Summer Conventions '97
Denomination: Southern Baptist Convention.
Where should Christians draw the line between their moral principles and the practices of the secular world? This was the question facing messengers (delegates) to the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention. Though the messengers differed on where to draw the line, general agreement was reached that secular society is drawing further away from biblical values.
The SBC passed a number of resolutions concerning moral issues: the messengers supported the display of the Ten Commandments in government offices and courthouses, they asked for restrictions on the cloning of human beings, and they supported the practice of home schooling children, which has become increasingly popular among conservative Christian families.
The SBC also responded to the recent controversy over a proposed gender-inclusive edition of the New International Version of the Bible. The assembly urged Bible translators and publishers "to use time-honored, historic principles and refrain from any deviation to seek to accommodate contemporary cultural pressures."
"As long as any Bible publisher thinks that Southern Baptists are more likely to purchase Bibles on the basis of ‘political correctness' than fidelity of the text, there are still battles to be fought," said SBC president Tom Elliff.
Such resolutions, though, were little noticed by journalists covering the assembly; the news media's attention was focussed on a single resolution which exemplified the SBC's desire to draw a line between itself and the secular world.
No action by a religious body received more press coverage this summer than the SBC's resolution to boycott Disney products. A year after the SBC had urged the Disney Company to change its "anti-Christian and anti-family" direction, messengers to the 1997 SBC voted to "refrain from patronizing" Disney and its subsidiaries.
The resolution accuses Disney of "increasingly promoting immoral ideologies such as homosexuality, infidelity and adultery." Southern Baptists have criticized Disney for a variety of actions in recent years. These including the recent airing of an episode in the ABC show "Ellen," in which the main character reveals that she is gay, and Disney's 1995 decision to extend health benefits to the domestic partners of gay employees.
"If we pass this resolution, you have a moral obligation to cancel your ESPN coverage, get rid of the A&E channel, stop watching Lifetime [channel], and never watch ABC," said the Rev. Rick Markham, a Georgia pastor. "If we are not willing to do that, we are no more than 20th century Pharisees."
The resolution, which was voted on by show of hands, was overwhelmingly approved by the assembly. "The Disney Company has not only ignored our concerns, but flagrantly furthered this moral digression in its products and policies," the resolution says. The assembly also prayed to God for help in being compassionate toward people "trapped in the vicious cycle of homosexual behavior."
Dinsney responded to the resolution by stating briefly that it was proud of its "family entertainment."
The resolution was criticized by supporters of gay rights around the country. "It is morally wrong for the delegates of the Southern Baptist Convention to punish a company for simply refusing to discriminate against gay Americans," said David Smith, a strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, according to the Dallas Voice. "Most people of faith recognize that religious disagreements do not justify discrimination. For this reason, this boycott is bound to fail."
Some Southern Baptists also opposed the boycott because they believed that it sent the wrong message. "The world will hear ‘boycott' and [think] that we are against homosexuals," said former SBC president Jim Henry, according to the Associated Baptist Press News. "We are against the practice of homosexuality, not against people.
"Our weapons are not carnal, they are spiritual," he added. "If we are going to bring Disney to its knees, we should get down on our knees first."
It was not immediately clear how many Southern Baptists would comply with the non-binding resolution, nor what effect the boycott would have on Disney. Some SBC messengers, though, felt that such questions missed the point.
"Will a Southern Baptist boycott change the Disney Company?" asked Lisa Kinney, a Florida messenger, according to the Baptist Press. "I don't know. But it will change us. It will affirm to us and the world that we love Jesus more than we love our entertainment."
Summer Conventions '97: Quit Complaining, Disabled Preacher Tells Southern Baptists. By Daniel Walker Guido.
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson