Views on the Universal Life Church
The Universal Life Church
The Universal Life Church is no stranger to litigation and legal controversy which should not come as a surprise. Virtually anyone who wants to be an ordained minister simply fills out an easy application and within days receive their credentials, no questions asked. Some do it in all seriousness while others see it as a joke. For example, a few have had their pets and computers ordained. There is, however, one restriction. The Universal Life Church does not issue ministerial certificates to individuals who are currently incarcerated.
Universal Life Church, headquartered in Modesto, California was founded in 1959 by the Rev. Kirby J. Hensley, a Baptist and Pentecostal preacher. According to his son and current president Andre, Hensley became disillusioned with mainstream religions, and created the nondenominational, Universal Life Church for people from all spiritual beliefs.
Mail Order Ordinations
The church began mail-order ordinations in 1962 which allows people, regardless of spiritual belief, to legally perform weddings, baptisms, funerals, laying-on of hands and other ministerial services.
"My dad felt that if somebody had a calling from God, or another higher power, they could request ordination in person or by mail," says Hensley. The philosophy, he says, is that "each person has the right to interpret what's right for them, as long as it doesn't infringe on what's right for others."
So far, the church has issued about 18 million ordinations worldwide. Church staff reviews requests and then issues credentials with accompanying documentation. The organization also offers educational courses and sells ministerial supplies.
Since its’ founding, Universal Life Church has been the center of much controversy. According to Hensley,
thousands became ordained in the 1960s to avoid the draft. One hundred thousand ordinations were done in 1969 alone, he continued. However, in the 1980s the Internal Revenue Service cracked down on ordained ministers who established churches simply to avoid paying taxes.
Many mainstream churches have questioned whether Universal Life Church ordinations are legitimate. Thesenior Hensley, for example, was arrested for issuing Doctorate of Divinity degrees in a state claiming it violated theireducational code.
Reverend Kirby Hensley was raised as a Christian in North Carolina. He never learned to read or write. He referred to himself as a” student of life” and founded his church on the principle all people should be accepted, regardless of their faith.
The Universal Life Church (ULC) offers practically anyone semi-immediate ordination as a ULC minister, free of charge. However, the application must be “checked by a human in order to be official.” Ordinations are issued in the belief all people are already ordained by God.
The organization has no traditional doctrine other than believing in doing "that which is right." All so called ministers have the privilege and responsibility to determine what is right as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.
The ULC proclaim their goals to be, eternal progression and a fuller life. Their slogan is “To live and help live.” Their maxim announces “We are one.”
The ULC was first known as the “Life Church" and operated out of Hensley’s garage. After five years of studying various religions, Hensley concluded the proper religion may differ for each man, and everyone was entitled to choose their own.
The Modesto congregation grew rapidly and today claims to have congregations located throughout the United States, parts of Canada and many other parts of the world. The organization also boasts a membership of 22 million ULC ministers.
During the 1960s and 1970s many people in the USA became ministers in the ULC because they believed being a minister would keep them from being drafted during the Vietnam War or would enable them to use tax shelters as members of the clergy. Those applying these tactics soon discovered their efforts had been in vain, as merely being ordained does not exempt a person from compulsory military service, and ministers as individuals receive no tax benefits. Only churches can claim tax exemptions.
People are drawn to the church for many different reasons. Some have been ordained by the ULC after being denied by their own church due to gender or sexual orientation.
The ULC’s Department of Education, offers a variety of degrees, including Doctor of Divinity or Doctor of Universal Life. Generally these doctorates require recipients to take one or more courses. This however, is not free. Applicants pay for study materials and in some cases may even have to pass a test…the nerve!
But, don’t be misled. These degrees are not equivalent to academic degrees like those issued by legitimate universities. They are intended only for personal growth and use within ULC.
Ministers may also choose their own special title, ranging from "Free Thinking Moron" to "Holy Priest of the Mushrooms,” or any other they desire. These titles are issued upon request, as all ministers are considered equal and individuals can choose a title they believe suits them.
ULC members say they believe in freedom of religion. Members pursue their own beliefs without interference from government, church or other religious agencies, or any other entities. Their one doctrine being: “Do only that which is right.”
ULC ministers are authorized to perform weddings, baptisms and funerals. They may also hold meetings and services. The ULC also offers a religious counseling course.
The ULC has been harshly criticized on grounds they accept all peaceful religious beliefs, hold no viewsof their own and therefore does not qualify as a true church. Many religious organizations have charged its practice of immediate ordination without any requirements as unprecedented and any such documents they issue aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
Merriam Webster dictionary defines a church as: 1. A building for public and especially Christian worship. 2. The clergy or officialdom of a religious body, often capitalized. 3. A. A body or organization of religious believers; as the whole body of Christians, b: Denomination. <The Presbyterian Church.> c: Congregation. 4. A public divine worship<goes tochurchevery Sunday.> 5. The clerical profession<considered thechurchas a possible career.>
On the other hand, advocates for the organization point out founders of the world's major religions had no formal advanced religious training…using Christ’s disciples as an example. Ministers can follow their own belief, whether it is traditional Christianity or other religion. They can mix and match, so to speak, by blending various faiths. Or they may be agnostic, atheist or homosexual.
The Universal Life Seminary is one of many charter churches operated under the umbrella of ULC. The Universal Life Seminary, however, does have some theological beliefs beyond the ULC Headquarters. This seminary is theist proclaiming a distinct belief in God and offers courses from a spiritual perspective. The seminary however, makes a distinct disclaimer they don’t speak for the ULC as a whole, but presents one of many paths to interested individuals.
Sounds legitimate enough until you discover some of their other charter churches or ministries, such as an “Order of Jedi,” partly inspired by philosophies presented in the Star Wars motion pictures.