In an essay for Religion News Service, Jeffrey Salkin writes about the trend away from having religious leaders officiate weddings. People are less religious than they used to be, and the idea of getting a faith leader you don’t know that well playing a large role in your wedding ceremony seems outdated if not just plain weird.
Salkin, a rabbi himself, understands the reasons couples don’t want people like him officiating their weddings even as he laments the change. But he urges couples considering a non-religious officiant to consider two things when getting married.
One of them is the importance of tradition:
You want friends to speak at your wedding? Great.
You want them to read part of the ceremony? Wonderful.
But, ideally, the officiant brings something from outside the couple, and from beyond the couple and their immediate circle of family and friends. Ideally, the officiant brings something that predates the couple by millennia, and will, we pray, live way beyond the couple’s time on earth.
Meh. Overrated. The last thing we need to do is model a marriage after one from long ago when love wasn’t nearly as important as what the families brought to the table. But at least the idea of tradition makes some sense.
That’s not the case for Salkin’s other suggestion: Avoiding the “instant ordination” path.
… those who get instant ordination for the purpose of performing weddings are actually mocking the meaning of what it means to be clergy.
“Real” clergy study, long and hard. Speaking for rabbis, we study in a graduate program for five years, including the first year in Israel. We study Bible, midrash, mishnah, Talmud, liturgy, theology, history, homiletics, counseling, Jewish literature, etc. We write theses based on Hebrew texts. We take advantage of internships, mentoring, student pulpits, for valuable experience.
To become a clergy person in order to do a wedding, or even many weddings, reduces our sacred tasks and responsibilities into one life cycle ceremony. “Real” clergy officiate, and teach, and engage in activism, and counsel, and comfort, and manage, and…
It diminishes — actually, lampoons — our years of training and commitment.
Frankly, it is an insult — even though it was not intended that way.
This is advice that’s more selfish than useful. Does Salkin realize that many people have to get an instant ordination from an online church because many states have laws requiring the officiant to be a religious leader, if not a judge?
In the case of many atheists who wanted a formal ceremony, or two people from different religious backgrounds coming together, a friend paying a few bucks online to conduct the ceremony was the only choice they had.
Their friends didn’t get ordained to mock rabbis and priests, even inadvertently. They didn’t do it for shits and giggles. They got ordained because the law required them to do it. (Atheist and Humanist groups have filed lawsuits to overcome this obstacle in multiple states.)
In fact, if states made it easy for random people (like the couple’s mutual friend) to officiate a wedding without unnecessary paperwork, not only would there be less of a need for religious leaders to perform the ceremonies, online ordination numbers would go down as well.
Salkin ought to recognize that before trashing places like the Universal Life Church.
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