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Jared Kushner isn’t an ‘internet Unitarian,’ but he is ordained

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 24, 2017, to meet behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — When excerpts from Michael Wolff’s tell-all book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” were unveiled this week, a few sharp-eyed students of religion noticed a peculiar snippet about Jared Kushner.

In a quote attributed to the president’s Orthodox Jewish son-in-law and senior adviser, Kushner claims to have been ordained “an internet Unitarian.”

More specifically in the passage — revealed Wednesday (Jan. 3) in New York Magazine — Kushner says he can perform a marriage for MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski thanks to this ordination.

“I can marry you! I’m an internet Unitarian minister,” Kushner is quoted as saying.

As it turns out, Kushner is, in fact, ordained — but not by “internet Unitarians.”

“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff. Image courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

That appears to be a bungled reference — whether by Kushner or whoever gave the quote to Wolff — to the Universal Life Church, which has a robust online presence.

A spokesperson for the ULC confirmed to Religion News Service on Thursday that Kushner is, in fact, ordained by ULC.org.

“He’s not the only person to forget the name — a lot of people forget,” said George Freeman, presiding chaplain of the ULC.

The confusion seems to revolve around the term “Unitarian,” a word often used to describe members of the Unitarian Universalist Association and which sounds somewhat like the group that actually ordained Kushner.

But the UUA is not an internet-based tradition: Birthed from the fusion of different Christian groups in 1961, the denomination now preaches a much broader message of religious inclusion to around 200,000 members who worship at more than 1,000 congregations.

And while the UUA and the ULC do share a similar desire to incorporate various religious traditions, the similarities stop there. The ULC is not connected to the UUA, does not have worshipping congregations in the traditional sense and frequently ordains people across the country in a swift process that is conducted primarily online.

That compares to the ordination process of the “UUs” — as they sometimes call themselves — which is rigorous, takes years and isn’t exactly something you complete over the internet.

“A Unitarian Universalist minister must be ordained by a Unitarian Universalist congregation and then must be certified by the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee,” said Marchaé Grair, a UUA spokesperson who also noted that Kushner is not a UUA minister.

“UU ministers typically have a Master of Theology degree from an accredited seminary or theological school.”

Kushner is hardly the first high-profile individual ordained by the ULC. According to the Universal Life Church Monastery, others include Joan Rivers, Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert.

Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Trump, during a helicopter ride over Baghdad on April 3, 2017. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

Xavier Wilkens, a representative of the ULC, said the ULC makes it easy for anyone to join as an ordained individual and that “a majority” of people who visit the site are seeking to officiate a wedding ceremony.

“There is a key component of  ‘study’ that is the cornerstone of UUA ordination, and we take the opposite approach,” Wilkens said. “We don’t put any barriers in the way. We definitely encourage our ministers to engage in study to further the ministry, but it’s not a litmus test that we put in the way for joining the organization.”

Freeman noted that this policy is rooted in the ULC’s loose theology.

“We don’t hold any one religious belief in terms of deities,” he said. “Whatever deity you have, you get to keep.”

Freeman added he was personally opposed to at least one of the Trump administration’s actions: namely, the recent decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a region where Kushner has played a major role for the White House.

But when asked if he had any message for Kushner as the head of the ULC, Freeman kept his comments brief.

“Do no harm. And do the right thing. Tell the truth,” he said.

Calls requesting comment from the White House and TheSHUL — the Washington synagogue Kushner attends with his wife, Ivanka, the president’s daughter — were not immediately returned.

Kushner’s ordination remains a sideshow over the release of Wolff’s book.

Most of the initial news coverage revolved around the emerging war of words between the president and his former adviser, Steve Bannon.

A legal representative for President Trump has since sent a “cease and desist” letter to Wolff and his publisher, claiming lawyers were “investigating numerous false and/or baseless statements” within the book’s pages. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has called the book a “complete fantasy.”

About the author

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins is a national reporter for RNS based in Washington, covering U.S. Catholics and the intersection of religion and politics.

198 Comments

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  • Interesting fact about the Unitarians. You can get a pamphlet asking the question “Can I be a Unitarian and a Buddhist?” They’ll tell you yes.
    Interesting thing about the Orthodox Jews. If you claim you can also be a Unitarian, they will tell you in no uncertain terms that you cannot. Unfortunately, they don’t believe in damning people to a hell they don’t believe in, so you don’t have to care.
    religion can be fun.

