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Southern Baptists urged boycott of Disney

June 24, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

One Hagerstown woman collects Disney characters. Several families have booked summer vacations to Disney World.

But their church has voted to boycott Disney, and they must decide what personal sacrifices they are willing to make to send a message to the entertainment giant.

"We all just have to pray and do what the Lord leads us," said Eddie Blackmon, associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Hagerstown.

The congregation's 620 members make First Baptist Church on High Street one of the larger congregations among about 20 Southern Baptist churches in the seven-county Tri-State area.

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Whether they agree with the boycott tactic, many area Southern Baptists want to let Disney know they are unhappy with policies and products they consider anti-family.

Some examples: ABC aired "Ellen," the first sitcom based on a lead character who is gay. The company extended employee benefits to gay partners. Its theme park conducts Gay Pride days.

Southern Baptists first became vocal about the practices of Disney and other companies a year ago.

That's when the Rev. John Gilbert of Berkeley Baptist Church in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., started his own boycott.

"Disney is in support of things that are basically anti-family," said Gilbert, who also attended last week's convention. "It's time for America to come back to its heritage and stand for what's right."

Gilbert is giving his church's 400 members a list of Disney entities to which they can refer if they choose to support the boycott.

Even though Blackmon voted in favor of the boycott at last week's Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, he is not sure how strict his own support will be.

A stuffed "Tigger" sits on his office bookshelf. And he has fond memories of going to Disney's Christian Youth Day as a child and would miss watching college football and other sports on ABC and ESPN, both owned by Disney, he said.

"We're not out to tear down Disney. We would like to see them come back to their heydey...to a time when families were the focus," Blackmon said.

One member of First Baptist has canceled the Disney channel on cable, Blackmon said.

Barbara Romberger said she's not going to buy any Disney videotapes for her granddaughter.

"The boycott really can be very powerful if a lot of people back it," said Romberger, 52, a member of Paramount Baptist Church near Hagerstown.

With 15 million members, the church is the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

Boycotting Disney may be most difficult for families with young children who had depended on Disney for wholesome entertainment, area pastors said.

The Rev. Richard Gross of Virginia Avenue Baptist Church in Hagerstown said Disney is not the only culprit when it comes to eroding family values.

"Your consciousness gets seared and it's a constant chipping away at the American morality," Gross said.

Gross believes that homosexuality is wrong, but he worries that the boycott will hurt innocent people.

"Just because you work for Disney doesn't mean you're an advocate for homosexuality," he said. "I'm really torn because it's wrong for us to hate the homosexual. They have a soul and God created them. To inflict pain through hateful, spiteful boycotts. It's a real thin line."

And for Blackmon's church in the West End of Hagerstown there are more pressing problems, such as crime.

"We're more concerned about our own community," he said.

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