Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Free speech is the treasured and protected right of every US citizen. As with all rights, it carries the responsibility to use that freedom in ways that do not debase any population segments or diminish the moral standards of our society. In recent years the Walt Disney Corporation, long known as a "family friendly" enterprise, has abandoned the responsible use of this wonderful privilege. Under a corporate umbrella that includes Touchstone, Miramax, Hollywood Pictures, and Hyperion Press, Disney produces material of graphic violent and sexual content (including total frontal nudity). In addition, through their productions, corporate leaders have pushed an agenda that portrays anything but the biblical standards of morality, sexuality, and fidelity.
Acting on a proposed resolution to boycott the vast Disney conglomerate, messengers at the 1996 SBC in New Orleans chose instead to convey their concerns to the Disney Company and closely monitor its response. The leadership at Disney did not simply turn a deaf ear, they blatantly underscored their pro-homosexual agenda with the "coming out" of Ellen in the now infamous sitcom on the Disney-owned ABC network. As a result, messengers at the 1997 SBC in Dallas sought to send an even stronger message to this once-trusted enterprise, passing a resolution that calls our members to exercise moral stewardship and discretion when choosing to spend their entertainment dollars.
Some have questioned the advisability of calling for such a strong statement of concern as a boycott, suggesting that we should simply stick to sharing the Gospel and not involve ourselves in moral issues. Apparently they have forgotten our Lord's command to be "salt and light" in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. Or, they may not remember that Jesus reserved His highest compliment for John the Baptist who lost his life for speaking out against the immorality of a popular political figure. Would they suggest that casting out the moneychangers from the temple is too strong a statement and contrary to the principles of reason and love?
Others have suggested that boycotts do not send a strong signal, or have a long-term impact, noting that boycotts may be beneath the dignity of a Christian. Perhaps they have forgotten the successful religious boycott in the '50s of the Montgomery bus system — a boycott led by a minister — which broke the back of the evil of segregation in our nation.
Would Disney receive the message if we simply patronized their "acceptable" programming and refused to purchase or attend the other? A recent lawsuit brought against Disney by a former executive shows the folly of such an attempt. Figures released in connection with the suit indicate the animated cartoon section of Disney has literally propped up the rest of the organization. When you purchase the "acceptable," you are paying for the objectionable.
The issue is far greater than the "gay-lesbian" lifestyle approved and supported by Disney through its hiring practices, productions, and allowance of special gay/lesbian days at its theme parks. If other conglomerates follow suit with Disney's provision of insurance for its employees' "domestic partners," they could break the back of many insurance companies. Moreover, if we are free to define marriage and family any way we desire, what about those who define it as "one man and two wives," or "one man, one domestic partner, and a heterosexual wife." Think how crowded the insurance rolls would be – and many of these would be seriously ill as a result of their aberrant lifestyle.
Nothing in our resolution speaks in a demeaning or debasing way about any member of society. But Southern Baptists believe homosexuality is a choice — a very poor and sinful choice with particularly devastating consequences. And we believe that the answer for the homosexual, as with us all, is found in the deliverance Christ offers. We have reached out with this message of hope to the homosexual community. A former lesbian, delivered by the grace of God, was a speaker at our convention.
Many other denominations have signaled their support for this call to moral stewardship. Many secular editors and commentators have voiced their support as well. In most SBC offices, including my own, mail is running almost 15-1 in favor of our action. And the boycott seems to be having some measurable effect. But even if we were alone, criticized and mocked for this action, it is imperative to remember that definitions of right and wrong are not up for vote in the arena of public opinion.
In the end, each of us must prayerfully decide just how we will respond to this call. But we should exercise moral stewardship in every arena of life. Disney is not alone in the production of sleaze and the promotion of a sinful lifestyle. Families who wonder "What will happen without Disney?" would be well-advised to remember that healthy homes existed long before Disneyworld, ESPN, or Ellen. And most people in the world seem to make it through life without them. This could be an excellent opportunity to address an issue which is often overlooked in today's society — the value of strong and godly character. Maybe then we will once again start producing "heroes" who are worthy "role models" as well. After all, the issue is not bringing Disney down. The issue is whether Southern Baptists will be catalysts for a spiritual awakening by rising up to the standards of God.
Sincerely in Christ,
Thomas D. Elliff
President, Southern Baptist Convention