From the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate - May 22, 1989 FOUNDER OF CHURCH WILL ORDAIN ANYONE
From the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate - May 22, 1989
FOUNDER OF CHURCH WILL ORDAIN ANYONE
by Steve Culpepper
Advocate Staff Writer
They were all there _ ministers, a dervish, a monsignor, a bishop
and an archbishop. A saint showed up, too, and another saint was
supposed to show but couldn't make it.
Even he was there, the founder of the church. That's not "he" as in
He but "he" as in, well, just he, the Rev. Kirby J. Hensley, D.D.,
founder of the Universal Life Church.
They gathered last week at Shing's Chinese Restaurant to break a
little bread, exchange a few words of encouragement and meet Hensley,
the man who made it all happen 27 years ago in Modesto, Calif.
Hensley and his wife had stopped through Baton Rouge in their
recreational vehicle on their drive back to California from his native
North Carolina. Since founding the Universal Life Church in 1962,
Hensley said he has "ordained" an estimated 16 million in this
country, including a president, a Supreme Court justice, movie stars
and even a few cats and dogs.
In fact, anybody can be ordained a minister or can receive advanced
degrees like doctor of philosophy, doctor of divinity, doctor of
religious humanities, doctor of religious science, doctor of
metaphysics or a combination of any or all.
Hensley said he ordains ministers free of charge. ULC literature
lists nominal offering-charges of $10 to $100 for the advanced
Current $5 titles offered include archpriest, colonel, rabbi,
Brahman, pastor general, ascetic, gnostic, hadji, evangelist, guru,
flying missionary and soul therapist. And of course there's the
ever-popular "Universal Philosopher of Absolute Reality."
Hensley was welcomed at Shing's by an unexpectedly large group of
local ULC ministers and those who bear more unusual titles, all headed
by the Rev. C. Alan Jennings of ULC, Celebration of Marriage Ministry
It's reached the point in this story, though, where something
should be made clear. Yes, there's a lot to the ULC that's silly, or
that appears to be silly. Some of it actually is intended to be
tongue-in-cheek. But, according to Jennings, the main point is that
ULC means religious freedom, which means freedom to be silly or
freedom to be serious or freedom to be nothing at all.
"The ULC believes exactly what you believe, even if only in your
ase," Jennings said, quoting a member of his congregation. "When Kirby
started his church, he put up a sign that said "church,' and people
would come up and say, "What kind of church is this?' He'd say, "What
kind of church are you looking for?" And if they said Baptist, he'd
say, "This is a Baptist church.' If they said Methodist, then he'd
say, "This is a Methodist church.' "
Jennings said the church "acknowledges the extremely personal
nature of religion and validates that. Everybody has their personal
religion and most of them, as far as religion goes, most align
themselves with a particular denomination.
"Probably therein is some conflict. Even with the denomination you
choose there's very likely some disagreement. But they don't talk
about it and you don't talk about it and you're a good Methodist or
Catholic or whatever you are."
Hensley doesn't get quite so philosophical about his church.
As he pursued God through first the Baptist and then the
Pentecostal church, Hensley, who can neither read nor write, said he
made a discovery. "I found it was emotion I was after."
He said he got interested in religion when he was a member of the
Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal organization during the '30s
that put out-of-work or otherwise unemployable people to work on
"I bought a 10-cent dictionary. I thought I'd bought a Bible. I
carried it with me 300 miles before I found out different," he said.
"But you know what? That shows to me that people just think they
think. How many people can walk up to a blackboard and write something
nobody even thought before? That's thinkers. Most people just follow,
like I was doing. Baptists, Pentecostals, they're all believers, not
doers," Hensley said.
The ULC founder told of the three pillars of his religion.
"Animals' _ and we're all animals _ animals' first instinct is to
be free. And if he's free, he looks for food. And if he has food, he
looks for sex. And if you have all three then you're in heaven," he
said. "You're nothing without any one of those things.
"It's like sex, it's heaven when you have it and hell when you
It's almost needless to say, but Hensley said that in his church,
"Every man is free to believe what he wants to and do what he wants
Ordinarily, the preacher and the church intercede between man and
God. "But I put you between God and me," he said. "It's my business to
stand between you and the state. They say you need a piece of paper
(to be a minister) and I'll give you that piece of paper. I don't give
a s--- who you are."
Hensley has had well-publicized run-ins with the Internal Revenue
Service. But when it gets right down to it, the courts have found that
the ULC is just as valid a religion as the Lutherans or the Catholics
or the Presbyterians, he said.
"We have 16 million ministers. If all of them take their (tax)
write-offs, you can see what'll happen. I'm not out for tax write-
offs, but that's why they (the IRS) are after me."
Out in Modesto, Hensley holds regular services in his church. "I've
got a big church," the 77-year-old minister said.
Jennings said neither the ULC nor his local congregation were
organized as a tax dodge.
"Any individual minister might see what he can reap from it, but
that is up to that individual minister," he said.
Jennings has been a ULC member since 1976 and created the
Celebration of Marriage Ministry under the auspices of the church.
Jennings also has created what he calls Compuchurch, which is similar
to a computer billboard, but deals in spiritual information, sermons,
"I have people who would never get up and read a sermon, but with
Compuchurch they can," he said.
Jennings said he's also hoping to build a national network of
"Each Compuchurch is a separate congregation. There are counselors,
private chapels. We have the facilities to do the exchange of wedding
vows right now," he said.
In fact, all Jennings needs to perform a computer-keyboard wedding
is a couple willing to do it, he said.
"Compuchurch is presently an outreach of a ministry of the ULC," he
said. "In the past year it has become a network of sorts. We have
people in other states and more than one message base here in Baton
Rouge, all offering information on this church. Compuchurch is
ecumenical in that we hope to provide a message base for any
denomination that would like to use it as we grow. For instance, it
might be possible for St. Paul's Methodist in Brownsfield to
communicate to Nashville through the network we're attempting to
Already, a local ULC congregation meets on Compuchurch, he said.
Eventually, Jennings hopes to create out of the local ULC
congregation a ULC center in Baton Rouge. "I see it as a general place
which will benefit the community by serving the ULC ministers, their
respective groups and needs. One of the places in the ULC complex
would be a place where a ULC minister could hold a wedding. There
would perhaps be a library, or a place where people can just gather
like we're doing (every Sunday) at Denny's Restaurant right now. We
could even provide, and hope to have as part of this whole center
complex, a bookstore. It would be a place where the community would be
Textfile courtesy Bernie Ballard, Sysop, SEARCHLIGHT BBS 504-291-4762
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