Monday, July 16, 2007

Doctors, Lawyers, and Ministers...oh my!

So, if it's perfectly legal to be ordained over the Internet without any additional education or training, why does it bother people ? And it does bother people. At least it used to really bother me, as a seminarian, a decade ago, so much that apparently I waited ten years to complete some thoughts on it.

Pure Speculation...
1. Performing Wedding Rites I contend that much of Universal Life Church ordination is for people who are asked by friends or family members to perform weddings (or sign legal documents validating marriages). This doesn't particularly bother me. It's perfectly legal, and I understand why people might want a friend to perform a ceremony, particularly if they are unchurched. More on this in my other post.

More Speculation...
2. Universal v. Universalist I can't go any further without pointing out the similarity between Universal (Life Church) and (Unitarian) Universalist. These words sound similar, but they don't mean the same thing. I certainly know that my Christian Scientist friends become...irritated whenever someone mistakes Christian Science for Scientology (and vice versa, actually). I think there may be a perceived fear of mistaken identity. Or equated identity, perhaps.

Some Actual Research...
3. The New Testament Now within the Christian tradition, the New Testament is pretty much silent on ordination though you do get lots of verse-throwing-around with what Jesus probably meant to say or what he implied about ordaining women and gay folks. Let's not go there.

As far as I can tell, the ordination (and ministerial training beforehand) process is something human beings developed in the past two thousand years in order to square the notion of being "called" with "legitimacy." In other words, if you're called, but you don't get the education and training and verify that call with an earthbound authority, you may not be considered legitimate by some folks.

More Research...
4. Doctors, Lawyers, Ministers...oh my! Doctors and lawyers have roughly the same amount of education and training as many ministers, but they have big deal lobbying groups that band together and make rules. Ministers don't band together nationwide, particularly, only within denominations. So, yes, it's illegal to practice medicine without a license, but not ministry.
Comparative Notes....
5. Every profession I studied (artist, editor, and teacher) had colleagues that described a hierarchy of what sort of work was valued and what was not. This was really valuable for me to see in writing, and possibly worth the words I spent getting to this point.

So when some ministers start talking about how the Universal Life Church doesn't really ordain or those ministers aren't "real" ministers, that's completely in keeping with how people in other professions evaluate their colleagues (e.g., She's not a real artist because she doesn't have the MFA. He's not a real editor because he works for pennies. She's not a real teacher because she teachers in a rural public school that doesn't have "real" problems.) I'm not sure very much is gained in the long-term by devaluing the work of others within your profession.

Conclusions....
In general, I think job titles are most powerful and work best when they reflect the work that we do regardless of validation of legitimacy by Academia and organizations, colleagues, or even the general public. Yes, there's probably exceptions. But, if you're a minister, and you hear a call and do ministry, you get the title in my book.