September 20, 2012

More Than a Name

Recently the case of Walter McGill received some exposure in the public press.1 McGill believes he has a right to use the name Seventh-day Adventist, even though he and his group are not part of the organization. He further believes that the church is wrong to protect its name from being used by others who do not belong to it, and who hold views different from those of the official church.

That’s why the name and logo of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are protected by trademark registration. This action asks people who are not part of this organization not to use the name or logo of the church. Why do we have to protect the name of the church?

What It Means
The business world pays a great deal of attention to the name of a company and its brand. Wrapped up in that name is the identity and reputation of the organization. By the name or brand the public instantly recognizes the quality of a product and how much trust it can place in that business. The word Apple, for example, tells the story of a computer company in one word. It will not tolerate other computer companies using the name Apple for some other product of unknown quality or reputation.2

All the more important is the identity and reputation that the church conveys to those who live in our communities, both local and worldwide. When people hear the name Seventh-day Adventist, we want them to have a positive image of the organization represented by that name. We want people to think of our worldwide healing ministry in our hospitals and clinics. We want people to recognize Adventists as Bible students who are faithful to the Scriptures. And, of course, we want people to associate our name with the fact that we keep the seventh day of the week as God’s holy day, or Sabbath; and that we believe in the Second Advent, the soon return of Jesus.

2012 1526 page28Perhaps more than anything, when people hear the name Seventh-day Adventist we hope they think of good neighbors—kind, helpful, loving people who are an asset to their communities.

Ellen White wrote of our church’s name, “The name Seventh-day Adventist carries the true features of our faith in front, and will convict the inquiring mind.”3

“God is to be recognized and honored by the people calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists.”4

“[We] must guard . . . against that which would bring a stain upon the name of Seventh-day Adventists, and destroy the confidence of the people in the message of truth which they must bear to the world.”5

Why It’s Important
A few years ago a group wanted to use the name Seventh-day Adventist, although they were not members. The group’s practice was to put up negative, accusatory billboards against members of another denomination. The billboards conveyed an explicit message that the billboards’ sponsors were hateful extremists. Would you want the public to assume that this was the position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

In 1993, when David Koresh and his group in Waco, Texas, made headlines, the news media at first connected him with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After all, Koresh had once been a member of the church, and a number of his followers had once been Adventists. But the church quickly disassociated itself from Koresh, his strange teachings about last-day events, and his twisted immoral practices. Had we not protested, the public could easily have concluded that this was what the Adventist Church was all about.

In my occasional conversations with Muslims, they try to assure me that they are not all terrorists. And of course I believe them; most Muslims are not terrorists. But I also ask why they do not do more to disassociate themselves from terrorists and protest their philosophies and violent practices. I think that would help Muslims to be better understood.

Ellen White observed this problem in her day. She wrote about religious fanatics, “I was shown that almost every fanatic who has arisen, who wishes to hide his sentiments that he may lead away others, claims to belong to the church of God.”6

“These persons had no love for union and harmony of action. They delighted in disorder. Confusion, distraction, and diversity of opinion were their choice. They were ungovernable, unsubdued, unregenerated, and unconsecrated, and this element of confusion suited their undisciplined minds. They were a curse to the cause of God and brought the name of Seventh-day Adventists into disrepute.”7

Why We’re Careful
Why would a group of people who are not members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church try to use the name? Perhaps they seek to gain some credibility; or maybe they feel that because they share certain beliefs they should be able to use the name. But they’re not Seventh-day Adventists! They believe and/or practice things that Seventh-day Adventists do not agree with or support. If they believed and practiced all that Seventh-day Adventists believe and practice, they could become members and have the privilege of using that name. But having more than one organization use the same name only creates confusion. Our identity and good reputation are at risk when we don’t protect our name.

Indeed, in our society our church may even become legally liable for the actions of a group that holds the same name. While we might finally be exonerated, it would likely require some lengthy and involved legal processes to make the distinction.

Furthermore, if we didn’t trade-mark our name and logo, someone else might do so; meaning that we could no longer use our own name because others had obtained exclusive rights to it.

Our name means something. It is an important part of our witness to the world. We protect our name because we value it. It is an important asset of our church. 

1 See also
3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 1, p. 224.
4 Ibid., vol. 8, p. 155.
5 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 3, p. 378.
6 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 224.
7 Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 553, 554.

Benjamin D. Schoun is a general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This article was published September 20, 2012.