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Church Is on Shaky Moral Ground in Damning Disney

If a group concerned about family values finds enemies in a company that makes children’s movies, then it’s in danger of being labeled on the fringe.

With their denunciation this week of the Walt Disney Co., the Southern Baptists are headed in that unfortunate direction. Conservative religious groups complain--often with justification--that they are portrayed as out-of-touch, intolerant extremists. Taking on Disney--the one name in America most associated with the family--is not the way to dispel that image.

Boycotting Madonna concerts is one thing, but if Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are your enemies, who are your friends?

Perhaps there’s nothing like betrayal to fire one’s emotions. That seems to be the impetus behind the Baptists’ preachments against Disney--namely, that the company that gave us Davy Crockett and Jiminy Cricket has betrayed its trust by treating homosexuals just as it treats heterosexuals. That qualifies as blasphemy in some Southern pulpits, just as interracial marriage did a generation ago.

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The Southern Baptists, augmented locally by the Traditional Values Coalition in Anaheim, threatened this week to boycott Disneyland and other Disney operations over the company’s policy of allowing benefits to same-sex partners of its employees. That policy, announced last year, capped years of growing acceptance of the gay lifestyle by the Disney empire. If that weren’t enough to give the Baptists fits, a Disney subsidiary film company released “The Priest” in 1995, a film about a clergyman’s sexual and moral temptations.

Putting it all together, the Southern Baptists wonder what Disney is up to. Why is Disney trying to undermine America, inquiring clergymen want to know. I’m sure we could search the archives and find a question asked much the same way years ago when Southern churches called for boycotts of hotels or restaurants that served blacks.

Growing up in a Baptist church (albeit in the North), I know how Disney’s current policies pain the true believers. Gambling and drinking are bad enough for Southern Baptists, but two men dancing! May God forgive them and make them stop.

Once upon a time in a fantasy land of its own creation, Disneyland felt the same way. In 1980, park guards expelled two men for dancing in, prophetically enough, the Tomorrowland Terrace. The men took the case to court and won.

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A similar incident surfaced in the late 1980s, and gay-rights groups again vilified Disney. Facing another lawsuit, Disneyland surrendered and made a lasting peace with its gay employees and customers. Among the several employee clubs at the park nowadays, one is for gays and lesbians.

Whether by coincidence or design, Disney then unleashed an onslaught of films that left it impervious to any nonsense about being anti-family: “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.”

Anyone wanting to be taken seriously regarding Disney’s contribution to contemporary culture should review those films. When it comes to family, Disney is bulletproof.

At this point, the Baptists are only threatening a boycott.

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I assume they’re serious, but I’m also developing a theory about it. I can’t prove it but as the psychologists would say, I wonder if the Baptists aren’t “working through” some issues.

Remember, these are the same people who a year ago, at their national convention, apologized to black America for thoughts and deeds over the years.

On a show of hands, the convention of nearly 15,000 approved a resolution apologizing for the denomination’s pro-slave-owner roots and asking forgiveness for lingering racism.

The resolution was passed “to repudiate historic acts of evil, such as slavery, from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest,” and was seen as a peace offering to the denomination’s black churches.

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“We apologize to all African-Americans,” the resolution said, “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime, and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously. . . . “

Is there a pattern here?

The Southern Baptists have shucked the burdens of their Civil War-era past. Are they in the midst of another journey, this one moving toward embracing their gay brothers and sisters? Today a boycott threat; tomorrow a show of hands and an apology?

We can only wait and see.

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A cautionary note to Disney. The boycott may never happen and the apology may be coming, but be patient. Southern Baptists aren’t known for their haste.

After all, they needed 130 years to come to grips with slavery.

Dana Parsons’ columns appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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