On 1996-JUN-12, almost all of the approximately 13,000 delegates to the Southern
Baptist Convention (SBC) voted in favor of implementing a boycott of Walt Disney movies,
products and theme parks in the future, unless Disney changed its policies. The full text of the resolution is online. The denomination seems to
have had five major complaints:
"Establishing of an employee policy which accepts and embraces homosexual relationships for the purpose of insurance
benefits" This refers to the policy by Disney to recognize give to committed gay
and lesbian couples the same employee health plan coverage as it gives to their married
heterosexual employees. Disney was one of the last movie studios to extend health benefits to
same-sex partners. This was done only after it purchased ABC, which already offered the
benefits. Disney/ABC/A&E/ESPN/Discovery Magazine etc. could stop treating their
homosexual employees equally and reinstate their former "special rights" for
married employees. But such a move would be considered by most American adults as
discriminatory. Disney did not extend coverage to its heterosexual employees who are
living with another person. They reasoned that those employees could obtain the benefits
by becoming married.
"Hosting of homosexual and lesbian [sic] theme nights at its parks"
This objection is not really valid. These are theme days, not theme nights. And
they are hosted by gay and lesbian groups, not by Disney. Any organization, from the Boy
Scouts to a veterans group, can and do sponsor of theme days. Disney theme parks are open
to being sponsored by any organization. The SBC would again prefer that Disney single out
gay and lesbian groups for discrimination - a move that many American adults would also
see as discriminatory.
"Choosing of a convicted child molester to direct the Disney movie 'Powder'
through its subsidiary Miramax Productions" They didn't knowingly choose a
convicted child molester. Victor Salva's conviction only became known after the movie was
completed. He had been convicted, served his debt to society and has
"Publishing of a book aimed at teenage homosexuals entitled 'Growing Up Gay:
From Left Out to Coming Out' through its subsidiary Hyperion, connecting Disney to the
promotion of the homosexual agenda" This is a rumor widely circulated among
Evangelical Christian groups. But it is not valid. The book is not directed at teenage
homosexuals. It is aimed at adult gays. The book describes adults' decades-old memories of
being gay and a teenager in a society which was even more homophobic than it is today.
There is also a basic misunderstanding that underlies the SBC objection; they seem to
imply that one can catch a sexual orientation by reading a book. i.e. that a young person
can be recruited into changing their sexual orientation. There is a consensus
among human sexuality researchers that homosexuality and heterosexuality are not something that one
catches; it is part of what one is. Studies have shown that a
person's orientation can be detected in children during preschool years, and is
"Producing, through its subsidiary corporations, objectionable material such as
the film 'Priest' which disparages Christian values and depicts Christian leaders as
morally defective." The movie was not produced by Disney. It was made by
Miramax, an autonomous group. 1
Although the vast majority of delegates favored the warning to Disney, there were a few
Bob Albritton, pastor of Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh NC said: "The
talk around our church was that the boycott is silly."2
Tony Cartledge, pastor of Cary's Woodhaven Baptist Church commented: "It's
posturing and ineffective and makes us look foolish."
Congregations and individual Baptists would not be required to follow the boycott. A
historical principle of the Baptist movement is that their churches are autonomous. Every
believer is considered a priest and enjoys full freedom of belief. Therefore the SBC could
only recommend that its churches and members follow the proposed boycott.
Many gay and lesbian groups responded negatively to the boycott threat.
Some conservative Christians "jumped the gun." Rather than wait to
see whether Disney modified its policies during the following 12 months, many individuals
and families implemented their own boycott.
The boycott had little initial impact within the first five months following the
convention. On 1996-NOV-17, the Daily Brief stated that Walt Disney 4th quarter
profits rose 27% to $858 million...cited strength in all three of its major
divisions...stock closed up 2 3/4 at 76 1/4."
In 1997-MAY, Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet as a
lesbian both in public and on the "Ellen" show. "Ellen" was
ABC, a subsidiary of Disney. Conservative Christians have rarely criticized TV programs
and movie which portray gays or lesbians as serial murderers or psychopaths. But these
same religious folks loudly condemn situations like "Ellen" which show
homosexuals as ordinary, lovable and loving people. Religious conservatives are
concerned that gays and lesbians will simply be accepted as ordinary folk with a minority sexual
Since the 1996 convention, attendance at Disney's theme parks had climbed by nearly 9%.
