The Universal Life Church (ULC) is an online, non-denominational organization that offers ordination so that individuals can operate as clergy, primarily for the purpose of officiating at weddings. The Universal Life Church espouses no traditional form of doctrine; rather, it promotes the mantra “we are all children of the same universe.”
Ordination with the Universal Life Church is as easy as filling out one’s name, state, and e-mail address online. A minister’s packet with ordination credentials from the ULC costs $29.99. The pack includes the following:
• Ordination credential (minister’s license)
• 1 ULC wallet license
• 1 black clergy badge
• 1 parking hanger
• 1 minister window cling
• 1 press pass/parking placard
• 1 ULC bumper sticker with symbols
• 1 minister bumper sticker
The Universal Life Church website emphasizes that receiving an online ordination is usually for officiating weddings for family and friends, but it also mentions that officiating at weddings can be quite lucrative. The officiants can easily make $500 per ceremony, and those who are really successful can make as much as $2,000 a week. The Universal Life Church is open to people of all faiths as long as they agree to the following: 1) do only that which is right and 2) all should be free to worship as they see fit.
By signing up through the Universal Life Church website, anyone 13 or older can become ordained in the Universal Life Church. Ordination is free, but, once ordained, the newly minted minister may need a variety of resources such as “Ministry in a Box,” which “includes everything an ordained minister will need to perform all of the functions of ministry that they could every [sic] possibly be asked to perform” (this resource is available for $140 as of 2/13/17). The Universal Life Church makes available minster’s apparel and identification cards. One can get certificates designating the holder as a Jedi Knight or a god or goddess of Wicca. Blank certificates are also available that can be filled in with any religious title. Books on paganism, Wicca, Hinduism, Islam, Kabbalah, and even atheism are available for purchase. Except for the Jefferson Bible, which contains the life and morals of Jesus minus the miracles and divine claims, Bibles are not sold on the Universal Life Church website. However, the KJV is offered as a free download.
The Universal Life Church website claims that they have 20 million ordained ministers worldwide. Some of their more notable “ministers” are Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Lady Gaga, Richard Branson, and Paul McCartney.
Beyond the things already mentioned, the Universal Life Church “tenets of faith” are problematic. If we set aside for a moment all of the crucial issues that are not addressed in their statement (sin, salvation, God, and Christ, just to name a few), we still have the problem of how to know what is “right” (tenet #1). Without some universal standard, there will be great disagreement on the wrong that is to be avoided. Bible-believing Christians will say that homosexual marriage violates God’s law and the natural order that God ordained. However, the Universal Life Church has issued the following “Ecclesiastical Proclamation”: “All persons with love for one another have a religious and constitutional right under the 1st Amendment of the United States, to the Sacrament of Marriage. Such is invoked under natural, primal, and religious law. Given this understanding, we hold that it is a denial of religious rights by the United States government to restrain our ministers from their constitutional right to perform the ritual of the Sacrament of Marriage to consenting adults, regardless of sexual design.” (This statement was released before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.) According to the Universal Life Church, to deny marriage to same-sex couples would be wrong. By definition a Universal Life Church “minister” must be willing to perform same-sex marriage or be in violation of the first tenet—which then seems to be in conflict with the second tenet, which would allow everyone to worship as they see fit.
The Universal Life Church essentially gives legal cover for anyone to operate as a minister in whatever way he or she sees fit. Of course, true calling and gifting for ministry comes from God. Ordination is supposed to be the recognition by church leaders that, based on the evidence of one’s life and ministry, one has indeed been called and gifted to minister. The ULC provides an honorary ordination in much the same way that other organizations provide honorary doctorates or allow degrees to be purchased with little or no actual academic work. The Universal Life Church makes a mockery of true ordination.
The work of ministry is not to be taken lightly. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” While this verse is directed to “church members,” it does emphasize that those who lead the church will have to give an account to God.
Here is the Universal Life Church logo: