Walter “Chick” McGill was arrested by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies Friday evening in Loma Linda. The charge was that he continues to defy a Federal court order to stop using the name of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for his small congregation.
McGill is pastor of the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church in Guys, Tennessee. He believes that God has told him to use the name Seventh Day Adventist and that the Federal court is unconstitutionally taking away his religious rights. The General Conference (GC) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church often advocates the protection of religious rights, but in this case there is a conflicting interest. It does not want other organizations to steal the name of the denomination.
For decades the GC attorneys have worked on registering the name “Seventh-day Adventist” as a trademark and protecting the trademark. So far as Adventist Today has been able to determine, this is the first time that someone has been jailed for using the trademarked name without permission.
The Creation SDA Church is a small splinter group that adheres to a number of Fundamentalist doctrines which they believe are the original version of Adventist theology, such as opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity. Most historians agree that there were significant numbers of early Adventists who seemed to take a number of these positions, but they also point out that this was before there was any doctrinal statement officially adopted by the denomination and Adventist theology was still being hammered out.
The GC did not take any specific action to have McGill jailed, but it could ask the judge to have him freed. McGill was jailed because of contempt of court due to his refusal to follow a court order. The court order came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the GC to enforce its trademark and after a Federal judge examined the facts in the case.
“I don’t think this is really the Christ-like way to deal with these people,” one pastor told Adventist Today, on condition that he not be identified. “These people are wrong in what they believe and maybe not totally rational, but they are no threat to the denomination. We ought to have the maturity and grace to just ignore them.”
“It is simply a case of theft,” said an active lay member of the Adventist Church who is an attorney. “If you steal someone’s car or their good name, you can expect to go to jail. You would not tolerate identity theft if someone was using your name to open credit card accounts or make purchases. Why should the Church tolerate the misappropriation of its name?”
Seventh-day Adventists are generally not aware that there are a number of small denominations that use a version of the same name. This is much more common to Baptists, for example. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different denominations with some variation of “Baptist” in their name.
McGill believes sincerely that it is a matter of divine truth and spiritual authenticity. “God told us to use this name,” he says. Before he was arrested he told Adventist Today that if he were jailed, he will begin a hunger strike.
In a future print edition, Adventist Today will publish a full analysis of this case and the issues related to the use of trademark law to protect the denomination’s name.
"The morning after Adventist Today published the story above, the North American Division of the General Conference sent the following statement to Adventist Today:
"Recent news reports have addressed the trademark infringement claims between Mr. Walter McGill and the Seventh-day Adventist Church The following news release from the Seventh-day Adventist Church serves as an accurate account of the relationship between Mr. McGill and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
"According to church records, Walter McGill was a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church but left in the early 1990s citing reasons of doctrinal differences. He has never been a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church, McGill began a new ministry utilizing the name “Seventh-day Adventist.” Prior to filing a claim in 2006, the Seventh-day Adventist Church attempted on multiple occasions to reach out to McGill asking him to cease and desist the usage of the name “Seventh-day Adventist.” These attempts were made because McGill’s ministry was not a part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
"After numerous attempts to resolve this matter amicably, the Seventh-day Adventist Church filed suit against McGill to stop using the name “Seventh-day Adventist.” As a part of the court process, the Court ordered mediation but McGill did not appear at any of the court ordered mediations. The Court warned McGill that his lack of participation in the mediations could result in sanctions. McGill continued to disregard and disobey the requests of the Court. During this time, McGill also ignored the District Court’s orders by placing and replacing signage on his church’s property containing the name “Seventh-day Adventist” as well as operating Web sites bearing the name “Seventh-day Adventist.” It was at that point McGill was found in contempt of violating the District Court’s orders.
"It is not now nor has it been the intention of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to shut down McGill’s ministry or for him to be jailed. Recent developments are the result of actions taken by the court because Mr. McGill did not comply with the court’s ruling.
"We believe that Mr. McGill has the right to exercise his religious beliefs and operate a ministry, however to falsely identify himself with an organization of which he is not a part, is not acceptable. This false association confuses the public, media and at times members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Seventh-‐‑day Adventist Church has defined processes and procedures for establishing and maintaining congregations."