Ordained Ministers - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Ordained Ministers

If you attend church, chances are your minister or priest attended a seminary or served God in some other way for years. But in these days of instant gratification, anyone can become an ordained minister in a matter of seconds, without even leaving home.

The joyful sounds of a church choir; a congregation, gathered to praise the Lord. The picture of Christian religion as traditionally practiced: with a well studied minister leading worshipers in prayer, faith and hymns. But some ministers are singing a different tune, fast tracking their ordination on the information super-highway.

Several web-sites will ordain you, or anyone as a minister in seconds. Skip the schooling, just click here or here. Some charge for this service, others don't. Most try to sell you something like a "how to" ministry package.

"You actually can become a legally recognized minister in Florida in several denominations--even a beer church."

The statutes make no designation between an ordained minister who obtained their qualifications over the net and someone who has been ordained by the Catholic Church or the Presbyterian Church.

"That's the meaning of this passage, respect leaders."

Dr Barry Johnson is the senior minister at Jupiter First Church. He is disgusted by the notion of these internet box top ordinations.

"It's an insult. It says that any of us who have been trained and well educated have been brought to the same level as people who have enough time to fill out a form on the internet."

Even more insulting: there is almost no screening. I applied for my Rabbit, hit "Submit," and instantly she is designated. the Reverend Bunny Shea. Not one to be left out, my dog Frosty, also now bears certification.

Look at your credentials, what do you think?

Obviously my pets can't perform marriages--but what if I applied--if this had been my name on it? Would it be a legal document?

"It would be a legal document. You could marry someone tomorrow."

And the marriage would be legit. That's a big incentive for con artists out to make a quick buck. Many of these web-sites that ordain you tell you it's a money making venture. You could charge between 100 and 450 bucks per service.

"There's a great opportunity for abuse. And it's happening all over the country."

Couples, like these applying for a marriage license at the Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts, can legally have an instant minister sign their certificate. Then, it must be filed with the court within 10 days of the marriage. Instant ministers can also apply for tax exempt status with the IRS.

"The cases I've seen, the minister established a ministry and church in their home and asked for tax exempt status on their home."

But perhaps the biggest abuse is the potential for abuse of trust.

"It is tremendously disarming to say to someone I am a reverend or a pastor. They immediately give you credit for your integrity, it's a shame that it can be compromised by this kind of maneuver."

Another maneuver: getting bogus ministry diplomas online for a few bucks. Put your name here for a Bachelor of Science in Religion.

Dr. Johnson has the real deal, but knowing the difference between sheep skin and cheat skin is tricky. So he advises asking questions before misplacing your trust in a bogus minister whose higher power is the almighty buck. Questions like: with whom are you affiliated? What is your training? Where are the home offices of your denomination?

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