NOT GOING TO DISNEYLAND
JUNE 18, 1997
Southern Baptists voted today to boycott Disney, accusing its depiction of gays and violence as "anti-Christian and anti-family." After a background report with Charles Krause, Jim Lehrer leads a debate.
JIM LEHRER: Now to a discussion. Rev. Tom Elliff is president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He's pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dell City, Oklahoma; Rev. Philip Wogaman is pastor of the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, he's also first vice president of the Inter-Faith Alliance, a public policy group representing a number of religious organizations;
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
June 18, 1997
A background report on the Southern Baptist Boycott of Disney.
April 10, 1997
The Disney Company completes a mega media merger, taking control of Capital Cities/ABC.
December 3, 1996
Disney considers a film and possible theme park dealing with and located in Communist China
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the media.
View the NewsHour's business coverage.
Walt Disney Company./B>
Carole Shields is president of People for the American Way; an John Podhoretz writes on cultural issues and is deputy editor at The Weekly Standard. The Disney Company declined our invitation to appear.
Rev. Elliff, a wasted effort?
REV. TOM ELLIFF, Southern Baptist Convention: Well, I don't think so, because this is an expression of our deep conviction. We believe that free speech is a wonderful privilege in America, but free speech should be used with a high sense of responsibility, used in a way that encourage and lifts the moral standards of a nation.
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect the 15 million members--15 million Southern Baptists to honor and support this boycott?
REV. TOM ELLIFF: Well, I don't know how many of them will. And, by the way, the boycott includes more than Disney. It says that Southern Baptists should simply look very carefully at how we spend our entertainment dollars, whatever the corporation may be. How many of them participate I do not know. The issue is not so much to bring Disney down as bring Southern Baptists up to what we believe is a biblical standard of morality.
JIM LEHRER: Carole Shields, what do you think of what the Baptists have done?
CAROLE SHIELDS, People for the American Way: Well, what the Baptists are doing is condemning a company for being fair, being fair to its employees, and to treating all families the same. As a Southern Baptist and a Southern Baptist preacher's kid, I find it embarrassing that my denomination would go out of their way to do that.
JIM LEHRER: What is embarrassing to you about it?
CAROLE SHIELDS: Well, there are 15 million Southern Baptists out there. Those are a lot of families. We have a lot of gay members of our families. Do we lop them off and say that they're not Christians, they're not Southern Baptists, they're not members of our families? God created us straight, and God created us gay. He loved us all.
Freedom of conscience is one of the things that the Southern Baptist Convention has traditionally stood for. And my conscience leads me to believe that fair treatment of everyone, all of God's creations, is a value that ought to be uplifted.
JIM LEHRER: Rev. Elliff, do you feel you're treating some of your--even your own members unfairly?
REV. TOM ELLIFF: Not at all. And of course, Carole and I would disagree in terms of what God created us as being. We believe that homosexuality is a choice. We believe it's a very bad choice, with serious consequences. You know, if you lived next door to me and I lived next door to you, you would be free to put what you want in your front yard. You're perfectly welcome to do that. But if what you put in your front yard begins to cause the property value of my home to be devalued, I'd have every right to speak up.
What we're saying to Disney is this: You've got a great front yard. You've got some wonderful landscape, some beautiful flowers. But there's a part of your front yard in which you have begun to dump some moral trash. And this is disappointing to us. And so it's not a matter of toleration.
he issue really is a matter of saying, look, we're going to exercise our privilege of free speech if I simply say use your judgment in the way that you spend your entertainment dollars. Too many Southern Baptists do that, will do that, we don't know, but I believe that we should have so much effect and should send some message. JIM LEHRER: Do you see this as a free speech issue, Ms. Shields, for the Southern Baptist Convention?
CAROLE SHIELDS: The Southern Baptist Convention is an organization where each of us gets to interpret the scriptures the way that we want. Before the fundamentalists take over the Southern Baptist Convention I don't think you would have seen this. I think it's a part of a larger religious right campaign to vilify gays and lesbians. I think it's unattractive, and it doesn't seem very Christian to me.
JIM LEHRER: But what about his point that the Southern Baptists have a right to speak out just like everyone else does, and that's all they're doing?
CAROLE SHIELDS: Well, the polity of the Southern Baptist Convention, he is on dangerous grounds, speaking for all Southern Baptists. He really does not speak for me or for my family.
JIM LEHRER: Rev. Wogaman, what do you think of what the Baptists have done today?
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN, Foundry United Methodist Church: I have great reservations about it. They, obviously, have every right to do it, and no question of their freedom of speech or their right to engage in a boycott. But a boycott is a very blunt instrument.
There are many people in America. I would imagine a majority of Christians would not agree that a boycott is really indicated in a situation like this. If you boycott a company--single out a company for boycott--you're saying, in effect, this is the worst company around. And I can think of companies engaged in practices that are much worse than anything I know about the Disney Corporation. For churches to engage in a boycott in an extreme situation like this South Africa thing, I could understand that, and there are circumstances--
JIM LEHRER: That was as a reaction and a protest to apartheid.
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: Apartheid.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: One could understand that. But for a church to single out in this kind of way and stigmatize a company is to engage in a very blunt action that to me is not fully consistent with the deep traditions of the Southern Baptist Convention as I understand them.
The deep traditions are, first of all, a profound respect for individual conscience. And, of course, Baptists suffered through the years because they were often put upon by people who were prejudiced against them. But also that amazing grace, the best of the Baptist tradition is an affirmation of God's grace, God's love. Churches are always right in affirming that. And when in doubt, first of all, not to hurt anybody. In this instance I think they probably are hurting some people. JIM LEHRER: What about Rev. Elliff's basic point that Disney was singled out? I mean, there are other companies, other entertainment companies mentioned in the resolution not by name, but--
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: Not by name. That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: That's significant.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with him basically, that Disney is putting out some moral trash?
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: Look, everybody in the entertainment industry today is putting out some moral trash. I'm most concerned myself by the easy acceptance of low standards of violence; that we still have that problem in the cinema, in the movies, and television.
I'm deeply concerned about that. To me, it's much more serious than anything that they have said about Disney. The question of sex, somehow when churches talk about morality, it always seems to come around to sex somehow. The deep issue is, is whether sex is being expressed with love and with caring and with commitment.
And those are very high and very biblical standards. To affirm those standards would be in the best traditions of all of our churches. The blunt instrument of an economic boycott I think is just too heavy. JIM LEHRER: John Podhoretz, you've been chronicling the so-called culture wars that have been going on in this country in the last several years. Was this kind of thing bound to happen eventually?
JOHN PODHORETZ, The Weekly Standard: I think so. I think this is a significant moment in the course of these culture wars and has to be understood in light of seven or eight years of American reaction to the growing incivility with which companies like Disney treat what have come to be called traditional values or traditional family values; that in promoting sitcoms like "Ellen" and the coming out of Ellen De Generes in their own internal policies of drawing an equality between gay couples and married couples that people in America who are moral absolutists in an old-fashioned sense and believe in the moral absolutes that were commonly held standards of belief and conduct in this country as little as two generations ago come into conflict and hit and find themselves at daggers drawn.
And there were two possible responses, one of which is for the moral absolutists to say in the name of tolerance and niceness and smiley face and being part of the happiest place on earth like Disneyland, we are going to change the way we look at things, and try for a nicer approach. The other is to say we are going to draw a line in the sand and see what happens.
I think this is probably a somewhat Quixotic effort. I don't know that, you know, if--I don't know that the 15 million Southern Baptists are going to be--are going to listen to the Southern Baptist Convention and this resolution, and I don't know how many of them it would take to actually have any effect on Disney's bottom line. But it is a symbolic action; it is a howl of protest against a continuing degradation of moral absolutes. JIM LEHRER: Is Disney the right target?
JOHN PODHORETZ: Well, Disney is an interesting target because you have--you have essentially--the accusation is that Disney is a front; that is, that Mickey Mouse and the Little Mermaid and Aladdin and Timon and Pumba are fronts for Meramacs, which produces "Pulp Fiction" and "Ellen."
JIM LEHRER: The movie--pornographic movie--not pornographic--
JOHN PODHORETZ: Violent, highly violent, highly realistic movie.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
JOHN PODHORETZ: And the--and the sitcom touched on television's Ellen, which, of course, had this gigantic rating a couple of weeks ago when the character announced that she was a lesbian. So the idea is that hiding behind the Little Mermaid, using Little Mermaid as a screen, Disney is promoting serious--what we would have considered a generation ago--counter-cultural values, and that it, therefore, is you've got to go at it because it's a fatter target and a slipperier one.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Shields, do you see Disney the same way?
CAROLE SHIELDS: Disney is one of--it's like many companies. It produces some things that bring out the very best in us. It produces some things that I certainly wouldn't let my grandchildren see. But what they're doing in this situation is treating their employees fairly and treating their customers fairly who come to Disney World, and I think that's something to applaud.
JIM LEHRER: Rev. Elliff, back to you. What about Rev. Wogaman's point that you've chosen a very blunt instrument to try to do something? He urges amazing grace instead.
