Jeff Barclay, lead pastor, Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive:
I am far less concerned with online, mail-order ordinations as I am with couples opting out of marriage entirely, or attempts to redefine marriage as something other than a union between a man and woman.
The house church movement is growing in popularity, and most of these groups do not have recognized clergy. Secularism has left many Kansans without any religious sect with which to identify. However, since Kansas marriage statutes appear to require an “authorized officiating person” (Kansas Statute 23-104a), online ordinations are on the rise.
My basic understanding about marriage comes from the Old Testament. Marriage is an agreement between a man and a woman. It is accompanied by a commitment ceremony that recognizes the couple’s dual responsibilities to each other as a sacred vow and legal contract. Marriage officiants, as well as the two witnesses, legitimize this mutual declaration, while verifying both partners are over the age of 18 and that they have come together willingly.
My expectation is that couples receive some kind of pre-marriage preparation. Kansas does not require such instruction. This is unfortunate. The costs of a failed marriage are often more than a traffic accident. More than a registration fee and a blood test should be expected of anyone getting behind the wheel of a marriage. I have doubts as to online ordained marriage officials devoting much time to premarital counseling.
A check of online ordination reveals capitalistic supply and demand at its ridiculous best! One site offered free ordination. Others sold wall certificates suitable for framing. But more than a few sites required the spending of some serious “plastic.” Ironically, the truth is a couple don’t have to have an ordained official perform their wedding.
Kansas Statute 23-104a concludes that after a license has been issued, a marriage may be solemnized and contracted: “The two parties themselves, by mutual declarations that they take each other as husband and wife, in accordance with the customs, rules, and regulations of any religious society, denomination or sect to which either of the two parties belong, may be married without an authorized officiating person.”
— Send email to Jeff Barclay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:
The practice of online (or mail-in) ordination offers both benefits and the potential for abuse.
Traditionally, ordination, proffered within a religious tradition or denomination, allows one to conduct religious rituals and service within that tradition’s practices, some of which are recognized by civil law (i.e., weddings).
My colleagues in ministry receive extensive training to become eligible for ordination. That training includes seven years college and graduate-level education, psychological testing, and scores of evaluations, interviews and exams by our denominations to determine our fitness for service and ordination.
Unlike the medical, legal and academic professions, there are no specific standards one must meet in order to conduct our work. Meanwhile, ordination is now offered by dozens of nontraditional channels.
In my view, a minister’s training is invaluable for the work we do within our faith community’s context, but is not necessary to read the words that are part of a wedding ceremony. A friend I knew in college had completed seminary training but did not pursue ordination. When asked if he could conduct a wedding, he contacted the state, who advised him that they recognized ordinations by mail. He filled out the form, sent in his check and conducted the wedding. Many people have been married by someone they respected whose license to perform marriages has been issued by a nonreligious organization, often through the Internet.
This practice becomes problematic when someone ordained through an online service offers professional services without any accountability. Priests, rabbis, imams and ministers are subject to their respective ecclesiastical authorities and rules of discipline; online ministers are not.
Another problem occurs when the ordination is used to avoid taxes, or to establish a housing allowance tax-deduction that is provided to clergy, while not actually seeking to conduct religious services.
— Send email to Kent Winters-Hazelton at email@example.com.