  • According to Paul Farhi, “Michael Wolff tells a juicy tale in his new Trump book. But should we believe it?”, Washington Post, January 3, 2018:

    “The second-guessing of Wolff’s work [‘Fire and Fury’] has already begun. Wolff, for example, writes that Thomas Barrack Jr., a billionaire friend of Trump’s, told a friend that Trump is ‘not only crazy, he’s stupid.’ Barrack on Wednesday denied to a New York Times reporter that he ever said such a thing. Katie Walsh, a former White House adviser, has also disputed a comment attributed to her by Wolff, that dealing with Trump was ‘like trying to figure out what a child wants.’ … Wolff, 64, has said his book was based on 200 interviews with White House and campaign staffers, including Bannon … [but] his reliability has been challenged before — over quotes, descriptions and general accounts he’s provided in his many newspaper and magazine columns and in several books. Wolff has even acknowledged that he can be unreliable: As he recounted in ‘Burn Rate’ — his best-selling book about his time as an early Internet entrepreneur — Wolff kept his bankers at bay by fabricating a story about his father-in-law having open-heart surgery. … Wolff followed up ‘Burn Rate’ by taking over the media column at New York magazine, where he almost immediately ran into trouble. Judith Regan, then a hotshot book editor who had been a classmate of Wolff’s at Vassar, vigorously disputed almost every paragraph of Wolff’s column about her. She said she hadn’t had a personal conversation with Wolff in 30 years. … New Republic columnist Andrew Sullivan accused Wolff of putting words in his mouth when Wolff wrote in 2001 that Sullivan ‘believes that he is the most significant gay public intellectual in America today.’ Sullivan said he never made any such claim. In a 2004 cover story for the New Republic, Michelle Cottle wrote … ‘Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created — springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events. Even Wolff acknowledges that conventional reporting isn’t his bag.’ An editor who worked with Wolff told Cottle, ‘He is adroit at making the reader think that he has spent hours and days with his subject, when in fact he may have spent no time at all.'”

  • The Unitarian Universalist Association has an inclusive theology, something RNS should cover with more detail and frequency.

  • A good sign that they are not Christian, I would say. Christ taught that homosexuality is a sin.

  • Seeing the power and strength of Jesus is fun, Ben. Seeing His work and the truth of His scripture come to light and proven, is exhilarating. You don’t need to delve into heresy to have a good time.

  • No…..a lot of churches claiming to be Christian “accept” homosexuality without helping the person to know the truth and have a right relationship with Jesus so they can be blessed and spend an eternity with Him.
    Christ taught that homosexuality is a sin.

  • Nope. Not once in the Gospels is there any reference to Jesus having anything at all to say about homosexuality. .

  • Why do you want to confine Christ to the gospels, Becky? Christ is the Word of God. He breathed the gospels into reality. He spoke Leviticus and the rest to Moses, etc.
    Your confining Christ to the gospels only hinders your beliefs and you miss out on much valuable information and instruction.

    Matthew 15:19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.20 These are what defile you.

    Christ spoke about homosexuality in that very quote. Blessings.

  • A lot of people claiming to be christian don’t follow the gospel. Take a look in the mirror first sandi before looking at others. Even then. Shut up.

  • You are articulating a heresy defined in the first centuries of the Church.
    Jesus was a real person who lived in a specific time and place. He didn’t write anything.
    Homosexuality isn’t mentioned in Mtt 15:19

  • I’m sure someone counted, if I did at all, and some counted when they didn’t, or refused to understand the truth. Ask them for the count.

  • defined in the first centuries of the church, carried into the New Testament.
    Homosexuality is a component of what He taught against in Matthew 15:19.

  • Glad to hear my comments resonate with you, Mark. That would be an example of
    Christ working on you to help you.

  • Learn your Bible

    Leviticus 18:22 – 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.

    Leviticus 20:13 – If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

    There you go. Now read Leviticus 18:1-5 to see who said it, and learn something Mark. Blessings

  • If you claim you can also be a Unitarian, they will tell you in no uncertain terms that you cannot.

    It’s true that Orthodox Judaism will not allow someone to be both a member of the UUA and a member of Orthodox Judaism, but one can definitely be a unitarian (a believer in the absolute oneness of the Divine) and be an Orthodox Jew.

  • Too late sandi. That happened a long long time ago. All of you that resonates with me is a counter example to how christians should behave.