REV. TOM ELLIFF: Well, few--and frankly I don't know of any religious denominations that reach out to minister to people such as Southern Baptists, including gays, lesbians, people from the drug culture, people who have all kinds of difficulties. We just raised $724,000 to help rebuild churches which were torched by--Afro-American churches which were torched in this last year. But I would disagree that he understands the history of Southern Baptists.
The truth of the matter is that our Lord, Jesus, reserved His highest compliment for any man, for a man by the name of John, who, as a matter of fact, was decapitated as a punishment for standing up and calling a government leader an adulterer and saying that it must stop. And so those who have the Christian faith down deeply embedded in the heart do come to a point where, as we've heard already, we say, enough is enough. Alexis De Tocqueville said, "America is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great."
And here again I would say that the issue is doing everything we can to say to many corporations--Disney happens to be one of them--and there are bigger issues than the homosexual issue--but to say to these many corporations free speech is a privilege, please use it responsibly to encourage us to high level of moral standard. JIM LEHRER: Rev. Wogaman.
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: Speaking of Jesus, Jesus reserved his most scathing criticism not for people who've been guilty of what might be considered moral infractions of one sort or another, but for those who are self-righteous and hypocritical. The worst possible sin is the sin of pretension. Now we are all subject to that.
JIM LEHRER: Are you suggesting the Southern Baptists are partaking of that?
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: I think there is a tone of, of absolute rightness about this, a notion that we are absolutely right in areas where people who've studied issues of homosexuality, for example, much more carefully are inclined to say there's so much we don't know about this phenomenon. And to use the blunt instrument of absolute righteousness--
JIM LEHRER: What about--
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: I have questions about that.
JIM LEHRER: What about Mr. Podhoretz's point that this was an inevitability, that the line was eventually going to be drawn in the sand, just happened to be drawn by the Southern Baptists today?
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: That may be, however, speaking of this as part of a culture war, you don't win a culture war with the blunt instruments of force of this sort. You win a culture war by persuading. A culture war means--
REV. TOM ELLIFF: That's what we're trying to do.
REV. PHILIP WOGAMAN: Victory in a culture war means that your values have been accepted.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, Mr. Podhoretz?
JOHN PODHORETZ: Well, I think that's true, and that's one of the reasons I think that this is an interesting moment. It will be interesting to see whether or not this boycott has the same public effect that say the call on Time-Warner and other companies to cease releasing rap music that promoted violence against policemen and women, among others.
JIM LEHRER: And that was successful.
JOHN PODHORETZ: It was to some extent successful. I mean, Time-Warner sold one record label, and it's still producing records but under a different ownership. The significant thing, though, is that that was something that brought in--was not just sort of conservatives and again moral absolutists who were opposed to this, but women and certain other liberal forces, and what you have here is literally, I would say, social and moral conservatives up against a culture that increasingly does not wish to listen to them.
And, therefore, they are driven to more extreme actions by the fact that they feel themselves disrespected and silenced by a culture that preaches tolerance that is, in their view, intolerant to the concerns that they have about raising their children and the moral values that they wish to present and they wish to promote for the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Ms. Shields, what about that point, that you and other liberals are often accused of being intolerant of Rev. Elliff and other Southern Baptists and other people who feel that way on these moral issues?
CAROLE SHIELDS: I have complete respect for different churches to have different--on a range of issues, but we're talking about creating an American community where there's room for all kinds of difference. And discrimination in that sense is just bad for us as a people.
Whatever you may believe about homosexuality and whether or not it's a moral issue and in what sense and on what terms the fact is that we are individuals and we are by Baptist teaching all loved by God. And we have to learn to live together in peace and in fairness and all playing by a set of rules that makes sense for everybody. This is not a church action they're talking about. It's a commercial enterprise. And so that's why I tink it's over the edge.
JIM LEHRER: Rev. Elliff, you plan to pursue this, and push this boycott as head of the Southern Baptist Convention?
REV. TOM ELLIFF: Yes, I do. And I think that we must not be victimized by convoluted reasoning which says that calling on people to use judgment--you use judgment when you buy soap and when you buy a suit. You are expressing a preference. You're saying I believe this is the kind of thing I want and that's the kind of thing I don't want. From what I hear from some around that table, they will say, well, if someone establishes a house of prostitution in town, whatever you do, don't speak out against it because you're intolerant.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
REV. TOM ELLIFF: But the truth of the matter is we would say we call upon our community not to patronize that house of prostitution. Well, we're calling upon the Southern Baptist community--
JIM LEHRER: All right.
REV. TOM ELLIFF: --to say use your dollars wisely.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there. Ms. Shields, gentlemen, thank you.