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SBC votes overwhelmingly to end boycott of Disney Company

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to end its eight-year boycott of The Disney Company June 22 during its annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Press reports the day before recounted that the SBC’s Great Commission Council, a group comprised of SBC entity executives, asked the SBC’s Executive Committee in February to reconsider the Disney boycott “in light of recent developments, and bring any recommendation it deems advisable to the SBC meeting in Nashville in June 2005.”

After researching the matter, the Executive Committee June 20 determined it would not be appropriate for the committee to present a motion to the annual meeting calling for an end to the boycott. Instead, the Executive Committee referred the motion to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noting “changes in Disney leadership, and other potentially positive developments.”

Before the ERLC technically even received the motion, the SBC Resolutions Committee’s action in bringing the boycott-ending resolution to the floor eliminated the ERLC’s need to address the issue.

While the resolution to halt the boycott gained near-unanimous support on the floor, William Dotson of Kentucky asked for convention-goers to turn it back, saying the convention wasn’t wrong in 1997 in targeting Disney, but that it would be wrong to call off the boycott of Disney now.

Wiley Drake, a pastor and messenger from California who told the convention he lived within four miles of the company’s West Coast theme park, responded by saying, “They have made some changes. It’s time to drop that boycott.”

But, Drake noted, “This old war horse is not ready to quit either, and I’m going to keep fighting Walt Disney Company. I live within four miles of Disneyland and their headquarters, but it is time for us as Southern Baptists to say what we did was a boycott and it worked. We have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. Michael Eisner himself said, ‘That blankety-blank Wiley Drake cost me $10 million off of my bonus this year.'”

Strong support was registered for the reversal of the resolution on “moral stewardship,” which was adopted by messengers to the 1997 SBC annual meeting in Dallas. Only a few messengers voted against the new resolution, which states that Southern Baptists will “continue to monitor the products and policies of The Disney Company.”

The original resolution, which called for Southern Baptists “to refrain from patronizing” the entertainment giant and any of its subsidiaries, noted, “The Disney Company has not only ignored our concerns, but flagrantly furthered this moral digression in its products and policies.”

A year earlier in New Orleans, the convention first broached the Disney issue, encouraging “Southern Baptists to give serious and prayerful reconsideration to their purchase and support of Disney products, and to boycott The Disney Company and theme parks if they continue this anti-Christian and anti-family trend.”

“Southern Baptists have made their point,” Richard Land said in an interview following the convention’s decision to drop the boycott. The 1997 resolution that named Disney was an attempt by Southern Baptists to warn parents and others that they should not extend “blind trust” to Disney or any other entertainment group, said Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The June 22 resolution noted that the boycott had “communicated effectively [Southern Baptists’] displeasure concerning products and policies that violated moral righteousness and traditional family values.” The 2005 resolution calls on Southern Baptists “to practice continued discernment” in their entertainment product purchases.

Land said the Disney corporation’s decision to partner with Walden Media in financing and distributing “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” part of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series, prompted several groups to rethink their calls for economic action against Disney. The American Family Association announced in May it was ceasing its boycott of the entertainment giant.

“Presenting C.S. Lewis to the American public is a public service,” Land remarked, saying Southern Baptists and others would be watching to see if Disney is faithful to the book’s storyline. The film is scheduled to be released Dec. 9.

“Hollywood is slowly discovering that America is a very religious country,” Land said, reflecting on the success of Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of The Christ.”

Land said Disney’s March 2005 decision to void Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s contracts as heads of Miramax Films was a welcome sign. The studio, which Disney purchased in 1993, is known for its production of particularly troublesome and “family unfriendly” films, such as “Dogma” and “Pulp Fiction,” he explained. The Miramax name will remain with Disney, reportedly with a much smaller budget.

The ERLC executive commended Disney for producing more family friendly fare, but said there was no question the entertainment giant continues to produce “odious stuff” as well.

Calling former Disney CEO Michael Eisner the “princeling of darkness,” Land said Eisner’s removal as Disney chairman after a no-confidence vote by shareholders was key to calling off the boycott.

“I don’t think we would ever have considered ending the boycott if Eisner was still in operational control,” Land said. “Eisner is the one who demolished any vestiges of Disney being any different than any other sleazy Hollywood entertainment conglomerate.”

Land said it was understandable that individuals wondered why it was Disney, not another studio, that was targeted back in 1996. “Disney had asked to be judged by a different standard; so we took them up on it,” he said.

“At one time they were the family friendly place,” Land continued, “Under Eisner they became at best no better than any other entertainment company and were ripe for the kind of action Southern Baptists and others directed at them.”

“For a boycott to be effective it has to have a start and an end,” Gene Mims, chairman of the SBC Resolutions Committee, said in a news conference following the convention vote, adding that the boycott was “definitely effective.” He admitted it is “arguable who caused the effects and what it means.”

Land agreed, saying Southern Baptists can’t claim to be “solely responsible” for Disney’s economic woes. Yet he said the boycott was a contributing factor, citing the fact that a number of Disney stores have been shuttered — many in areas heavily populated by Southern Baptists, such as the southern and southwest U.S. He pointed to lower bond ratings and Eisner’s departure as signs the action bore fruit. “We had a significant impact on Disney’s bottom line,” Land continued confidently, saying the company was now producing more family friendly products.

The Disney Company is more than the proprietor of theme parks and creator of Mickey Mouse cartoons, Land added, noting the company owns the ABC television network, ESPN, Hyperion Books, NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and various other holdings, including several television stations, broadcast entities and magazine titles.

A May 24 report by the Associated Press suggested things weren’t quite so bleak for Disney, saying attendance at Disney theme parks was up and its film studio and television networks were healthy.

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  • Dwayne Hastings