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Disney World Cancels Christian Services


Disney World Cancels Christian Services, Flap Ensues

Michael L. Betsch
Staff Writer

( - The late Walt Disney once cited church and prayer as
inspirations for his professional success. Today, some conservatives
believe Disney is "crying from his grave" because Walt Disney World in
Florida has eliminated its 28-year tradition of offering on-site religious
services to Christian guests.
The Orlando-based Disney resort and theme park began offering regular,
weekend church services in 1975, but corporate officials claim the
35,000-acre facility can no longer accommodate 1,500 Catholic and
Protestant families who want to go to those Sunday services.
Disney is now advising Christian guests to find other places of worship,
some of which are miles outside of the Magic Kingdom's boundaries.
"I'm sure Walt Disney is crying from his grave when he sees what the
current owners are doing to his basic belief system by saying, 'the inn is
full. There's no more room for the baby Jesus,'" said Rev. Lou Sheldon,
chairman and founder of the Traditional Values Coalition.
In an insert accompanying a 1978 record anthology entitled the "Magical
Music of Walt Disney," the famed animator and theme park founder stated
that, "Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative
entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in part to my
Congregational upbringing and lifelong habit of prayer."
Sheldon believes the Walt Disney Company's decision to suspend its
Christian church services is an attempt to appease its diverse clientele,
which includes homosexuals.
"I see this as a very clear, clear way of becoming more politically
correct," Sheldon said. "They do not want to have to deal with the fact
that they are accommodating Christianity, Catholic or Protestant, or any
other group that has a strong religious faith as their basis."
Sheldon said Disney has made a high-profile attempt to accommodate the
homosexual community by playing host to "Gay Day," an annual event billed
by its sponsor as "America's Biggest Gay and Lesbian Vacation Experience."
However, he said, this effort is also being made at the expense of another
large segment of Disney's audience.
"If Disney would reach out and accommodate both Protestant and Catholic and
Orthodox and Pentecostal people who are all Christians, they would win
themselves great favor in the faith community," Sheldon said. "It's worth
the investment."
Wendy Wright, senior policy director for Concerned Women for America, said
Disney's family-friendly attitude has been replaced by strict adherence to
the business bottom line, to the point where the company is willing to
alienate and offend its Christian customers.
"Disney ought to be looking at how they can promote a healthy,
family-friendly moral tone that would be good for the employees and
customers alike," Wright said. "Kicking churches off of the property is
exactly the opposite of what Disney needs to be doing." (Disney's church
services were held in a Polynesian-themed hotel, which remains in the park,
although the services have been canceled.)
Wright said the late Walt Disney demanded that his employees uphold a moral
standard and be sensitive toward theme park guests and their families.
Echoing concerns voiced by Sheldon, she said Disney's current corporate
leadership is actively reaching out to homosexual consumers that do not
typically have children of their own.
"[Disney] is showing that religious families don't need to be
accommodated," said Wright. "Disney's decision is very short-sighted
because religious communities and activities help set a moral tone."
A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, Fla., disagreed with
Sheldon and Wright's criticism of Disney World's decision. According to
spokesperson Carol Brinati, the idea to move church services off Disney
premises was well received by Catholic officials.
In fact, Brinati said, the Orlando diocese was partly responsible for
Disney's decision to eliminate the 28-year tradition of offering two Sunday
services to Catholics staying at Disney World. She said church and Disney
officials agreed that current Catholic crowds had outgrown the space
allocated almost three decades ago when assemblies were much smaller.
Brinati said the decision reached by Disney should not be seen as an
attempt to prevent Catholics from worshiping. She said provisions were made
by the diocese to ensure that Catholics can still attend Sunday Mass.
Brinati said the Orlando diocese specifically built Mary Queen of the
Universe Shrine near Disney World to minister to Disney's Catholic
tourists. She added that the 2,000-seat church is readily accessible to
out-of-towners by public transportation or rental car.
"We do believe that Disney's business is not providing church services,
that they are in the entertainment business," Brinati said. "Our business
is to proclaim the Word of God."
But Brinati angered the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights with
her comments.
According to Catholic League President William Donohue, Brinati is
endorsing Disney's decision to force thousands of its Christian guests to
take public transportation and rent cars in order to attend Sunday service.
"The question here isn't whether Catholics should make the effort," Donohue
said. "The question here is, 'Why is Disney discontinuing its service to
Christians by now throwing up its arms and saying we have no more room?'"
Donahue said he is amazed that Disney World officials have no space
available within their 35,000-acre facility to build permanent places of
"It's not a smart public relations gambit," Donohue said. "If I were an
employee of Disney, I would make every possible effort to maintain the
family-friendly reputation by extending all facilities open to people of
faith on Saturdays and Sundays."
He said Disney's decision to move church services off its premises, "shows
not only an insensitivity, but plain stupidity."
"First of all, we are an entertainment industry," said Disney spokesperson
Rena Callahan. "We, as a company, were never putting on the religious
services. They were always being done by outside groups which had expressed
to us that they no longer could accommodate the demand."
Callahan also said Disney officials decided it was insensitive to offer
religious services solely to Christians without providing similar services
to the resort's non-Christian clientele.
"There are a lot of differing viewpoints here, but to only offer two types
of service when there are clearly so many religions out there and people
who would want to have those experiences ... it doesn't seem right,"
Callahan said. "It seems like you do need to look at the diversity aspect
of this and try to serve everyone to the best of your ability."
Disney World will continue to hold Christmas and Easter services at the
Magic Kingdom.


The young fogey:
I cheerfully admit I'm out of it - out of mainstream American society - and never have been nor have had any desire to visit Disney World anyway.

I really don't have a problem with this.  

1. If they wanted to continue to allow Protestants and Catholics(we weren't even in the equation, sadly) to hold services on site, they would probably be forced to accomodate any other group that wished to hold services.  Before long, Disney World would look like the WCC with a synagogue, mosque, and hindu temple.  Which really is not necessary because Orlando is moderately large city and already has all of these.  The only real advantage to these was that if you stayed in one of the onsite hotels you could take the monorail or boat to a watered down "nondenom" Protestant or a watered down Novus Ordum RCC service with Peter Paul and Mary liturgical music.  

2. Disney World is a secular theme park.  While they have taken a few steps back with ideas like "Gay Day" they pretty much have focused on children and imagination.  I have fond memories of both times I visited DW both as a child and also on a Spring Break trip in 1998.  The Epcot center is focused primarily on world cultures and scientific education, both worthy goals.  As it does not have Christ anywhere in the agenda, it is not nearly the most highly reccomended activity on a Christian family, but I see it as a neutral.  

3. St. Stephen the Protomartyr Orthodox Church(OCA) is a wonderful parish.  I would much rather have a family go to Disney and then to St. Stephen's than some watered down WCC catered religious themed entertainment onsite at Disney.

The young fogey:
Disney always was secular but I can see how canceling on-site services can be taken as a slight and a bad sign of where society is headed. As for the nonmention of the Eastern Orthodox, it didn't surprise me either as my guess is EOs make up something like 1% of the US population. Most Americans are at least nominal Protestants, and RCism is the biggest 'denomination' in America, so those two broad groups get mentioned and accommodated.


--- Quote from: Orthodoc on December 20, 2002, 10:47:49 AM ---Disney World Cancels Christian Services, Flap Ensues

--- End quote ---


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