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Can Southern Baptists Avoid All Things Disney? Church’s Boycott Vote Means Shunning Popular Culture

Want to watch ESPN’s Sunday night baseball game? That’s off limits, if you’re a Southern Baptist.

Take the kids to a matinee of “Hercules”? Scratch those plans.

Catch a rerun of “Home Improvement” or pop in a “Bambi” video? Try again.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s vote Wednesday to boycott the Walt Disney Co. - to protest its “gay-friendly” policies - means the faithful of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination must somehow avoid the world’s most pervasive entertainment giant.

The nonbinding resolution asks the church’s 15 million members to strike back at Disney’s “anti-Christian and anti-family” direction and “any company that promotes immoral ideologies and practices.”

Disney’s ubiquitous empire embraces theme parks, the Anaheim Angels baseball and Mighty Ducks hockey teams and the television networks ABC, ESPN, A&E; and Lifetime. But Disney also happens to be Hollywood’s leading supplier of family fare, so instead of taking the kids to see “Most Valuable Pooch” or “George of the Jungle” this summer, Southern Baptist parents now face such non-Disney alternatives as “Hoodlum,” “Kull the Conqueror” and “Dark City.”

Anyone boycotting Disney couldn’t read the upcoming parenting book from Hyperion Press, “School is Not a Four-Letter Word: How to Help Your Child Make the Grade”; the Disney-owned science magazine Discover; or the medical journal Skin and Allergy News - formerly owned by Capital Cities/ ABC.

Disney’s entertainment entanglements run so deep that blackballing the company means Southern Baptists essentially must avoid popular culture - properties as diverse as “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Family Fun magazine, Disney Cruise Line, Broadway’s New Amsterdam theater and “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.”

On the convention floor Wednesday, delegates scanned “The Disney Company Family Tree,” a three-page list of Disney affiliations circulated by the church; many conceded it would be almost impossible to steer clear of Disney.

“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 to ABC, including ‘Good Morning America,”’ said the Rev. Rick Markham, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga. Markham objected to the resolution.

Monte Shinkle, pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., has four children aged 11 to 21. “One of our concerns is how large Disney is,” Shinkle said. “Are we always going to avoid the ABC evening news? Probably not.”

A confessed Kentucky Wildcat fan, Shinkle said turning off ESPN would be difficult. “College basketball is something we really enjoy,” he said. “It’s going to be hard; it really will be.”

Carmen Arevalo, whose husband is pastor of a Southern Baptist congregation in Van Nuys, Calif., said she opposes boycotts in general. “I decide whether I’m going to support something, not because someone tells me,” Arevalo said.

“For example, certain TV shows that aren’t in accordance with the teachings of Christ, I just don’t watch. ‘Ellen’ I don’t watch. I just turn off the TV. … Our priority as believers in Christ should be evangelism, not boycotts.”

Analysts expect the boycott to have little impact on Disney’s earnings. Earlier boycotts of the company by the American Family Association, the Assemblies of God and the National Association of Free Will Baptists had no appreciable effect.

“Disney blankets our culture, and it’s impossible to avoid,” said Jill Krutick, a Smith Barney entertainment analyst. Other groups have targeted Disney and yet “Disney had a record-setting year,” she added. “And because (the boycott) is not mandatory, it won’t have much force.”

At Toys R Us, whose stores are devoting significant floor space to goods tied to “Hercules” in advance of the animated musical’s opening June 27, chief executive Michael Goldstein declined to predict whether the boycott might dent sales. “We’ll know in a week,” he said.

The Southern Baptists’ objections include Disney’s policy of offering benefits to same-sex couples, although virtually every major Hollywood company offers such a nondiscriminatory policy. The Baptists also objected to the announcement by Ellen Degeneres that she - along with her ABC sitcom character - is a lesbian.

The denomination was particularly distressed by several movies released by Disney subsidiary Miramax Films, including the ultra-violent “Pulp Fiction” and “Priest,” about a homosexual cleric.

The irony is that a group advocating for what it defines as “family values” is shunning the leading supplier of wholesome entertainment.

Disney’s theme parks welcome gay groups but also play host to a special annual event, called “Night of Joy,” dedicated to Christian music.

“Hercules” is drawing early raves, and Disney’s summer and fall slate offers more family-oriented movies than any other studio. For all of its controversial titles, Miramax has released a number of acclaimed works, from “Emma” to “The English Patient,” this year’s winner of nine Oscars.

“We are proud that the Disney brand creates more family entertainment of every kind than anyone else in the world,” the company said in its only statement in response to the boycott. “We plan to continue our leadership role, and in fact we will increase production of family entertainment.”

xxxx WHAT DISNEY OWNS Among the holdings of the Walt Disney Co., which the Southern Baptists voted to boycott Wednesday: Theme parks: Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif., Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla. Retail: The Disney Store, more than 535 stores. Movie studios: Walt Disney Pictures,Touchstone Pictures,Hollywood Pictures,Caravan Pictures. Broadcast: ABC television and radio networks. Cable: The Disney Channel; ESPN Inc., 80 percent; A&E; Television Networks, 37.5 percent; Lifetime Television’s parent, 50 percent. Sports: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, National Hockey League franchise, owner; Anaheim Angels, American League baseball team, general partner. Music: Hollywood Records, Walt Disney Records. Print: Discover and Los Angeles magazines; Hyperion Press, publishing.

Tags: religion