and homosexual humor. Other examples were the little wood nymphs in ‘Fantasia’ with no bras that shocked everybody. Disney — since Walt (Disney) died — has probably had more openness to Christianity than before he died.”
“Movieguide,” CFTVC’s bimonthly family entertainment guide, has had high praise for the recent release of “The Preacher’s Wife” by a Disney subsidiary.
“This is the most overtly Christian movie to come out of Hollywood in many years, other than ‘Dead Man Walking,'” said Baehr, who, prior to his move from Atlanta, was a member of a nondenominational evangelical church.
Baehr noted Disney does have a number of Christian employees. “You have a lot of people in the animation department who are Christian producers, people who are strong evangelicals.”
He disputed recent claims by homosexual-oriented periodicals that homosexuals account for 40 to 60 percent of Disney employees, though he acknowledged “it’s true there are more homosexuals in Hollywood.”
Regarding Disney’s decision to provide health insurance to same-sex partners of employees, Baehr said Disney was the last major studio to adopt such a policy and did so only after being pressured by “the gays, who were doing the same thing we (evangelical Christians) are doing: boycotting.”
According to Baehr, it would be financially unwise for Disney to offer such health coverage if it indeed employs a high percentage of homosexuals.
Since many homosexuals and their same-sex partners will be suffering from AIDS for many years, AIDS-related health claims from an alleged high percentage of homosexual employees would likely bankrupt the health plans of Disney or other studios, Baehr said.
“A boycott is not a way to change hearts,” Baehr warned. “If you want to get the homosexuals out of Disney, you’ve got a serious problem. You’d probably be better off leading them to Christ.”
Baehr cited the biblical example of Solomon, a Jew, who hired King Hiram of Tyre, a Baal-worshiper, to help build the temple. “Solomon asked that they build the temple to their specifications, not that Hiram stop being a Baal worshiper,” said Baehr, drawing a parallel with the employment of homosexuals by Disney to help produce pro-family entertainment.
Acknowledging many evangelicals have criticized “Priest,” a film from Disney’s Miramax subsidiary, Baehr noted “Movieguide” chose “Priest” as one of the 20 worst films of the year. Baehr said what angered some people about the movie was that it presented priests as capable of sin, a concept contrary to Catholic doctrine.
Baehr also acknowledged concerns by some Christian groups over “Gay Day” at Disney World, but he contended: “Gay Day is not a Disney-endorsed event. Disney, on the other hand, does have Christian events they do sponsor, they do endorse and they do participate.”
The annual event, held the first Saturday in June, is being expanded this year to include a day at Sea World and a day at Universal studios. A report in The Orlando Sentinel noted Sea World and Universal are “sanctioning the event” and “helping package it for gay travelers.”