Robert Minor, professor emeritus, Kansas University religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave.:
In the US, individual states authorize people to do the government’s work of officially recognizing a marriage. If a state issues ministerial licenses, they basically authorize clergy to function as an officiant of that state over marriage ceremonies.
Generally, few requirements are imposed upon a person to be so licensed. Usually one pays a fee and must be backed by a group of people affirming that they’ve ordained that person as their minister.
There are no other requirements. Mainline denominations add appropriate education and fidelity to denominational values, but churches that are nondenominational can “call” anyone they choose.
The states have seldom been involved in seeing to it that the person so licensed is qualified in any way. It hasn’t been considered appropriate for the secular state to impose qualifications on religious bodies to legalize who can be their leaders.
So, there is no mystique about it - anyone can perform marriage ceremonies as long as they pay any fee and find a group of people who will say: “Yep, they’re our minister.”
In the old TV series, “Northern Exposure,” the local DJ, “Chris in the Morning,” functioned in this way as the town minister of Cicely, Alaska. He received his ordination, Chris was fond of relating, as a result of answering a classified ad for ordination in the back of Rolling Stone magazine in those days before the internet.
But now in the spirit of universities touting online courses as the equivalent of on campus education, one can be ordained online as well. It remains, then, just as easy as it has always been to officiate at wedding ceremonies. And those who use the internet to enable themselves to function as officers of the state, may or may not be as qualified as any of the others who legally officiate.
— Send email to Robert Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Barclay, lead pastor, Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive:
It is capitalism at its irreverent, opportunistic, creative best! In other words, I am not a fan. My biggest question for “contract clergy,” as well as couples soon to be legally coupled, “Have you done anything to prepare for a successful marriage?” Taking classes before getting a marriage license does not guarantee a successful marriage, but studies prove that formal preparation before marrying helps—a lot!
Marriage, society’s premier institution, is hemorrhaging. This trend is triage with a leaky, entrepreneurial Band-Aid. But with more people having no connections with religious (traditional or otherwise) institutions, resourceful couples are indeed employing mail order clergy. It is an expanding niche in the lucrative marriage market.
A question worth asking is, “What a beautiful wedding! Was it legal?”
In Kansas the answer is yes. A clergyperson of any religious society can officiate a marriage ceremony. In fact, in Kansas a man and woman, by mutual declarations, in accordance with the customs of any religious society to which either of the parties belong, may be married without an authorized officiating person.
The idea for marriage came from God. Not the state and not the Church. I believe God established it to be the core human institution. God officiated the first marriage—Adam’s marriage to Eve. After that, I understand parents were delegated by God to corroborate a couple’s union.
Church tradition may require clergy to officiate at a wedding, but I don’t find that requirement in the Old or New Testaments. When I perform a wedding I put much more weight on the mutual declarations and consciences of the man and woman standing in front of me than on my benediction of “husband and wife.”
I have to trust that the vows they just made to each other were made in solemn acceptance of the legal and of course, romantic responsibilities that marriage requires. A couple may choose to be casual toward the things of the state, but I urge them to never be casual toward the things of God. And marriage is a thing of God.
— Send email to Jeff Barclay at email@example.com.