  • Sorry. No. I have not left the faith.
    I don’t have the faith of “sandi” but I never claimed to be a sandi-ition. Nor do I claim, as you do, to be a biblitian.

  • You are changing your tune.
    Scripture says a lot of things, in a lot of contexts, to different people. All of which is significant in understanding what scripture is saying.

  • Christians don’t judge either sandi. And before you start quoting the bible ask yourself if you and the people you judge meet the criteria of those people that paul was giving instructions to. Are you in a position of leadership? Do you know any of these people and their circumstances? Are you part of their community? Did Paul authorize anybody from Corinth to admonish somebody from Thessalonica? No. So start acting like Jesus and stop acting like the pharisees.

  • Not cherry picking whatsoever – just an example of how Christ taught the same thing in the OT and in the NT.

  • “Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?”

    What makes you so sure that you are wise enough to be judge?

  • Because I have Christ living in me and daily, I learn more of His word. I suggest you do the same. If you would listen to me, I wouldn’t need to embarrass you like this:
    1 Corinthians 6:2 – English Standard Version

    Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?

  • I haven’t seen much evidence of it in all our our conversations with different nicks each month that you’ve used.

  • Ben, you’re obviously a man of deep faith and this is the assumption you’re coming from. But faith in the unseen and non-corporeal is a personal thing. You cannot win a disagreement based on quoting scripture because your opponent must believe in its authority. In this case, they (and I) do not. Your quoting sounds like rantings because you are quoting from a personal belief, not a universal truth (although you believe it is). Belief does not make something real. The threat of going to hell for eternity was written for a simplistic audience and is largely irrelevant in today’s world. Without the threat, I doubt there would be many religious people?

  • one verse doesn’t constitute a teaching.
    The verse you referred to addresses some FUTURE event.

  • nor have I seen any evidence of your claim to being a christian despite the nicks that you’ve used.

  • If you had Christ living in you, you’d act like Christ. That would mean, acting like Jesus instructed us to act.
    Notice the word WILL. A future event. Used to illustrate what was going on in the PRESENT. Specifically, settling disputes within ONE specific community by someone with wisdom. That section does not authorize you to assume that you have wisdom nor permission to judge people that you do not know. Wisdom consists of more than memorizing bible verses. Otherwise, he would have written, “is there no one among you who has memorized scripture verses?”

    Instead of focusing on parts of scripture that are not relevant, maybe pay attention to 1 Thess 4:10-11

  • Actually He didn’t. I know specifically and you apparently don’t. Someday you will figure it out though.Just gotta read the OT a little farther there.

  • I trust the Unitarians 1000 times more than those sellout churches that ditch their own Bibles. #MessedUpChurches

  • Sand, you need to come to terms with your self-hatred and stop blaming Jesus for it. There Is nothing In your urges that Jesus would not accept. Your obsession with your sexuality is unhealthy.

  • Our second president, John Adams, was a unitarian because they have the option of not believing in the deity of Jesus (and neither do the Jews). Our deist founders believed in ‘nature’s god’ NOT a supernatural god and the trinity was an invention of the fourth century.

    Trump has an all christian advisory panel that pushes him to make christianity our established religion by chipping away at the wall of separation. My sense is that Kushner and Ivanka serve as a buffer to keep that from going into unconstitutional areas, because they are non christian.

  • the adams family were diplomats of the Hollanders and romanticism was deviant from the churchesssss authority

  • Sorry, Jesus doesn’t condone sinning……I know that is a shock to some, so I hope it can get through to you without undue difficulties…

  • 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.

    2 Timothy 4 – English Standard Version

    1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

  • They seem to endorse second marriages in cases where the divorce from the first spouse wasn’t for adultery.

  • Okay, you can’t help being an arse. whose gaze is fixed in the coming and going at men’s rectums in a suspended state of lust and dread. That has disqualified you from serious discussion.

  • Maybe one needs to be a Christian before one can claim to be a christian. Maybe you should convert.

  • Given how she scours the internet for articles that could even remotely have an implication for homosexuality (maybe she has some sort of filter to alert her), one has to ask what she is sublimating.

  • No, he didn’t. Jesus never said a thing about homosexuality. Not on word. Whereas he preached against the Old Testament, many times.

  • You are living with another man in a state of intimacy and you’re criticizing other people for the same thing????

  • I suppose an unsaved person would say such. Tell me mark, why is God going to allow you in to Heaven?

  • Not to what you call Christianity. I have met Jesus the Christ and you are an insult to everything he taught.

