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Christian Boycotts of Disney Called Off

In a bid to focus its efforts on the battle over confirming President Bush’s judicial nominees, the American Family Association, a leading conservative Christian organization, has recently called off a nine-year-long boycott against The Walt Disney Co., said AFA President Tim Wildmon.

“There’ll be nothing else to do now for the next few months except the judiciary, and our supporters are always looking for something to do,” Wildmon said.

After the decision by the Mississippi-based AFA to end the Disney boycott, Focus on the Family — another leading conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs, Colo. — also withdrew its support for the boycott.

The Southern Baptist Convention could vote to do the same at its annual convention in Nashville, Tenn., on June 21-22.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an opportunity to end the boycott, but how the convention will vote is anybody’s guess,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “I learned a long time ago not to try to predict the outcome of a Southern Baptist Convention meeting.”

The AFA initiated the boycott of Disney in 1996 to protest what they perceived as Disney’s promotion of an agenda benefiting gays and lesbians and a perceived movement away from family-oriented entertainment. Other conservative Christian organizations soon followed suit.

At the time, the AFA specifically cited “Priest,” a 1994 movie about a homosexual priest, and “Kids,” a 1995 film that depicted teenage sex, as examples of objectionable entertainment. Later, the AFA criticized “Dogma,” a 1999 religious-themed comedy. Each film was produced by Miramax, a production company then owned by Disney.

The AFA’s decision to end the boycott was based in part on a number of changes that have occurred within Disney.

“We are pleased to see Disney CEO Michael Eisner stepping down in September, a year earlier than planned, and the breakup of Disney and Miramax, which produced most of the movies associated with Disney that Christians found highly offensive,” Wildmon said in a May 24 statement announcing the end to the boycott.

But Wildmon said the AFA’s decision was also rooted in the need to focus the organization’s resources on more pressing matters, such as the fight for Bush’s judicial nominees.

“The issue of the judges is our top priority and will be for the next several months,” Wildmon said.

Disney did not return phone calls requesting comment on the issue.

At the same time, AFA also postponed for six months a boycott against Ford Motor Co. which had begun on May 31. The decision followed a June 5 meeting with Ford dealers, who asked for time to confer with the company.

The boycott was launched in opposition to donations that Ford has made to organizations that support gay rights.

Although the decision to suspend the Ford boycott was not directly connected to the battle for judicial nominees, it does allow the organization to further clear its summer schedule and allow it to redouble its efforts in the battle for judicial nominees, Wildmon said.

A Ford representative said the company was looking forward to a dialogue with the AFA.

“The Ford Motor Company is pleased that the American Family Association has suspended it boycott of Ford products,” Ford spokesman Ed Lewis said in a statement. “Ford values all people regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences.”

Wildmon said the AFA will increase its efforts to educate its supporters about the judicial battle and communicate advice on how they can make a difference over the next two months.

The AFA operates some 180 radio stations and publishes a monthly magazine with a circulation of 160,000. It also has an e-mail list with more than 2 million names.

In the meantime, the Southern Baptist Convention considers the battle over judicial nominees one of the organization’s “very top priorities,” Land said.

However, he added that the judicial issue would not factor into its decision regarding the Disney boycott. “We have enough resources to do both, and to do both very adequately,” Land said.

The Rev. Wiley Drake, pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, in Buena Park, Calif., said the issue will be discussed at the annual convention, and like Land, he cannot say which way the vote will go.

But Drake, a longtime supporter of the Disney boycott, said the importance of the federal judicial nominee issue would indeed factor into the convention’s decision-making process.

“There are only so many hours in a day,” Drake said. “Obviously, if your plate is full and you get one item off it, it’s easier.”

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