4 Much of the increase was probably caused by the improving
economy and increasing consumer confidence, and is unrelated to the boycott.
The SBC annual convention in Dallas TX was held from 1997-JUN-17 to 19. The American
Family Association, a Mississippi pro-family conservative Christian group led by
Rev. Donald Wildmon, mailed out over 25,000 anti-Disney information packets to SBC
congregations in advance of the convention.4 Rev. Richard
Land, president of the SBC Christian Life Commission, addressed the convention
messengers (delegates), saying "Disney is going to find out just how many
regiments and just how many divisions of godly people Southern Baptists have."
Referring to negotiations over the previous year between the SBC and Disney, Land reported
"On good days, the Disney corporation ignored us. On bad days, they contemptuously
gave us the back of their hands." [We assume that he did not intended his remark
to be taken literally]. The 12,000 delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of implementing
the boycott that had been threatened in the previous year.
Some reactions to the boycott included:
Rev. Tim Wilder, pastor of a SBC congregation near Disney World stated: "We love
the company, since we love traditional family values; I feel like, you know, it's just
time we as Christians take a stand and say enough is enough, and you're heading in the
wrong direction, please come back."
Rev. Rick Markham stated from the floor before the vote: "...if we approve this
resolution, you have a moral obligation to go home, cancel your ESPN coverage, get rid of
the A&E Channel, stop watching Lifetime Television, and never turn your TV's to ABC,
including 'Good Morning, America.' and I'm afraid I'll have to tell my wife Regis and
Kathy Lee are a thing of the past. In typical Baptist fashion, I am afraid, we have
reacted to an extreme by positioning ourselves at another extreme."
Baptist Carol Shields, president of the liberal People for the American Way said
that "The church hierarchy doesn't speak for all Southern Baptists...Boycotts are
as American as the Boston Tea Party. People are free to protest with their dollars. So
I'll go out and spend a few extra bucks on Disney as a countermove to support them in
their gay-rights policies."
During a PBS interview on 1997-JUN-18 she
commented: "Whatever you may believe about homosexuality and whether or not it's a
moral issue and in what sense and on what terms, the fact is that we are individuals...we
are, by Baptist teaching, all loved by God. And we have to learn to live together in peace
and in fairness and all playing by a set of rules that makes sense for everybody."
Rev. Myron Yandle of the First Baptist Church in Morrisville NC preached:
"The goal is not to bring Disney down. We're doing this to bring Southern
Baptists up to the moral code constituted with the word of God...It's a matter between you
and God. I urge you to give up one pleasure to gain an even greater pleasure -- the glory
of God." 5
On JUN-19, President Clinton was asked if he was going to observe the boycott. He
answered a simple "No." His spokesperson, Mike McCurry, said "He
has in the past said that there are times, from time to time, when he departs from
positions that his denomination takes, respectfully, as a matter of conscience."
Matt Coles, director of the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project of the American
Civil Liberties Union said that "All Americans should support Disney's
decision to keep its park open to everyone, and to give its employees equal pay for equal
work...Those two things are in the finest tradition of the civil rights movements of the
last 50 years. There is nothing anti-family or anti-religious in treating people equally
Ken Green of the Disney Company issued a statement after the boycott was
implemented: "Disney continues to stand by its position. We are proud that the
Disney brand creates more family entertainment of every kind than anyone else in the
world. We plan to continue our leadership role and, in fact, we will increase production
of family entertainment."
David Smith, of the Human Rights Campaign believes that the SBC is "overestimating
the anti-gay sentiment in their own organization and the country." He noted that
Disney is prohibited by law from discriminating against employees on religious grounds,
but that it is legally free to discriminate against gays and lesbians; this makes the
company's voluntary policy of equal treatment for gay people all the more worthy of praise
rather than a boycott. He stated "The Southern Baptist Convention is at odds not
just with gay people, but with the majority of people of faith who--despite their
differences -- are united in opposing discrimination against gay and lesbian
Americans...Unlike the Southern Baptist Convention, most people of faith realize that they
can disagree over gay issues and still agree that discrimination against gay people is
An editorial in the Post-Tribune, Gary, IN commented that unless the SBC were
willing to boycott all companies that give equal rights to gay and lesbians, by boycotting
"IBM and Apple computers, quit using Microsoft, Borland and Lotus software, cut
up their ATM cards for Bank of America, quit cheering for the San Francisco 49ers and say
no to their kids who want to see "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," the
blockbuster by Universal Studios, then their action against Disney is nothing more than
mean-spirited bluster." 7
At a cost of over 1 million dollars, Disney pulled copies of a music CD from retail
stores on 1997-JUN-24. It was "The Great Malenko" by Insane Clown
Posse because of its lyrics. Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
of the SBC, said he was "delighted" that Disney took this step. He called
it a "pro-family and pro-decency" decision.