  • I see you do not understand Christianity midnight.
    When one becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit/Christ/God dwells in the heart of the believer.

  • I suppose an ignorant person would take a verse out of the Bible that is irrelevant to what you are trying to “prove” as proof.

  • You don’t know Who Jesus is, do you? Where did He teach against the Old Testament Bonnie? Christ is responsible for the Old Testament.
    The “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality” is from homosexual activists who want homosexuals to die – don’t help them.

  • But he didn’t. Jesus actually was a rebel who challenged the Old Testament and who, for instance, rejected the stoning of disobedient or wayword women. You know, the scene where he stopped a group of townspeople from stoning a woman and said then “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Not only is it disingenuous and opportunist to jump back and forth from the Old and New Testaments, it is at odds with history. Jesus had women disciples, he is

  • In case you missed it: Paul used the promise of a FUTURE event to to justify admonishing and correcting specific issues existing in a specific community by people who are aware of the situation and know the parties involved.

    You are using the promise of a future event to judge anyone whom you please. What you are doing is not based on scripture.

  • 2 Timothy 4 – English Standard Version

    1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

    Again, tell me mark, why is God going to all you into the Kingdom of Heaven?

  • Bonnie, where was the man committing adultery with her? He knew this was a set up intended to get Him from the get go, then, He turned around and died for these people if they turned to Him, renounced their sin, and followed Him.
    Jesus had no women disciples.

  • both are about a man asking jesus, personally how to earn life eternal and jesus reminded the man in simple terms to follow the fricken rules.

  • Until you can demonstrate qualifications to match those of Timothy, perhaps you could attend to words actually attributed to Jesus. Luke 5:37, Matthew 7:1. Or, do those, for some reason, not apply to you?

  • I understand Christianity. I don’t understand your take on it and neither would Jesus of Nazareth. Your obsession with sphincters would have horrified him into denying any relatuonship. Jesus was about Matthew 25. You are about proctology.

  • No problem with it, according to jEsus, If your first marriage ended in divorce for adultery. Otherwise, you are living in adultery.

  • not interested enough to even look the scripture up Mark. Now, if you cite it, I may respond, otherwise, please keep your heresy to yourself

  • matt 16:20 Then did he charge his disciples that they may say to no one that he is Jesus the Christ.

  • 18 And a certain ruler questioned him, saying, `Good teacher, what having done — shall I inherit life age-during?’
    19 And Jesus said to him, `Why me dost thou call good? no one [is] good, except One — God;
    20 the commands thou hast known: Thou mayest not commit adultery, Thou mayest do no murder, Thou mayest not steal, Thou mayest not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.’

  • Sorry. I looked back.
    The disciples were told that for a time because the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Christ and He wasn’t yet ready to reveal Himself to the world.
    He changed that after His resurrection.
    Matthew 28:

    The Great Commission

    16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

  • I looked it up. Who was it addressed to? Paul was addressing a particular person and giving him guidance in his ministry. Once you can show the qualifications of Timothy then maybe you can claim the same guidance.

  • Youn don’ t know what you think you know. lol
    Why is Christ going to allow you into Heaven?

  • Yes, Jesus did say that,
    Romans 7:23 – 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

  • Fine, you can’t give an answer. Once you have Timothy’s qualifications, come back with your judgment.

  • John 7:24 – English Standard Version
    Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
    Mark, tell me why Christ is going to allow you into Heaven.

  • You’ve taken your level of education down to that extreme Mark? Further proof that I am arguing with someone who knows nothing. This is just another example.

  • Are you Timothy? Is there any special reason why you refuse to acknowledge who that text was written to and for what purpose it was written?

  • So, given the fact that you are a 20th century female, I should not judge that you are not a male?
    Real bright.

  • Sandi, if you don’t know the answer to that, you haven’t been paying attention to the Gospel Message. One more piece of evidence that you are a phony.

  • Nope. I’m asking you…Why is God going to allow you into Heaven. You can hedge and run, but it’s just easier to answer.

  • What makes you think that the ultimate purpose of Jesus coming was simply to “get us into heaven?”

  • I did help you see for yourself, that per jesus, to earn eternal life, is to adhere to the rules of personal responsibility.
    There is more, but you are looking for someone with power!

  • Mary Magdalen was his disciple. So was Thecla, who went about with Paul on his missionary journeys.

