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Cruise Line Hosting ‘Gay Days’ Event Also Used by SBC Leaders

Carnival Cruise Lines, criticized for hosting a “Gay Days Cruise” prior to this June’s Gay Days 2004 in Orlando, Fla., is also hosting a Bible study cruise in January featuring Southern Baptist Convention leaders.

News reports last week quoted SBC Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins as saying his agency, which manages insurance and retirement plans for the denomination, would not divest the $14 million it holds in the cruise line’s stock because of criticism that the company caters to homosexuals.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Hawkins did say, however, that should the convention vote to boycott Carnival Cruise Lines, as it did the Walt Disney Company several years ago for what critics viewed as a pro-gay agenda, his agency would take “appropriate action.”
 
A spokesman for Miami-based Carnival said in a statement to the Associated Press that the company caters to a broad demographic and does not discriminate based on religion or sexual orientation. Like most groups that sail on Carnival, the gay cruise is being marketed through an individual travel agent, and not the cruise company.
 
Carnival ships are also booked by Christian groups. A “January Bible Study Cruise” being promoted for <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Jan. 10-15, 2005, features current and past Southern Baptist leaders, including current SBC president Jack Graham and past presidents Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines and Jim Henry.
 
A Web site for Templeton Tours describes the Bible study cruise as “the ideal vacation for the family.” The entire 1,486-guest Carnival Cruise Line ship Celebration is chartered for the Christian cruise. Bars, casinos and slot machines are closed, and the ship’s entertainment is replaced with Christian speakers and performers.
 
Costs for the five-day Bible study cruise range from $725 to $1,055 per person.
 
A Tennessee Baptist layman believes that the Annuity Board should not be investing in Carnival Cruise Lines not only because of the “Gay Day” cruise, but also because it earns money from gambling and liquor. “The Baptists don’t believe in gambling, liquor or pornography, or gays,” Don Allmon, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Dyer, Tenn., said in the AP article. “When I say that, we love gays, but we don’t like their lifestyle.”
 
The Dallas-based Annuity Board, with $7 billion in assets and an annual budget of $53 million, doesn’t invest in stocks “publicly perceived” to be involved in alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography or abortion. But, as Hawkins told Baptist newspaper editors at a briefing in March, that policy is open to interpretation.
 
The Annuity Board does not consider Carnival Cruise Lines as violating the policy, because it earns less than 3 percent of its revenues from gambling, according to a report of Hawkins’ remarks in the Biblical Recorder. The board views similarly concerns over investments in hotels that offer in-room adult films and cable TV companies that offer premium porn channels.
 
Hawkins told editors it is impossible to invest money without potential exposure to undesirable industries. If the Annuity Board invested in no stock whatever and kept its money in a bank, he said, the bank might loan money to a liquor store and profit from the interest.
 
The Annuity Board does not, however, purchase stock in tobacco companies. Disney stock is also off limits, because of the SBC boycott of the company in 1997 over giving benefits to partners of homosexual employees, allowing Gay Days at theme parks and the release of R-rated movies through subsidiaries.
 
Wiley Drake, a California minister who brought the resolution that led to the Disney boycott, said he disagrees with Hawkins and that Southern Baptists should take a stand and quit worrying about money.
 
According to Associated Baptist Press, the Annuity Board owns more than 350,000 shares of Carnival stock in two investment funds. Together they are valued about $14.5 million.
 
Unlike other SBC agencies, the Annuity Board does not receive money from the Cooperative Program unified budget but earns income from investor fees. It also paid out more than $6 million last year in assistance to retired ministers.
 
The second annual “Gay Days Funship Cruise” leaves May 30 for a five-day itinerary including Key West and Cozumel in Mexico. The 2,050-capacity ship is not an “all-gay cruise,” according to a Web site advertisement, but has a large bloc of cabins and will include some exclusive events. Sponsors hope the event will grow into a buy-out within a few years.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.