Couples cannot wait for the officiant to say, “I do, by virtue of the authority vested in me, pronounce you, husband and wife.”
What if that officiant’s only virtue of ordination was to take money?
Mainstream Christian denominations, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim sects all have ministers, pastors, cantors, deacons, rabbis, mullahs and imams that will gladly officiate or perform a wedding ceremony. Most couples already involved in some religion usually have a connection or personal relationship with the person that will perform the wedding ceremony.
Couples that do not have a personal connection to a ceremony “officiant,” often turn to friends, wedding related periodicals, resort vendor lists and wedding planners for guidance. At this point, a couple usually believes they just need someone with some personality and speaking ability to oversee the ceremony and get the legal requirements completed for a legal marriage.
Arizona Revised Statues, Article 25-124 is where one can find the definition of persons authorized to perform a legal marriage ceremony. It reads…
The following are authorized to solemnize marriages between persons who are authorized to marry: Duly licensed or ordained clergymen, Judges of courts of record, Municipal court judges, Justices of the peace, Justices of the United States supreme court, Judges of courts of appeals, district courts and courts that are created by an act of Congress if the judges are entitled to hold office during good behavior, Bankruptcy court and tax court judges, United States magistrate judges, Judges of the Arizona court of military appeals.
For the purposes of this section, “licensed or ordained clergymen” includes ministers, elders or other persons who by the customs, rules and regulations of a religious society or sect are authorized or permitted to solemnize marriages or to officiate at marriage ceremonies.
Since marriage is a legally binding agreement or covenant between two people and can only be dissolved by death or legal divorce, the government has placed a high degree of importance and sacred trust on the persons allowed to perform marriages: only clergy and judges.
Judges are regulated by the government, and are elected or appointed by someone with authority. Separation of church and state laws in America give a great deal of flexibility and freedom to “clergy.” Clergy are created and regulated in historical traditions and are ordained on the basis of a personal relationship steeped in faith, education and trust.
In Christian denominations, ordination is highly personal and includes the historical “laying on of hands” of the successors of the Apostles. It is similar to the Jewish Semincha and the Buddhist Sangha historical traditions. It is real virtue.
What then about internet and mail-order ordinations and licenses? In many jurisdictions, they are legal. However, mail-order or online certificates are not recognized by any other faith or denomination and do not qualify individuals for any United States military chaplaincies, which raises justifiable questions about sincerity and motive of people who ordain themselves this way. Too many times it is the path of least resistance to the real goal, getting someone else’s money.
People spend a lot of money on weddings, and sadly, getting wedding money is often the only motive for the internet-ordained minister. Couples without a religious connection find these “reverends” in magazines and hotel vendor lists, not at churches or temples.
For instance, The Universal Life Church of Modesto, California has ordained 20 million individuals since 1959, without any personal relationship. The church became famous during the Vietnam war when being a minister was a valid deferment from being drafted into the military. It ordains dogs and terrorists without qualification or virtue.
It was reported in U.S. News & World Report that more than 1500 such “Reverends” feed off of the Las Vegas wedding industry. While many lawmakers realize this charade exists and is spreading our way, the Arizona Legislature has yet to successfully confront this moral dilemma.
“Minister” is a function. The term “minister” was never meant to be worn as a title. There is only one “Reverend” in the Bible, and He is God. Any “minister” throwing around the term “Reverend,” is an individual looking for special attention, and maybe wedding dollars, too.
On-line “ordination” turns a solemn ceremony of personal consecration to the sacred work of representing one’s Master, into a personal money machine. If a person is not genuine at this level, how genuine can he or she be at any level?
It’s probably O.K. to have your best friend or cousin ordain themselves on the internet to officiate your personal ceremony, but why pay some stranger $100’s of dollars, only purporting and pretending that he or she is a real minister of a real faith in a real church or temple?
Why not visit a friendly local church or temple and get some information about how much God loves you and has a plan for your life and marriage? Listen carefully and you can find a voice of truth and integrity, and perhaps the right person to perform your wedding.
Questions You May Want to Ask a Minister
1) Are you Jewish, Christian, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu or non-sectarian? (Note: Nondenominational means Christian, but not of any specific Christian denomination, i.e., Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, etc.)
2) What training provided you with preparation for this career, and what related university degrees have you earned?
3) How long have you been a duly ordained/licensed minister in Arizona?
4) What church or institution ordained or licensed you and what is its phone number?
5) May I have the name and phone number of the key leader/moderator of the church or temple to which you belong?
6) May I have the names and phone numbers of three local clergy that know you?
7) To what professional wedding related or ministerial associations do you belong?
8) What training have you received to perform premarital counseling and are you state certified?