  • I don’t think anyone can truly claim to be “fully observant,” as this would obviate the need for repentance, and it also would involve a complicated answer as to commandments that cannot currently be followed, like Temple service. In any event, both Jared and Ivanka identify as Orthodox and belong to Orthodox synagogues.
    It’s not a question of whether it should be assur [forbidden] to receive another religion’s ordination as clergy, even if that religion does not have any of its own tenets and in fact encourages you to keep your own. It’s that Jared and Ivanka keep getting excused by their fellow Orthodox for doing things, like driving to the inauguration on the Sabbath, that would get more liberal observant Jews heavily criticized.

  • I use the term “fully observant, to denote people committed to keeping the commandments to the fullest extent possible. Of course nobody is perfect, and occasionally inadvertantly falls short in fulfilling their obligations, however this in no way is a reflection on theri intrinsic personal commitment.

    I don’t know the Kushners personally, and can’t testify as to their personal level of observance or possible lack thereof. It’s also not in my place to judge other people, especially in a public forum as this.

    We also don’t know about the guidance (or misguidance) of any so-called rabbinical figures that they are in contact with who might be telling them how to conduct their religious lives. In that case, the Kushners could hardly be blamed for their conduct.

    You point to the fact they identify as Orthodox and belong to Orthodox synagogues as “proof” of their being observant. Not referring to the Kushners in any way, rather as an observation of the contemporay Jewish Orthodox scene, I note that I know of cases of people who are officially Orthodox, and belong to an Orthodox synagogue, who are married to non-Jews, or whose wives don’t attend the mikvah when necessary, or who drive to synagogue on the Sabbath, all of which are hardly the hallmarks of an observant Jew.

  • First I want you to understand I am not criticizing the Kushner/Trump family. I am criticizing the Orthodox world from which they come, a world that has deemed me and my family lesser Jews due to our non-Orthodox affiliation. I am not asserting Jared and Ivanka’s Orthodox identity as proof of their observance level, merely as proof of their identity.
    I too know of Orthodox synagogues who close their parking lots on the Sabbath, only to have the street parking near the building curiously crowded. All the while the members of those synagogues will criticize the Reform and Conservative synagogues down the street for having instrumental music on the Sabbath, female clergy, etc. And it has been widely reported that Jared and/or Ivanka received heterim [rabbinic special dispensation] to ride in cars for the Sabbath-falling inauguration, and to fly to Saudi Arabia during the Sabbath with the President.

  • Thank you for explaining your frustration. I see that it’s not about the Kushners pe se, rather about your peception of the Orthodox Jewish community.

    Let me preface, that in my book, anyone who was born Jewish is 100% Jewish, even if he is non-Orthodox. He is not a lesser Jew. He is a full Jew, though he is less observant. Othodox synagogues are open to all, and everyone is welcome to enter and worship.

    I understand your frustration at the lack of acceptance of your chosen lifestyle, by your Orthodox neighbors. However to an observant Jew, Judaism is not merely a cultural affiliation. Keeping the Torah’s laws are the key essence of the practice of Judaism.

    Can you then blame them for their lack of acceptance of your brand of Judaism? By your philosophy and lifestyle, you in effect have declared THEIR lifestyle to be extreme, outlandish, boorish, and backwards. Why would you expect to get their respect, when you have an irreverant attitude to their religious practices?

    I also wonder why is it so important to you that your brand of Judasim to be accepted by your Orthodox neighbos? Someone who is convinced of the truth of his chosen path, should not feel the need of validification from others.

  • You might have made several inaccurate assumptions. I am an observant Jew. The Torah is the essence of Judaism and it is not simply a cultural affiliation. I simply am not Orthodox. I do not see the Orthodox as extreme or boorish. I have many Orthodox family and friends, including clergy, and attend Orthodox synagogues from time to time.
    I don’t need Orthodoxy to accept those to the left of them. It would be nice if my wife didn’t get glared at for being a visibly non-Orthodox observant Jew. It would be nice if the Israeli government didn’t send the police to break up non-Orthodox Kotel [Western Wall] services. It would be nice if they didn’t renege on visas already granted to our converts. But for the purposes of this article, pointing out the hypocrisy is enough.

  • My apologies for any inaccurate assumptions that I may have made.
    I suspect that we may disagree on the definition of “observant” and “non-observant”, however let’s focus on what we do agree upon, which is that “The Torah is the essence of Judaism and it is not simply a cultural affiliation.”
    All the best,
    IsraelReader

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