By Еvan Osentоn
Want to play God?
With a knowledge of the right places to go, a few clicks of a mouse button, and perhaps a less than-ideal sense of morality, you might just be able to.
Instant ordination is now available courtesy of the ever-finding-ways-to-surprise internet. Your ministerial powers could include the ability to perform marriages, grant divorces, and perform sacraments, such as baptism and the absolution of sins. It used to take years of seminarial education to earn these abilities. Not anymore. But how legitimate are these sites? Can anyone with a computer really gain such wondrous powers as these sites claim? Would their actions carry any weight? Intrigued, the Gauntlet sent a writer undercover into the mysterious world of online ordination, determined to unearth the truth.
There are many choices in your ministerial quest, which we have narrowed down to the most legitimate-appearing four. All of the ministries have this in common: they will ordain you almost instantly; bestow upon you the power to perform all Christian rites, such as baptism, marriage, absolution of sins; authorize you to use a formal title before your name, such as Reverend; and guarantee you the respect and consideration that is customarily given to ministers of religious organizations. In return, they ask for a widely varying degree of commitment, which at the very least means they want you to spread the faith and perform those duties which they bestow upon you. They offer support from their sites, which may include anything from search engines, f.a.q.s, home Bible study, etc. Most claim that your name will not find its way onto a mailing list of any sort.
Based in Modesto, California, the Universal Life Church (www.ulc.org) believes everyone is already a member of the Church and is simply not aware of it yet. They will ordain anyone who joins, regardless of gender, without question of faith or any fee or obligation. All that is required is your full name and address along with an e-mail address, and ordination (along with a certificate to prove ministerial status) is instant. The only two tenets of the church that must be accepted prior to ordination are the belief in the absolute right to freedom of religion and a life philosophy of "doing what is right." Anything else (membership to other faiths, criminal record; etc.) is allowable. Upon ordination, you are not even required to promote the ULC or even practice those powers which your ordination bestows upon you. The ULC states that they will not stand between you and your God; that you must choose your own path while allowing others to do the same.
The Cathedral Church of Jesus of Nazareth (www.thecathedral.com) is more difficult to join. They consider that ordination is a formal appointment to a Christian ministry, only through alternative means. Like the ULC, ordination is free, although only married Christian males over the age of 21 need apply. The Cathedral emphasizes that any form of education, whether university, college, seminarial or otherwise is not necessary, and that applicants need only to demonstrate that he is drawn to the ministerial priesthood, responding to a call from God, or simply desiring to serve God and his fellow man.
Prerequisites for Cathedral candidates are somewhat stricter. Candidates must be "blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for ill-gotten gains, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that rules well his own household, and not a novice." The inclusion of "novice" is not explained. They add that they would like a man with a good reputation in and outside the Christian community. Once you have agreed to the above terms, submit an e-mail to the Cathedral Committee containing the following: your full Christian name; date of birth; sex; mailing address; phone number; date of conversion to Christianity (what they call "your personal Christian testimony"); your position on sexual purity (ie. chastity); your position on the Bible as the literal word of God; and your statement of understanding of Timothy Chapter 3. They ask that you affirm every item listed in the criteria for ordination and explain any in which you may be deficient. If you are accepted for ordination into the Cathedral, you will receive your ministerial documentation and further instructions and information via surface mail.
The largest ordination site is World Christianship Ministries (www.wcm.org). With over 18 years providing a seminarial alternative to individuals wanting to be ordained to the Christian clergy, they are certainly the most elaborate and well organized ordination site on the web. They claim to have ordained clergy in every us state and in over 65 foreign countries. WCM’s purpose is to "spread the Christian faith by making it easy for believers to be ordained… as being ordained is a decision that will transform your life and bring you new meaning and deep personal satisfaction and purpose before God." They are unique in that they suggest you can make money from the performance of your ministerial duties (such as charging for weddings). They are also unique in that they proudly feature a 1974 ruling by a us Federal Judge which explains how "alternative ministries" are free from condemnation as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the us Constitution. Ordination in WCM is open to anyone as long as they are of legal age in the state or province in which they intend to practice. The only prerequisite is that you are sincere and that God has spoken to your heart in a most personal way. Your application must be submitted via surface mail and will be mailed to you "usually" the day after you have given the WCM your full name, telephone number, and address (e-mail and home).
