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Southern Baptists end 8-year Disney boycott

The Southern Baptist Committee voted Wednesday to end its eight-year boycott of Walt Disney Co. but warned Disney that it was keeping its eye on the company.
The Rev. Ken Whitten of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., preaches the convention message at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn.Mark Humphrey / AP

The Southern Baptist Convention, which kick-started a widespread conservative religious boycott of Walt Disney Co. eight years ago, voted Wednesday to end the action but warned Disney that it was keeping its eye on the company.

The vote by the 11,000 "messengers" here at the convention’s annual meeting added the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination to the list of conservative evangelical groups that have stood down from a confrontation that the American Family Association began in 1996. The AFA began the boycott to protest what it saw as Disney’s promotion of a gay agenda.

The AFA dropped its boycott last month, and Focus on the Family, the influential evangelical ministry led by James Dobson, quickly followed suit. Like them, however, the SBC said it would continue to “monitor the products and policies” at Disney, whose ABC television series “Desperate Housewives” has been criticized for its sexual content.

Critics said Christian groups were throwing in the towel, noting that Disney, which had no immediate comment Wednesday, maintained that it never changed any of its policies or practices in response to the boycott.

But the Southern Baptist resolution defended the boycott as having “rightly and appropriately” challenged Disney and said that for a boycott to work, “it must be specifically targeted and of limited duration.” It said the action had “communicated effectively our displeasure”; the convention noted an executive shuffle and the dissolution of Disney’s deal with the founders of the Miramax studio, whose film “Priest” was the touchpoint for the boycott in 1996.

That explanation echoed the reasons given last month by the AFA, the Tupelo, Miss.-based ministry run by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, which said that conservative Christians had made their point and that it was time to move on.

Gay activists welcome vote
Activists for gay and lesbian causes welcomed the vote as a possible opening to what they hope will be a new dialogue with the SBC and other Christian-based opponents of gay and lesbian rights.

The vote was a “victory for our community,” Barbara Menard, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said at a news conference here. “Hate hurts and has no place in the hearts and minds of people of faith.”

Menard and other activists said they also saw signs of a thawing in the SBC toward gays and lesbians in the decision by a convention committee to significantly weaken a resolution that would have called upon Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools.

The resolution in its final form denounced public schools as havens for “offensive materials and programs” promoting homosexuality, but it urged parents only to monitor the schools and work to change them from within.

The resolution represented a victory for convention President Bobby Welch, who has been criticized by some Southern Baptists for what they see as his insufficient attention to conservative Biblical injunctions. Welch told that too many families lived in rural areas with no education alternative, while the Bible called upon Christians to remain engaged in society to serve as witnesses for Jesus.

Dr. Brad Bullock, a pediatrician in Nashville who is gay, said Wednesday that the rewording was at least a good start toward ending “the separation, alienation and demonization of ... our children.”

“I hope that not only the language of the resolution but also its spirit has been altered,” he said.