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Orlando firm to help SBC visitors have Disney-less visit to Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–When the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Orlando this June, it will be the closest the SBC’s annual meeting has been to The Disney Company’s property since Southern Baptist messengers addressed the entertainment conglomerate in a 1997 resolution on moral stewardship.

Messengers to the SBC meeting in New Orleans adopted a resolution that drew national attention for noting, in part, that The Disney Company was “increasingly promoting immoral ideologies” and for calling Southern Baptists to exercise moral stewardship by refraining from patronizing Disney enterprises such as its theme parks and theme stores in malls.

Since that day many have debated the impact of the resolution. Supporters of the action, who were joined by Focus on the Family, the Assemblies of God and other religious groups, point to continued depressed sales of Disney-themed consumer products and home videos in the company’s most recent fiscal quarter as evidence that the boycott is having an effect on the company. Yet in the same period Disney theme parks and resorts reported healthy operating profits.

When Southern Baptists come en masse to central Florida for the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting, they will be treading on Disney’s hallowed grounds. Disney’s Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and its other parks have helped Orlando earn the moniker, “Vacation Capital of the World.”

Southern Baptists who plan to shun the Magic Kingdom in June but who want to patronize the region’s other tourist offerings will discover entertainment options there nearly as numerous as the state’s ubiquitous palmetto bushes.

And as Baptists begin to make plans for the journey to the Southern Baptist Convention, an Orlando-based tour operator, The Orlando Experience, has launched an Internet site offering suggestions on how to make their visit to central Florida more exciting and less costly.

Billing itself as an information site for “family friendly vacations,” The Orlando Experience’s website touts an assortment of theme park-related vacation packages for messengers and their families who will be attending the SBC annual meeting in Orlando. The agency’s primary clients are Christian schools, church groups, choirs and orchestras and organized youth groups.

Noticeably absent from the lists of promoted central Florida attractions are the Walt Disney theme parks. And that is no oversight, said Doni Keene, a spokesman for The Orlando Experience. “It’s a matter of supply and demand. The market we serve primarily expresses interest in attractions such as Universal Studios,” he said.

“Our market niche is the Christian community,” Keene continued. “We have tailored our offerings to coincide with the requests we receive and they center on Universal and Sea World.”

Keene said his firm’s discounted ticket prices reflect the fact that places like Universal Studios have an interest in attracting Southern Baptists, noting that up to a 40 percent discount on some ticket packages is available to Universal Studios and the adjacent Islands of Adventure.

The Orlando Experience also offers discounted tickets to Sea World of Florida and the Wet-n-Wild water park.

Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission foresaw the upcoming quandary SBC families might face in traveling to Disney’s backyard last September and passed a resolution urging “messengers to support our Convention’s boycott of the Disney corporation’s theme parks.”

Acknowledging the 2000 convention site might tempt some convention-goers and their families to make the short drive down the interstate to Disney attractions, the trustees’ resolution noted that the 1997 SBC resolution on Disney had not been rescinded.

Southern Baptists remain galvanized in their disdain of Hollywood’s “Christian-bashing, family bashing, pro-homosexual agenda,” ERLC President Richard Land said, expressing the belief that Southern Baptists won’t knowingly “support such an agenda by going to the Disney theme parks.”

“The image of The Disney Company as a family friendly entity has been irreparably shattered,” Land said. “The Disney many of us recall from our childhood bears little resemblance to the company which bears that name today.”

Noting that little has changed since Southern Baptists voted to challenge Disney for its “anti-Christian and anti-family” mind-set, Land said groups such as Disney’s Miramax film company continue to produce movies that “promote immoral ideologies and practices.” He said Disney continues to ignore Southern Baptists’ concerns, noting the company’s promotion of the homosexual lifestyle as normative has not abated.

It was “Gay Days” and Disney’s decision to extend domestic partner benefits to its homosexual employees that first triggered concerns over the direction The Disney Company was heading.

Coincidentally, the annual Gay Days event, held at Disney World and other venues in the Orlando area in early June for the past 10 years, will have just concluded when Southern Baptists arrive in central Florida. “Gay Days 2000,” scheduled for May 30-June 8, will attract more than 100,000 attendees in what its website calls “a total LesBiGay vacation experience.”

The Orlando Experience’s Disney alternative ticket packages block out June 12-14, encompassing dates of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and the SBC annual meeting. To lock in the savings offered by The Orlando Experience, the website says advance purchases must be made online by June 5.

For more information on The Orlando Experience, go to www.sbc.net and click on the group’s highlighted link.

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  • Dwayne Hastings