Non-religious weddings – the devil’s in the details!

Life’s a minefield for ethically conscious people.  Every decision, every purchase you make has consequences that continue to spread, long after your immediate needs have been satisfied.  It can be tricky not to second guess yourself on everything from planning a holiday to buying spinach. Ask me how I know!

So here you are, planning a wedding, and you’re looking for a non-religious service.  There can be any number of reasons for that.  You may have been raised in a religion and, one day, had the Wizard of Oz experience; the curtain flicked open and you saw it was all an illusion.

You may be unhappy with the fact that most monotheisms treat women as second class citizens; it could be the epidemics of abuse that have been associated with major religions; their opposition to contraception; the missionary works that have devastated indigenous cultures around the world, or maybe they have cheerfully written you off to an eternity in hell, simply for being who you are.

… perhaps the religion in question has written you off to an eternity in hell, simply for being who you are…

There are any number of reasons, but the bottom line is that you don’t want a service that glorifies a god you don’t believe in, and which benefits an institution whose moral values are opposed to your own.

So what do you do?  Find yourself an officiant who will perform your service without mentioning God?  Well, that’s a start, but I’d strongly recommend reading the label carefully when choosing your officiant!

Not many people realise this, but the officiant you see is the tip of an iceberg.  What you generally won’t see, without looking closely, is the officiant’s licencing body.  This information is made available at Service Ontario, where you can view or download the entire list of twenty two thousand or so registered religious officials. You will see the big major religions here, as well as a bewildering variety of churches and organisations that you may never have heard of.

The officiant’s licencing body is a big deal, because the Officiant pays the licencing body for training, as well as a yearly fee to maintain their registration.   In many cases, this is a major source of funding for the activities of the licencing body.  This is certainly the case for my licencing body, the Ontario Humanist Society.

OHS, along with the Humanist Association of Canada, is an existentially non-religious organisation, which is classed by the government as a religious body for the purposes of keeping their paperwork simple!  Sort that list on ‘Religious Body’, and you’ll find all thirty or so of us huddled together for safety!  We are not by any means a rich organisation, but we use what cash we have to support secular humanitarian initiatives, both here in Canada and around the world.  Recently, in conjunction with the Brighter Brains Institute, we’ve helped to fund non-religious schools and community soybean farming in rural Uganda. We contribute to Kiva micro loans, and are long term supporters of same sex marriage, the right to die with dignity and a single, secular school system.

Humanists don’t have a holy book; we are an eclectic group of individuals in broad ethical agreement.

If you’re interested to see what humanists believe, here’s a list of humanist principles.   If you book a humanist officiant, that’s the kind of worldview you are supporting behind the scenes. You will know who we are and what we’re about right from the beginning, because we are totally upfront about it.

Now, back to you, you ethical human being seeking a non-religious wedding.  You are probably going to find an officiant by reference from a friend, or from a search on the internet. The licencing body will very likely not be top of your list of considerations.  All you’re thinking of is a non-religious service.  You could easily find yourself with an officiant from Celebrating Life Ministries, for example.

I’m not especially trying to pick on CLM here, but they are a large and extremely busy Officiant training organisation. There are all kinds of others out there too.  Last count there were 232 CLM Officiants in Ontario.  Celebrating Life Ministries themselves say that each Officiant certified pays $625 for training, plus $1000 per year to maintain their registration.  Most of their officiants rent their websites from CLM, for an extra $200 or so a year.  So, this not-for-profit charitable organisation is not exactly strapped for cash.

CLM officiants will perform services that don’t mention God, if you ask them to.  But the organisation they fund is a self proclaimed “faith based missional community committed to the values and practices of the Christian Faith”.

Don’t take my word for it – this is a link to their page entitled Our Beliefs.  You tell me.  Secular? Progressive? Inclusive?  “Marriage is the social, cultural and religious context for the conjugal relationship, which is exclusive to male and female”?

I don’t know whether CLM officiants refuse to solemnise same sex marriages, but they are required “to be in agreement  with our faith and value statements“, which, among other horrors, define marriage as an “inherently procreative relationship that exists only between a man and a woman”.  I have no idea how these guys spend their money, but I’m betting none of it goes to Pride, or Planned Parenthood!

So, long story short, it’s buyer beware.

If you don’t want your non-religious wedding to support hyper-religious organisations, do your homework.

Your officiant may be a perfectly lovely human being, but they are not the whole story.  Reading the ingredients on the can means finding out about their licencing body.  Who are they, what do they support, and can you support them?

Thanks for reading this long, rambly post!  I hope it has given you something to think about.

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