Memories of SBC boycott fade as Disney lake hosts baptisms

In the latest — and perhaps final — act of reconciliation in the former war between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Walt Disney empire, First Baptist Church of Orlando leaders baptized more than 100 people May 21 in a Disney World lake.

According to a May 22 Orlando Sentinel story, hundreds of congregants gathered to watch the white-robed baptism candidates in their act of obedience to Christ's command. The service was held on the shores of a lake at one of several resorts in the massive Disney World complex. The ages of those baptized ranged from seven to 88 years old.

The baptisms came at the end of a fading boycott that started in the 1990s, when SBC leaders criticized then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner for instituting gay-friendly products and company policies. SBC members also decried perceived sexual licentiousness in some Disney movies.

Eisner has since left the company, and the SBC formally terminated the boycott in 2005, although small pockets of the anti-Disney sentiment remain.

Jim Henry, the former pastor of the Orlando congregation and a former SBC president, opposed the boycott even while he led the denomination that began it. David Uth, Henry's successor at the church, said he also opposed the action. An assistant pastor suggested the Disney World baptism to Uth, telling reporters, "I'm sure the Lord gave me the idea."

Uth agreed.

"I thought [the boycott] was a mistake," Uth told the Sentinel. "I thought it was wrong; I'm not a big boycott person."

Although Disney officials have said the boycott did not have a noticeable impact on the company's bottom line, they have since worked to endear themselves to a more conservative audience. Disney employed a marketing company to reach out to evangelical Christians during the 2005 release of "The Chronicles of Narnia" movie, based on the first of C.S. Lewis' popular series of children's novels. The series is often interpreted as Christian allegory.

SBC representatives did not immediately return an Associated Baptist Press reporter's phone messages requesting comment on the baptisms.


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