From Lady Gaga to Reverend Gaga?

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.

So in a sense, it seems that Gaga’s decision to become Rev. Gaga would diminish the office of ministry, rather than adding much – if anything – to the cause of LGBT rights.

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.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://twitter.com/ulcmonastery ULC Monastery

    Becoming an ordained minister through the ULC is to become a wedding officiant, a ministerial right shared with ship captains and Salvation Army officers (no joke).  Hundreds of people become ordained ministers every day (also not a joke) merely to perform wedding ceremonies for friends or family members, not to preach the word of God in the same way a conventional minister would. Furthermore, Lady Gaga’s ordination through the ULC Monastery (themonastery.org) would also be recognized in 46 US states – for the purpose of performing weddings. In these ways, it will hardly be an affront to the concept of ordination (or religion, for that matter) if Lady Gaga becomes a minister online in order to perform a single wedding.

    • Christian Piatt

      There is a distinct difference between someone like a ship captain being empowered with the civil duty of performing marriage and a church ordaining people into ministry.

      • http://www.ulcnetwork.com Universal Life Church

        Hopefully this image will enlarge. Ship captains, goats, and etc.

    • http://www.ulcnetwork.com Universal Life Church

      Kudos to ULC Monastery, they hit the nail right on the head. Lady GaGa has already been in touch with us about more of a faith based ordination. She remains undecided and pretty much it is only a possibility in the future. It is our understanding  it is not a huge priority. Unlike the Monastery we are more of a faith based ordination with a traditional doctrine of faith. Our ordinations are good throughout the world, as we have a network of affiliate Churches throughout the world. http://www.ulcnetwork.com

  • http://www.ulcseminary.org ULC Seminary

    Being ordained gives people the power to legally perform weddings.  That’s the most legal thing they do.  People who wish to perform counselings and such are generally people of the sort of quality who want to do it anyway and are looking for a vehicle to allow them to do it.  At the Universal Life Church Seminary,( http://www.ulcseminary.org), we do offer ordination through our site, but we offer training as well.  People can make a mockery of anything and people can hold sacred anything.  Whatever the attitude, so is the response.

    • Christian Piatt

      I see that Google Alerts for all branches of the ULC are in perfect working order.

  • http://twitter.com/3X09 3×09 Michael Carlson

    It is my strong opinion, as an ordained clergy person, that the power to legally marry people should be revoked from all clergy, ship captains, salvation army officers, and Elvis impersonators, and given only to government officials to perform legal civil unions.  

    Regardless of their legal marital status, a couple can make a public lifelong covenant of faithful marriage with God, one another, a community of faith, and family.  This is the sort of thing that clergy as spiritual leaders are trained for and should be engaged in, rather than being responsible for declaring people legally married.  

    Here’s something that supports my point. We don’t ask clergy to sign a death certificate at the end of a funeral, but they have to sign the wedding certificate to make a marriage legal.  The legal death certificate is handled by the family and the government, but the celebration of the life of the deceased is officiated by clergy and attended by community of faith and family.  

    If this same sort of separation of the “legal” union and the “spiritual” covenant were practiced, then perhaps we could reframe the dialogue to allow people who want to commit themselves to one another to do so without getting into legal debates about what should be legal or shouldn’t be legal in our government, and what should or shouldn’t be sanctioned by congregations.  

    Clergy, stand with me and abdicate the legal responsibility to “marry” couples, and retain only the spiritual role for which we are ordained: to perform the “wedding”!

    • http://www.ulcnetwork.com Universal Life Church

      Michael – I agree with you and I don’t. Speaking from a Christian prospective, many Christians want their marriage blessed in the eyes of God. In all actuality with the ULC in Modesto or the ULC Monastery Storehouse the 1st Amendment already allows individuals the right to do everything they claim, except for weddings. You do not need to be ordained to do baptisms, hold meetings, officiate a funeral, so why does the first amendment not carry this one more step and make it marriages too. Good question?

      In California people can be deputized for a day, in Florida and many states notaries can serve as wedding officiants. Wherefore, there is other avenues one can pursue other than ordination to become legal to perform a wedding ceremony.

      Also what these other ULC’s are not telling you, is that in some cases marriages performed by their Ministers are being annulled because individuals felt they were being misled or the Minister itself is not a faith based Minister.

      Bottom line is I think it should be reserved for a Public Official, but also to better define an ordained Minister to that of being a real faith based Minister, a Minister ordained by someone within the respective faith with the authority to do so, so that individuals can have their vows blessed by a real faith based Minister if that is what they want.


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