by Andrew Hanson
Should the Seventh-day Adventist Church seek to put people in jail because of their non-violent religious beliefs? That is the bottom line to the long story of a little, independent congregation and the General Conference attorneys.
The Creation Seventh Day Adventists broke away from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in 1988, but they believe that their group must continue to identify with the seventh-day Sabbath and the second coming of Christ. The General Conference has registered the name Seventh-day Adventist with the Federal trademark authorities to try to protect the good name of the denomination.
The leaders of the Creation SDAs, Walter “Chick” McGill and Lucan Chartier, have been ordered by Federal Judge J. Daniel Breen to stop using the name, fined $500 each and required to pay attorney costs to the GC. (GC Corporation of Seventh Day Adventists v. McGill, case number 06-1207, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee)
Adventist Today interviewed Chartier in the last few days via the Internet. He stated that the men expect to be jailed and will go to jail because of their religious beliefs. You can see videotaped versions of their story at the links at the end of this news item.
The effort by the denomination’s attorneys to use trademark enforcement to keep independent congregations from using the Seventh-day Adventist name has a long history. One element that Adventist Today is seeking to clarify is how much money has been spent on this project.
There is a basis in the law for this approach. The Adventist denomination has the right to protect its name from misuse by groups that are not part of the organization. At times, independent ministries have done things that are embarrassing to the entire denomination.
On the other hand, most Adventists think of their faith in terms of the larger movement, not legal definitions and bureaucratic lines. We have about 14 million members, but we have twice that many adherents who identify with the movement. Do we want a narrow definition of our identity that trims and throws away the margins? Or, is it better to take a broad view and welcome all who are interested despite the wide range of views and sometimes weird causes and personalities?
Do church members and pastors think that this is an appropriate way for the Church to deal with splinter groups? Do they believe that this is a good use of denominational resources? Is there a Bible basis for enforcement efforts that go so far as to put people in jail? Protecting the denomination’s name is a good idea, but how far is too far in accomplishing this goal?
Andrew Hanson, a senior news writer with Adventist Today is working on a major article that will lay out the long history of this issue in a print edition soon to come. In the meantime, readers may want to register their opinions on possible jail time for McGill and Chartier.
Hanson says, “I hope the response to this report is a barrage of letters to the North American Division demanding answers to these questions and any others that occur to you when you view the videos made by McGill and Chartier. (See links below.) Is it really necessary for our Church to put these two men in jail?
The videos by McGill and Chartier:
Andrew Hanson is a senior news writer for Adventist Today.