On Jared Kushner, Online Ordination, and Us UUs

Some of you may have heard a report that First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner claimed to have been ordained online as a Unitarian minister. Some Unitarian Universalists have thought it was quite funny while others have been angry that he made such a claim – the ire being more about not caring for his or his father-in-law’s positions on things than about ministry per se. So…

First of all, let’s get this straight: he is NOT a Unitarian (Unitarian Universalist) minister. We all know each other. He is not part of our organization.

Second, you cannot get ordained a Unitarian minister online. Ever. Ordination in our tradition is an involved process with multiple layers of authority and accountability that often also includes significant amounts of student debt. I have colleagues who entered ministry with $100,000 of student debt. It took me six full-time years of seminary, internships, and supervised hospital chaplaincy before I was ordained. The rare colleague has made it through to ordination in about 3 1/2 years. Other colleagues have been in process for 10 years or more. And everyone who makes it to Unitarian Universalist ordination has gone through a long process of constant training and evaluation. Jared Kushner went online and, snap-bam, he was “ordained.” An orthodox Jew “ordained” in a quasi-religion that was not his, that he did not train for, and for which he was not qualified or evaluated.

Third, while it is possible that Jared Kushner actually said that he was an “online Unitarian minister,” what is much more likely is that the second-hand source for the spurious quote was involved in a higher-than-usual-profile game of Telephone. Perhaps, and more likely, Jared actually said “online Universal Life minister,” to name one of several sources of in many states legal but essentially fake ministry credentials. Be it known, though, that his online credentials, whatever they are, do NOT qualify him to officiate at weddings in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Here the ordained person needs to be “commissioned to pastoral ministry or hold a local minister’s license and serve as a regularly appointed pastor in his denomination” and to be registered with the Commonwealth as a wedding officiant. (See: Code of Virginia, Title 20. Chapter 2. § 20-23)

So what lessons do we take from this?

1) If someone is reported to have claimed to be clergy of a particular religious group, don’t believe it just because it was reported in print or online as hearsay. They could be wrong or misquoted.

2) Not all clergy credentials are equal. Some are major investments of time, money, tears, education, practice, spiritual growth, and well-established supervision and evaluation processes involving many people while others are meaningless scraps that allow some people in some states to be married by Uncle Bob rather than by actual clergy or actual agents of the state.

3) If you want to get married in the Commonwealth of Virginia, come to me, not to Jared Kushner.

Laugh! Live! Learn!

Peace and Blessings,
Rev. Paul