Should Churches Sue Churches?

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? 1 Corinthians 6:1-2 In the video above, the 7th Day Adventist Church sued two Tennessee ministers for trademark infringement, that is, calling their church “The… Read more Should Churches Sue Churches?

In the video above, the 7th Day Adventist Church sued two Tennessee ministers for trademark infringement, that is, calling their church “The Creation 7th Day & Adventist Church”. Despite having lost the law suit, the men refused to change the church name because they believed it was a “divinely mandated” name. God had told them to use that name. At that point, the men were sentenced to 30 days in jail, which they served and are now released and now continue to refuse to change the name.

It’s a stunning example of “Christian stubbornness” which some wrongly call righteousness. But more stunning is the use of the law to attempt to resolve an issue between two religious institutions.

It also needs to be said that a close reading of this story immediately brings up serious questions as to the truthfulness of the two pastors testimonies. It’s very difficult to believe that they were badly treated in prison, and even more difficult to believe that the LDS church wanted them to — or believed they could — receive life sentences for their crime. Those issues aside, it’s easily verifiable that there was a law suit, which the ministers lost, they were imprisoned and are now free and touring the country to raise awareness for their cause.

Historically Speaking…

I think this type of action is extremely unique to modern U.S. society and religion. Looking to the secular government to serve as arbiter of religious affairs is extremely unique.

  • Consider the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. They were the law, there would be no resorting to some court to resolve a dispute, they would simply punish the offender. This would be virtually the same for post-Reformation England. The Puritans and Quakers from England specifically fled in order to avoid Anglican persecution.
  • Consider post-reformation Germany. There were Lutheran territories and Catholic territories. If there was a Catholic causing trouble in a Lutheran territory s/he would be tried according to the Lutheran courts, not by Catholic standards at all.
  • Even consider post-Revolution America. Before the ratification of the Constitution, most colonies had an established Protestant denomination. Some even had “church taxes” used to pay for local ministers and church administration costs. If you were Presbyterian, you simply wouldn’t live in a Baptist colony. And if by some chance you did, you’d simply have to deal with it.

But here, in our present multi-religious and increasingly secular society, churches now look to secular governments to resolve inter-church disputes. I think it’s quite striking.

I know of a church in California that was called “The Vineyard” until they received a letter from the Vineyard denomination. To my memory the congregation complied with the name change request which made a “Cease and Desist” order unnecessary. Even then, it was clear than if the local congregation did not comply, the next step would be legal action.

Truthfully, I would side with the 7th Day Adventists and the Vineyard denomination. These names are not merely “trademarks”, they are actually the name for a specific set of doctrinal beliefs and historic narratives. People who move from one town to another will go looking for the closest “Vineyard” or “7th Day Adventist” church because they know what that stands for. Having any “pastor” or congregation just adopt the name can really be damaging to the church’s integrity.

What I can’t side with, or really comprehend, is the purpose or reasoning behind suing these local congregations. Isn’t there a more “Christian” way to resolve this?

For ALL the information you’d ever want on this, there’s a GIANT page on Wikipedia all about it, with links to court proceedings and details about the arrest of the pastor. It’s actually a really impressive article.

 

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