Pop phenom Lada Gaga recently announced her plans to seek ministerial ordination so that she may marry her long-time friends, both of whom are women. The news stirred conflicting feelings for me, given that I affirm both the right of all consenting adults to marry, as well as the so-called “priesthood of all believers.” The latter is a value taken from my own denomination, the Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ), which proclaims that we all have a divine call to serve in some ministerial capacity. As Amy my wife (who is an ordained minister), puts it every Sunday morning at our church, she’s the pastor but we’re all ministers. We all have a ministry.
So why did it bother me a little bit when I heard of Gaga’s plans to apply for ordination through the Universal Life Church, a mail order process that indiscriminately ordains any and all who apply? A couple of things come to mind.
Amy and I had a friend some time back who decided to seek the proper certification to perform marriages. A few months later, they were making a little business out of it, and then told us they were looking to “break into the funeral market.” Yes, I understand that there are inherent principles of business at work in organized religion, but to gain entry to it simply for the purpose of seizing market share is disturbing.
Lady Gaga obviously doesn’t need the money that a few weddings would put in her pocket, but such a move certainly does make headlines. Could she be doing this primarily as an act of media provocation? Though she, or any of her fans, could rationalize the move otherwise, it’s undeniable that she does stand to gain personally from this to her ever-growing list of “outrageous” spotlight-grabbers.
Still, I’m conflicted. One the one hand, it could be argued that she’s using her fame to draw attention to an important issue of justice, rather than exploiting the cause for her own personal gain. Ultimately only she can answer with respect to her personal motive. And if her being ordained were the only way her friends could legally become married, the act would make more sense. However her friends, who reportedly live in New York (a state that has made same-sex marriage legal), have any number of other opportunities to seek a wedding official that already holds the office of minister.
Ordained ministers have the potential to tap into significant power over people’s lives. We trust them in counsel, we acknowledge their authority to preside over critical events such as birth, passage into adulthood, marriage and death. My own assessment is that the sacredness of the office of ordained ministry intentionally bigger than any one person. As such, one who holds the office should undergo some degree of training, counsel, personal reflection and ongoing accountability.
But the path that Gaga is considering requires none of this from her, while endowing her with all of the rights and privilege of the position.
For some who have followed my anti-colonial positions on the institutionalized process of ordination, this all may seem a contradiction to things I’ve said in the past. But never have I suggested that, in de-colonizing the training and vetting process, we should do away with the rigors of study, practice and lifelong accountability.
Ordination is symbolic of a sacred trust between those who hold the position and those who entrust them with special, and sometimes very vulnerable, parts of our lives. I applaud the couple’s opportunity to marry, as well as Lady Gaga’s bold positions on LGBT rights in public. But rather than diminishing the entire office of ordained ministry because some still use it as a tool of exclusion and oppression, let’s seek to affirm and uphold those who are on the same side of the debate.
Any number of jokes come to mind, like about Ashton Kutcher performing my nephew’s briss next month, but ordained ministry is a serious matter independent of your own personal theological beliefs. Where there is power, there will be exploitation of that power. We see this all too often. If you recall, when Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple, he didn’t burn down the temple. His focus was not on the system so much as on those who used it to their advantage.
As we seek to form the Church Universal into something more resembling our understanding of God’s kingdom, we should focus on strengthening the good we find around us rather than taking a slash-and-burn approach that risks making a farce of it all together.