Universal Life Church

Empowering millions globally with ordination and a staunch advocate for religious freedom.

The Universal Life Church (ULC) stands as a remarkable example of the digital age’s impact on religious practice and the democratization of spiritual authority. Founded in 1962 by Kirby J. Hensley, the ULC has grown from a modest congregation into a global entity that champions the right to freedom of religion and spiritual expression. Its cornerstone belief is that anyone should have the ability to become ordained and practice their religious and spiritual beliefs freely.

History and Growth

The inception of the ULC under Hensley’s vision was driven by the principle of universal acceptance and the right of individuals to determine and practice their own beliefs. This foundation has allowed the ULC to thrive and expand its reach worldwide, ordaining over 20 million ministers across the globe. The church underwent a significant split following Hensley’s death in 1999, leading to the creation of the ULC Monastery (ULCM), which operates independently from the original Modesto-based organization.

Beliefs and Practices

The ULC’s core doctrine is encapsulated by the belief in the freedom of religious expression and the right to interpret what is “right,” eschewing a centralized creed or scripture. This inclusive approach welcomes members from all religious backgrounds, advocating a universal togetherness. The ULC’s organizational structure is notably loose, offering complete autonomy to its ordained ministers to perform religious ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, without mandating group worship. Despite its openness, the ULC maintains a stance against religions that infringe on religious freedom.

Legal Status and Recognition

The ULC’s legitimacy, particularly concerning its ordination process, has been a subject of legal scrutiny, especially regarding the ability of its ministers to legally officiate weddings. While its ministers are recognized in most U.S. states and some international jurisdictions, the church has faced challenges over its tax-exempt status and the validity of marriages performed by its ministers. Notably, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has contested the ULC’s tax-exempt status, leading to legal battles that have seen the church paying back taxes and seeking validation of its operations as a legitimate religious organization.

Criticisms and Challenges

The ease of ordination through the ULC has attracted criticism, with some viewing it as undermining traditional religious institutions and processes. The church has taken steps to maintain the integrity of its ordination process, cautioning against fraudulent applications. Despite these controversies, the ULC continues to play a significant role in advocating for religious freedom and providing a platform for individuals to explore and express their spirituality.

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