Middle man

Southern Baptist preacher Jim Henry on the boycott he says should never have happened;;When, exactly, did it become news that Southern Baptists don't cotton to gays and lesbians? ;;If last week's announced boycott of all things Disney by America's largest Protestant denomination surprised anyone, it was the media. Fretting about Disney's role in what they see as society's moral slide, the Baptists were just being Baptists. A lesbian "Ellen" -- produced by Disney for Disney's ABC network -- and Disney's refusal to thwart the unsanctioned Gay Day at its Orlando theme parks simply turned long-time grumbling into a shout over the company's output in books, TV and films; its ties to cruise ships that offer gambling and booze; and its embrace of health-care benefits for its employees' same-sex partners.;;It's worth recalling that Southern Baptists picked a similar fight with Universal over the 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ." What's irksome this time is that, among those who would dismiss the boycott as mere moral posturing, so many are so eager to portray Disney as forward-thinking. In fact, Disney was among the last of the Hollywood studios to extend same-sex benefits, and did so only because they stood to lose out to their competitors. And however much the company is happy to count the cash from the locally launched Gay Day, remember that as recently as 1994 Disney posted notices just outside of the Magic Kingdom alerting guests to the homosexuals inside. (Indeed, while many moan about the corrupted values of the company's founder, this much also has been lost: Stefan Kanfer, author of "Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to ‘Toy Story,'" writes of Walt Disney, "He was a naif and a right-winger, biased against blacks, Jews and homosexuals.") ;;Such complexities are lost in headlines and sound bites. And few debates are as complex as the one that took place inside the mind of the Rev. Jim Henry, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Orlando.;;Henry is the immediate past president of the 15.7 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the group now backing the boycott. With 10,000 members, it is the largest church in Central Florida with a congregation that counts many Disney employees; moreover, its reach is expanded with weekly Sunday morning broadcasts of its services on WFTV, an ABC affiliate. ;;As president, Henry's signature achievement had been the Convention's passage of a Resolution of Racial Concilia-tion passed in 1995 -- two years before his fellow Southern Baptist, President Clinton, tried to focus the nation's attention on the same issue. It asked forgiveness for Southern Baptists' complicity in slavery, and for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime." It was a deliberately pro-active stand -- something to be for, rather than against. And it was vintage Henry.;;He saw the Disney action coming. And though he feels his morals are equally under attack, he does not embrace the tactic. His first sermon after the boycott, excerpted here, tells why -- and reveals exactly how the church set itself up inevitably as a paper tiger. -Jeff Truesell;;This thing started in Florida really three years ago when a guy got up at our state convention and made the recommendation that we boycott Disney, which we didn't do. By the way the man told me last year -- I never met the guy before, he looked me up in another city and said, "I made a wrong decision, I wish I never brought it up." That isn't particularly well known, but he did say that. But anyway, that kind of got the ball rolling. Next thing you know, last year at the convention in the open business meeting, the last session I was presiding over, a guy gets up from California and recommends that we boycott Disney. As you recall they decided not to do it and said let's just put it on hold and monitor for a year and see what Disney does.;;This year it came back, with a recommendation from the resolutions committee, that -- they didn't use the term boycott, they used the term refrain, which is a nice way of saying boycott -- refrain from patronizing the Disney company and any of its related entities.;;We have in our meetings a time to speak for and against [and] I immediately ran to a microphone to speak against it. ... Two other pastors from Central Florida, also speaking against, got to the mikes. The discussion moved on for a few minutes. To make a long story short, somebody called for the question, and before we could get our chance to speak up, the group voted. I'd say it was about, I'm guessing from where I was at the back looking, probably 75 percent for, probably 25 percent against.;;My sense is, and I looked around the group, we had 12,400 messengers there -- there was probably not more than 6,000 there [in the room]. I saw other sessions that were much more crowded, and I have a feeling what happened was, some people didn't show up because they didn't want to vote. No. 1, they didn't want to vote against it, because they were probably going to continue to come