Lou Irwin, a Southern Baptist since the age of 6, wrote a biting letter to the editor
titled: "Southern Baptists vote Disney boycott: 'Gay-friendly' policies bashed."
He paraphrased Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:29-37).
In his version, the injured party is the victim of a gay bashing. A SBC lawyer and
layperson ignore the victim. A Disney executive plays the part of the Samaritan.
Michael Eisner, the Chairperson of Disney was interviewed on "60
Minutes" on 1997-NOV-19. He quoted an earlier statement by Richard Land of the Southern
Baptist Convention's Ethics and Liberty Commission that Disney is "pushing a
Christian-bashing, family-bashing, pro-homosexual agenda."
Boycott Goals: On 1997-AUG-14, the SBC asked its members to withhold
at least $100 in spending on Disney products and services during the following 12 months.
Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said:
"If a million Southern Baptists sign such a pledge, that would mean a minimum of
$100 million that would be lost to ‘The Tragic Kingdom.' "9
TV Interview: On 1997-NOV-19, Michael Eisner, Chairman of Disney said
that the boycott over gay issues has not had a financial impact on his company.
When interviewed on "60 Minutes", he said: "When somebody says
Pocahontas is anti-Christian or anti-Jewish or anti-black or anti-Native American, I say
inside deep down, 'they're nuts.' They really are." Richard Land of the Southern
Baptist Convention's Ethics and Liberty Commission was also interviewed on the
program. He felt that the lead character in Disney's movie "Pocahontas" should
have been portrayed as a Christian. Eisner replied that "she didn't become a
Christian in the legend until after our story ended." Eisner stated that Disney
does not organize "Gay Days." These were arranged by gay and lesbian groups
"themselves...And I think it would be a travesty in this country for us to
Internet Mailing List: The Northway Christian Community of
Wexford PA is a non-denominational church that is "Biblically based, in doctrine
and practice." They maintain a NWCC Forum to promote the free exchange
of views on various religious topics. http://www.northway.org/forum/messages/11.html
is the initial page of a discussion on the Disney boycott. Postings ran from 1997-JUN-25
(a week after the SBC convention) to NOV-18. Some points raised were:
"The boycott will most likely cause Disney to be even less receptive to conservative
Christian suggestions in the future."
"The boycott will make conservative Christians look arrogant and close minded to the rest
of the public."
There is an analogy between the Disney boycott and a letter to the Church of Ephesus (Revelation
2:1-7) The Biblical passage is critical of the Nicolaitans, a Christian
group that had "workedout a compromise with the pagan society. They
apparently taught that spiritual liberty gave them freedom to practice idolatry and
"Official boycotts have a lot of potential to turn into little more than media
events, for which there is a lot of initial publicity, but little follow through."
"While I do not approve of homosexuality, what kind of message are we sending?
It does not sound like that of Christian love."
"I agree that Disney was irresponsible in promoting a "Gay Day"
without notifying the public what was planned, thus giving families the option of choosing
to visit the parks on another day."
"Jesus told us that we are to be good stewards with all that He has given us.
We will be held accountable. This requires us to use wise judgment."
"...you are saying Christians should not judge anything that others do. I
believe that the Bible is the Word of God that provides us with absolute values as to how
God wants us to live our lives."
"Those who are boycotting are doing something noble, but those who do not
participate in the boycott are not necessarily 'unwilling to stand up for what is right.'"
"Most of these [Disney] companies produce filth, anti-family and anti-Christian
products...I choose to not support Mr. Eisner's agenda."
"Disney keeps the family movies under the Disney name and the movies for adults
under other production company's names... At least Disney separates [sic] its family movie
from it's rated "R" movies."
"Disney does NOT sponsor GAY DAY at Disney World . It's just a day that the Gay
community of Orlando decides to visit WDW. It's the same as 'Southern Baptist Day' at 'Six