Rounding out the field is the Ministry of Tony Tumbiolo Grace of God (www.ordainme.org). They state as their purpose "to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it and to establish the true worth of every human being who comes our way in need of spiritual help, to which end we pledge our lives." Brother Tony (for whom the ministry is named) is a former TV evangelist who was ordained by WCM in 1992. As a prerequisite to join his ministry, you must be a born-again Christian and as he puts it, "live the life." He also adds that you must believe you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. In accordance with spiritual monogamy, you must be committed to the daily study of the bible and believe in Evangelistic outreach (going out into the community and preaching your views to as many people as possible.)
Tumbiolo emphasizes that you must agree to preach the full gospel and not the traditions of man, and then adds that you must be nontraditional and nondenominational. A successful application to this ministry will result in further information sent to you by surface mail.
The Expert Advice
So which online ministry to choose? Reverend Mel Cruikshank of the Chaplain’s centre offerred the following advice.
"It sounds like a pyramid scheme," he laughed.
Cruikshank believes there is no legitimacy to any of the claims proffered by these sites. He pointed out the fallacies of online ordination, and scoffed at the notion of people taking it seriously.
He stated that any marriage performed by a minister of one of the previous ministries would not be recognized by the Alberta Government (confirmed by Vital Statistics), hence it would not be illegal to perform, but would have no validity.
"Ordination alone does not permit you to do weddings," he said. "There are very strict controls. In Alberta, you can only be married by a Justice of the Peace or a registered clergyman."
As for absolution of sins, Cruikshank is not convinced.
"Only God, not human beings, can absolve sins," he said.
Online ordination poses no threat to conventional religions, said Cruikshank, but they annoy him nonetheless.
"When something is established for ordaining people so that they can take advantage [of such a power], it cheapens a life calling and a sacrificial commitment."
However, the opportunity for unscrupulous people to take advantage of instant ordination are many, and this might explain the overwhelming response these sites seem to have generated.
People treat ministers differently, he noted.
"People put trust in ministers," he said. "To me it’s risky to put any trust in these ministries. It’s kind of scary."
He wondered what sort of people would accept ordination through these means.
"When it comes to God’s calling, you’ve taken something that ought to have special meaning and taken all the sacrifice away."
Cruikshank doesn’t feel that these sites pose any harm, but warns that there is no legitimacy to their claims.
"If something’s worth doing or having, it’s worth making the commitment to do it authentically," he says. "Otherwise it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on."
Hmm… any ministerial appointment over the net, according to almost anyone involved in organized religion, carries no weight. We might expect organized religion to dismiss online ordination, however logical their reasoning. While they are not the only people capable of granting marriages, they hold the monopoly on forgiving sins. Is online ordination a legitimate threat to organized religion? Perhaps not, but it exists and therefore is at the very least some form of mild competition in the absolution market. Despite suspicions that the powers these false prophets offer may not be quite as authentic as they seem, and armed with a healthy dose of skepticism, we decided to let the buyer beware.
On Wed., Sept. 8, 1999, T.H.E. Gauntlet became a fully functioning minister in the Universal Life Church. We have our own certificate to prove it, and have had all of our sins absolved, at least by the leaders of the ULC ministry. We have our doubts as to the legitimacy of our new position, however, and offer no guarantee on the legitimacy of any absolutions we perform. We make no claims to be free from sin ourselves; on the contrary we chose the ULC because they had no problems with our sinful past. We made our decision on the grounds that the right of freedom of religion and a life philosophy of "doing what is right" is not far different from how most people live their lives anyway. Plus, the remote chance that we now have at least some of the powers promised us was too good to
The line between morality and technology gets blurrier every day. Decide for yourself whether online ordination is right, wrong, or easily dismissable as just another clump of web clutter.