here, or their families were. No. 2, if they came and they did vote against it, they might be considered not in step with everybody else, and so they just didn't want to put them- selves in that position and just didn't show for the meeting. ...;;When we pass a resolution, it has no binding effect upon any Baptist church. That is just a statement. ... It is not binding on any local church, not binding on any person. It is a statement, and that's what it is. So when a resolution is passed, they can't say "well, you've got to do that at First Baptist Orlando. ..." So it has no binding effect on this church.;;Now, with that as a background, let me share, first of, all my consternation.;;My consternation begins first with Disney, because Disney did not communicate with us, though we tried to in the last year with them. There was no communication. To me there was a sense of arrogance, just big company arrogance, the arrogance being that -- in fact, I think the leader said that he thought it was "idiotic" and "foolish" that we would do such a thing.;;Now, Disney teaches its employees, and we have many in our church, to be courteous to its customers. Always be courteous. They needed to practice what they teach their employees: Be courteous to people that are customers, and that's a whole bunch of us. And they didn't do that. That's consternation to me.;;The third thing I'm concerned about with Disney is that, anybody that's watched the company through the years knows there is a slide south. Morally, there is a declension. Now, Disney is not a Christian company, never started out as a Christian company, we shouldn't expect it to act like a Christian company. Walt Disney, as far as I understand, was even an agnostic. But he knew how to make children happy and how to turn a buck, and he was very successful at it. But at the same time, there was a certain standard that seemed to be there, and that standard seems to be slipping. And that bothers us a great deal because there is a moral decline in the company, and anybody that's halfway understanding what's going on knows exactly what I'm saying. Which leads me to make this statement: Disney is sowing the seed of its own destruction. It don't take a boycott. Simply as time goes by, discerning people seeing what happens, unless there is a halt to this slide, Disney will strangle itself until people will begin by automatic decision, which many are making already, "I will not go see that, I will not do that," because they just simply feel that this company's getting out of touch with basic family moral values. So it's my opinion, if it continues like over the past few years, it will get worse and worse unless they draw a line somewhere and say, "We will not go any further." That's my consternation with Disney.;;But I had some concerns about what we did, and I'll move to our side of the plate right now.;;First of all, when we made this resolution, one of the parts of the resolution says, "be if further resolved that we encourage Southern Baptists to refrain from patronizing any company that promotes immoral ideologies and practices." Now, my question was, what other entities? I was going to ask that question when I got to the mike, but the question was called for and I couldn't discuss it. Are we going to have a boycott every year? Who's going to decide which immoral agencies and entities they are? Are we going to be known every time we get together as boycotting this and boycotting that? I had a serious question about that.;;I had another question [and] the question was this: Who calls it off? When would it be called off? What are the conditions of calling off a boycott when it's either successful or unsuccessful? I don't know if that's been thought through. No one seemed to have dealt with that.;;I had another concern: How do you determine if it's effective? What if it's ineffective? I talked to a radio station in Baltimore, and the guy posed this question. He said, "Rev. Henry, suppose next year at your convention someplace else, they do a survey of the people going in to Disney World and they begin to say, ‘we're Baptist, we're Baptist, we're Baptist.' Let me ask you a question: What does that say about what you all voted to do?" I said, "It'll be a very serious concern," and that's one I had.;;I had a big concern about public perception. There's some things about public perception that don't bother me, and I don't think most of us. I'm very pro-life, make no apology for it, and will be till the day I go to heaven. That's a strong commitment I have; that's a hill I'm ready to die on. But I also realize that on this, there's a different set of circumstances. We're trying to reach a lost world. When it comes out through the media, and it already has happened, two things come out the way the public perceives it. No. 1, you don't like children. You Baptists don't like children. What's wrong with a child going to Disney World? Give a child the world, so to speak, and if they're dying and they have this last wish, you don't want them to have it. You don't like children. Public perception.;;Public perception No. 2 is, you hate gay people, which is far from the truth. But as it comes out, that is a perception, and that bothered me a great deal.;;I talked to a young coach, coaches a public high school, one of the larger high schools in Texas, in his late 20s, graduate of Baylor, he and his wife living in Dallas. He was in the taxi going with us out to the airport. I said, "What'd you think about what we voted to do?" He said, "I think it's wrong." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, I'm a coach." He says, "There are some coaches on our school that are Christians and there are some that are not. But," he said, "when they hear this and they see that, they're going to say, what's wrong with you all?" And he said, "My witness to them is going to be hampered a great deal because they don't understand, when you take votes like we took, it's going to take me a while to win their confidence back.";;I had a concern about consistency. If you pick out Disney, what are you going to do about other companies? Other immoral ideologies and practices?;;You say OK, I know what. I will go to Universal instead of Disney. Oh -- Seagram's owns Universal.;;Well, let's see, I know what I'll do, I'll go to Sea World. Ah-ha! Anheuser-Busch happens to run that place.;;Can't beat Six Flags. Oh, Time-Warner cable does that, you know what they produce, so, hmmm.;;I know what I'll do, I'm just going to go get a good ol' hamburger at McDonald's. Oh, they sell Disney videos -- can't go to McDonald's.;;I know what I'll do, I'll go to Burger King. Oh, but they're owned by Guinness Stout liquor company. Oh. There went Burger King.;;I know what I'll do, I'll buy me some Pillsbury and Hungry Jack baked goods. Oh, but they belong to a conglomerate, PLC, that also owns Johnny Walker liquors. Hmmm.;;Well, I'll go get me some Green Giant vegetables. Sorry about that, they happen to belong to a group that owns Bailey's Irish Cream.;;So, well, I'll go to Old El Paso Mexican foods. Hmm, J&B Rare Scotch happens to be in the same conglomerate, so there went ... oh, but I know one I can go to. Good ol' Haagen Dazs Ice Cream. At least give me some good ol' ice cream. But Gordon's Gin owns that one.;;So where do you go in a world like ours? It's tough, it's complex, and my point was that if you deal with one, you've got to be consistent, and to me that was an inconsistency.;;Then I had some considerations that I had to take into play as your pastor, just as a pastor. I had to think about, we live in Central Florida, and we touch or are touched by a lot of people who go to Disney -- families who come, people that we know in our Sunday School classes we see all the time, [people] that work at Disney. And I was concerned about how does this play here? ... And so yesterday I did a survey. I put an Orlando Magic shirt on, got me some Bermudas on, kind of looked as scruffy as I could, and got me a little yellow notepad and went down to the mall. ... I went to 12 different people or couples, and here's their responses. I want to read you their responses.;;"It'd be great if people would do it. I don't go already, but I have eight children, but I'll not throw out my videos.";;No. 2, "No opinion, not a Baptist.";;No. 3, "A good idea.";;No. 4, "Doesn't make any difference. Pretty good thing to show some good Christian commitments. But for me, I'll go, but I won't go on Gay Day.";;Another said, "To each his own. My sister works there. I'm not for the gays or what's going on there, but judge you not and I'll go on other days other than Gay Days.";;Another one said, "Don't know anything about it.";;One said, "I don't think it'll work. Not enough commitment. I'm already boycotting some of the things they're doing, so it won't make any difference to me.";;One couple said, "It stinks, it's silly." And they had on T-shirts, and the guy pointed to his T-shirt, and the T-shirt said, "Hate is not a family value." That's the very perception that I was deeply concerned about....;;"I'm against it. Individual prayer is the best way.";;"Don't think they should have anything to do with it.";;"Don't think it will work. Everyone makes their own choice.";;"Keep a right attitude. I'm already not going to some of their movies, but I'll take my grandchildren to the Magic Kingdom." ...;;I had another thing I had to deal with, and that is I'm a pastor of a lot of employees at Disney. .... And I well remember last year when one came to me with tears in their eyes and said, "Pastor, I've invited some people I've been working on to come to the Easter program with me, and they asked me the question, ‘Are you a part of that group that's going to boycott Disney?' and I said, ‘Well, I go to the Baptist Church here,' and they said, ‘If that's what you're about, don't invite me to your church, don't invite me to any program, I don't want to have anything to do with it.'" And they said, "All this work I lost because of this perception." I had that to deal with.;;What do I tell our people who work at Disney? Quit? If you take this resolution to its