Baptists Offer Disney Deal on Boycott

NEW ORLEANS - The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination and a persistent critic of popular culture, wants to tell theWalt Disney Co., a worldwide entertainment giant, how to do its job.

An official of the denomination, which ended its annual gathering Wednesday, outlined conditions for lifting its four-year boycott of Disney and its subsidiaries.

The Rev. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Disney would have to stop cooperating with gay activities and causes in its theme parks, television programs and publications.

In addition, Land called on Disney to "establish an advisory committee of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals" to provide "advice and counsel" on entertainment projects.

"The first thing is, stop offending us," Land said.

He said that Disney and other studios regularly consult with gay groups to avoid offensive stereotypes and portrayals, he said - yet do not consider the feelings of evangelicals.

Land cited the DreamWorks SKG studio as an example for Disney to follow. DreamWorks consulted extensively with evangelicals and other religious groups in the production of the 1999 animated feature Prince of Egypt, based on the story of Moses and the Exodus.

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Disney has been struggling with the softening national economy, reducing its workforce by 4,000 through buyouts and layoffs. However, there has been no indication by financial analysts that the Southern Baptist boycott has affected the company's bottom line.

Disney remains committed to its corporate philosophy, said John Dreyer, a company spokesman in Burbank, Calif.

"We have a corporate policy of nondiscrimination which would include religion and sexual orientation," he said, "and we do not, nor will we, engage in practices or portrayals discriminating against anyone."

It is highly unlikely that Disney will accept the proposal for a Baptist panel.

"While we seek advice from various groups as we pursue projects," Dreyer said, "we need to maintain our creative independence, without which we could not be original. Therefore, we cannot have standing committees of any of the 5,000 to 10,000 special-interest groups we have in this country."

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Mark I. Pinsky
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