“Reggie White, defensive end for the Green Bay Packers and an ordained minister…”
“A.C. Green played as a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, and did you know he is also an ordained minister?”
“A sales manager hailing from Colorado, Johnny Bananas enjoys watersports and is also an ordained minister.”
Do you ever hear people introduced with the ‘also an ordained minister’ line and wonder what the whole ‘ordained minister’ thing is all about? I’ve heard this many times over the years so I finally decided to do some investigation into what’s actually required to become ordained, and what I found will shock you. Well no, I’m lying. It won’t shock you, or at least it shouldn’t. The truth is that virtually anyone can become ordained because it’s a fairly meaningless title that requires no qualifications, no testing, no money, and most telling of all, no belief in an imaginary God. That’s right, neither God nor religion are required for a person to become officially ordained. And I use the word ‘officially’ in the least official way that I possibly can.
So what does it mean to be ordained?
Ordination is a term saddled with a lot of weight and formality, but what does it really mean and how does it apply to our lives here in the 21st century? Ordain is defined in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as a transitive verb which means “to invest officially (as by the laying on of hands) with ministerial or priestly authority”. What that means today is, well, nothing. In the 14th century when priests actually had authority, it could have meant many things. Perhaps only an ordained priest could cast out demons, identify witches, and order the tongues of heretics to be cut out. Today it seems the market for such good works has evaporated, leaving only marriages, baptisms and funerals within the purview of the ordained person. And of these, only marriages carry any real legal weight. Baptism doesn’t grant a person tax benefits and funerals come after a person has left the tax base (though strangely, a dead person might still owe taxes). So that leaves marriage as the only real official task for an ordained person to perform, and even that is rather unofficial. Why? Because there is no national registry of ordained people and no verification conducted to ensure that a marriage was performed by an ordained person ‘correctly’. This means that anyone can officiate at a marriage, including a ‘licensed’ Medicine Man and a Captain in the Salvation Army. Add a few more cool characters to the mix and we’ll have a Village People reunion! Quite frankly, all the government requires from your wedding is a completed marriage license. The ordained person requirement, well that’s just included to appease the religious and keep them somewhat relevant.
Then ordination is meaningless?
Bingo. Ordination is as meaningless and inconsequential as the billions of prayers spoken to a non-existent God. But just as Christians still believe that donkeys and snakes can talk, they also still believe that ordination is a very serious and important title bestowed upon only the sweetest cream of their crop. Take the FourSquare church franchise for example. Potential franchisees may apply for ordination only after attending the FourSquare bible college, and additionally they must have worked for at least two years in a FourSquare church (either for pay or as a volunteer). Ditto for the Assemblies of God church franchise. If this sounds eerily similar to the requirements for becoming a Shakey’s pizza franchisee (including attendance at Shakey’s University), it should. That’s because ordination, for a church executive, is all about money. Franchise churches make a lot of money, and if you want to play you have to pay. Churchgoers who pass the ‘requirements’ for ordination have already given thousands of dollars in ‘college’ tuition to the church, not to mention volunteer labor. Yet in the eyes of the law, they can do nothing more with that official-sounding title than I can, which begs a question from this author…
If ordination is meaningless, why did you do it?
I became ordained to illustrate the silliness of it. I’m an atheist and have no religion, yet I now possess the same official powers as any other ordained person. I am just as qualified as Fat Pastor Rick Warren to sanctify a marriage, and I’m much cheaper because I won’t eat up all the food at the reception. If you need baptismal services, I’m also here for you. I’ll dip your baby boy in a bird bath and crack an egg over his head, thereby making him complete in the eyes of the Lord…any Lord, not just the sexy Italian one. I’ll even marry two gay guys, something which Big Rick Warren and that crotchety old homophobe James Dobson are incapable of doing. Now, how is that for service?
So the next time you hear a person introduced with the qualification of ‘ordained minister’, recognize that for what it’s worth: Nothing.
Definition of ordain and first usage
Authorized marriage officiants, California
Ordination through FourSquare