JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Rev. Don Wildmon has resigned as chairman of the American Family Association, a Christian political movement he founded that now boasts millions of followers in a fight against what it considers indecency.
Wildmon, 72, said Wednesday his resignation follows months of health problems, including hospitalizations for treatment of encephalitis, which he got from a mosquito bite, and cancer on his left eye.
Wildmon told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that his son, Tim, is expected to lead the ministry. Don Wildmon said he will continue to work at AFA, but not in a leadership role.
"I just figured the time has come. I'm still in rehab learning to walk again. My mind is not working the way it used to, if it ever did," he said with a laugh.
Wildmon, a retired Methodist minister, founded the group in 1977 in his Tupelo home as the National Federation for Decency, promoting family values and waging boycotts to combat what it deemed pornography and violence on television and in magazines.
The group changed its name in 1988 to the American Family Association. It has grown to an organization with a $20-million budget, 180 radio stations, a monthly magazine with a circulation of 170,000 and an internet presence of more than 2 million supporters, AFA said in a news release.
AFA's boycotts led to several major convenience and drugstore chains — including 7-Eleven, Stop-n-Go, Rev-Co and Eckerd — pulling Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines from their shelves.
"What I'm most of proud of, I can't put my finger on. I just hope we made society a better place," Wildmon said. "If I've done any good, good. If I've done anything wrong, I ask people to forgive me."
AFA also boycotted companies like Ford Motor Co. for offering benefits to domestic partners of gay employees. It also targeted Walt Disney Co., over same-sex benefits and claims that Disney promoted gay-related events and allowed violent and sex-filled content in movies made by its Miramax subsidiary.
In Mississippi, the group successfully pushed for legislation in 2001 to place "In God We Trust" posters in public schools.
Born in Dumas, Miss., in 1938, Wildmon earned degrees from Millsaps College and Emory College. He was ordained a minister in the United Methodist Church in 1964 and was pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Tupelo, a church he helped found.
Wildmon said he clicked off the family television in the 1970s as a personal protest against what he saw as unbridled sex and violence invading his Mississippi home. He then asked his congregation to do the same, calling it a crusade against "the moral cancer that is invading our land."
Wildmon's group drew a mix of praise and criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union questioned the wisdom of seeking fights over free speech.
In a 1986 interview with the AP, Wildmon countered: "Who set the ACLU up as the guardian of free speech and who set CBS up as the people who tell us what the news is? Who elects them? Their reasoning is that since I am a Christian I can't try to influence society. Well, I have as much right to speak out on any issue."