Do you expect your church’s ordained minister to earn his or her certificate in two minutes online? The state of Texas says, “I do.”
With the emergence of the Internet, training for different vocations has become accessible on the Web. With the Universal Life Church, an institution supporting any and all religious or non-religious beliefs, a certificate to become an ordained minister takes absolutely no training. It’s as easy as providing a full name, mailing and email address and checking a box to verify the candidate is at least 13 years old.
This is completely legal and strictly follows the First Amendment clause for freedom of religion. However, it cheapens the ministry occupation because the online ministers produced through this website are neither formally trained nor are they required to know marriage laws before becoming ordained.
The processing of these certification “applications” takes a matter of minutes. Upon completing that online form, the user has officially become a lifelong ordained minister, legally allowing him or her to officiate weddings, funerals and baptisms.
The only states that generally do not accept Universal Life Church ministers are Virginia, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Texas does accept these online ministers. In fact, according to data from the Universal Life Church website, nearly 40,000 Texans have been ordained through the website.
The Universal Life Church ministers sometimes can run into snags depending on the state in which they are officiating a wedding. Each state sets specific requirements on who can perform marriages and how they are to be officiated. According to the McLennan County website, to perform a wedding in Texas, the officiant must be “an officer of a religious organization and who is authorized by the organization to conduct a marriage ceremony.” They must provide proof of ordination in the form of a certificate, letter of good standing or a wallet card, all of which are available to purchase through the Universal Life Church website.
Consider the George W. Truett Theological Seminary students who take more than 90 hours of coursework to receive their Master’s of Divinity degree or the Doctor of Ministry students who spend three years cultivating an understanding of religious ministry. Doctrinal differences aside, these students work to do essentially the same things the two-minute instant ministers will be able to do.
Universal Life Church members can purchase documentation, including a Doctor of Divinity Certificate for $32.99. They can get a Letter of Good Standing for $18, a wallet ID card for $11.99 or a hardcopy of the ordination certificate for $7.99. They have access to the same documentation as other ministers. All of these things, which can take years of studying to obtain the old-fashioned way, are just a mouse click away.
This expedient process to becoming a minister does align with the church’s openness. The church website states, “We are all children of the same universe,” making any person with any belief or non-belief eligible for ministry. In fact, church members can also be part of the Jedi Order. On the same page where ordination certificates are sold, church members can purchase a Jedi Knighthood certificate for $9.99 for those who resonate with the spiritual message of the Jedi Order.
However, with the lack of training required for ministers, the fast online ordination system creates confusion about who should considered a leader in the Universal Life Church. Though the website assures that moderators screen for fake names being used for ordination certificates, including names of pets or inanimate objects, the fact that this can be a problem shows a flaw in their ordination system. Anyone and everyone can be an ordained minister, so essentially all church members can be church leaders.
Taken from another angle, it would be similar to a police officer, firefighter or teacher receiving their credentials online with limited screening and without any training or testing. The credibility of these leaders would be compromised because the general public would not be able to trust the quality of their work. Soon anyone would be able to work in these positions when the reality is that not everyone should be a police officer or firefighter or teacher. Not everyone should be a minister.
Fortunately, a wedding officiant is a far cry from being a law enforcement officer or a teacher. All officiants have to do is get the couple to state a Declaration of Intent — the traditional “Do you take so-and-so to be your lawfully wedded wife/husband? — and the rest is up for interpretation or customization for the bride and groom. And this website does provide an opportunity for people to answer a calling from God or their form of higher power to enter into the ministry, and it very clearly allows for anyone to follow this calling.
Still, the title of minister should be reserved for someone who has been trained to be a minister, not a 14-year old that can spell his or her name.