final conclusion, you'd say to them, "you must quit." I had to look at it as a Christian community. Disney has not cut off the fact that every year at Christmas [at Disney Village], the Gospel of Luke 2 is read, the complete Christmas story, to thousands of people from around the world. I realize that two "Nights of Joy" for Christian young people are opened up, the park is closed so Christian young people can come there and have a night to hear their own kind of music and bring their friends. Disney has not cut us off at that point, and for that I'm grateful. We had to look at it in that perspective. Sandi Patti can come and sing the good news of Jesus as she did last year at Disney World.;;I had to look at it as a church. We're on television, and an ABC channel, and ABC is an affiliate of the Disney corporation. They own ABC. If we followed this, if I was consistent, I'd have to come back and say we're going off television, though we reach probably 75 to 100,000 people every week. ... I'd have to tell Billy Graham, you can't use ABC anymore for any of your programs if you fulfill the mandate of this. I had to look at it that way.;;I had to also look at it as a pastor trying to help us live in grace. Jesus said in Matthew 24, "Talk to religious leaders." He said, "You put heavy weights upon the people, so heavy that you cannot carry them, but you don't touch them yourselves." Was I going to put a heavy weight upon you? Because you see, Disney has 200 subsidiaries. These are pages of the subsidiaries that Disney owns or has control of. These are lists. So would I put out a lot of lists for all of you to look at before you walked out each day to go somewhere to work and live in the world, and say if I bought that or went there or looked at that or listened to that, I would be wrong? I could not put that weight upon you as a people of God ... and ask you to carry that weight of knowing if you were or were not doing the right thing. And I chose to say no.;;The question then became, what is our conduct to be? In the light of this which we are deeply concerned about, moral and family values, how do we act in response to that? These are some things I was going to suggest if I had an opportunity.;;No. 1, pray. ... What would it have been like if we had chosen instead to have a day of prayer where millions of Baptists and other interested Christians had said, "We are going to fast and pray today for Michael Eisner and for Disney and for the employees that work there, for God to speak to them?" What kind of day and what kind of power would have erupted from that kind of a stance? ...;;Secondly ... we need to penetrate some of these places. What happened some years ago was that Christians backed out of the arts, backed out of the movies. ... Would it be far better that we encourage our young people to succeed in business, to succeed in television, to succeed in directing, to succeed in video, to succeed in these places where they rise to the places of power, where they can say, we're going this way?;;But how do I protest? I do it like I've done before, and like you've done before. I write cards and letters. We can send our faxes and e-mails. ....;;Fourth, perceptiveness is important. ... [A]s the Holy Spirit leads you and you walk with him, He'll give you the perception about what to do and what not to do about Disney or any other kind of world or ism or wasm or spasm that comes along. .... I want us to be perceptive in this world of land mines about where to step down and where not to.;;I want us to be positive. What are we for? You see, when we came out with our resolution about racial reconciliation, that got the attention of the world to see that, on that particular place, we were right on target, and it won the applause of the world, not that we were trying to get it. We needed to do it. But if we would begin to put on television and other places, here's what we're for, what a difference that could make.;;Then I would like for us to pinpoint We can pinpoint things that we will refrain from doing. We did that at Universal when they came out with "The Last Temptation of Christ." We pinpointed it. We said ,this is a bridge too far, this is wrong, you can't do our saviour this way, we will not support it, we will demonstrate. What happened? It was successful. Why? Because we narrowed our focus, got the one thing where you could make a difference, registered it, and we did it. ...;;Those who work there, in your Bible studies, in your witness, you're witnessing to the people that you love and care for. ... Those of you who visit the park, who bring friends there, isn't it better for us to be there when we sit down to eat and bow our heads and hold our hands and lift our voices to almighty God and thank Him for food than to be withdrawn from that society, where they never see bowed heads and humbled hearts and families enjoying the Lord together, publicly displaying their grace and gratitude? I say, salt, get out of the shaker. Light, shine in the darkness....
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