“Hail Bacon, full of grease, the Lard is with thee.”
So go the opening lines to the United Church of Bacon’s “Hail Piggy: A Prayer for Bacon.”
Despite all the puns (most UCB clergy are “friars”), the secular church has a serious mission: to fight religious discrimination against nonbelievers, to preserve church-state separation in the public sector and to demand equal rights for everyone, regardless of faith.
Prophet John Whiteside talked about why he founded the UCB, why the church’s friars are officiating at weddings and, of course, the obvious: Why bacon? Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What motivated you to start the United Church of Bacon?
A: The church was started at Penn Jillette's house in 2010 by the 12 apostates, all friends of Penn. The first active membership drive was in 2012 at The Amaz!ng Meeting, a science and skepticism conference. The motivation was to get people to donate to secular charities. We go to conventions and team up with secular charities, giving out free T-shirts to people who donate a minimum of $5. We teamed up with the Secular Coalition for America at the American Atheists National Convention in April and raised over $23,600. At TAM 2014, we raised more than $25,000 for the Secular Student Alliance and the James Randi Educational Foundation.
Q: How did you and Penn Jillette, the comedian/illusionist/atheist of Penn & Teller fame, team up?
A: Penn is a personal friend and our approved and sanctioned Sunday school teacher. He’s also known for throwing the Bacon and Doughnut Party at The Amaz!ng Meeting. Other preachers include singer/actress Heather Henderson and comedian Emery Emery who together host and produce the “Ardent Atheist” and “Skeptically Yours” podcasts. We recently named former Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell, who was fired for living a year as an atheist, "Prophet of Defrocked Pastors," so he is once again clergy.
Q: So why … bacon?
A: Because bacon is real and can be proven to exist in a court of law. We are a church of skeptics. If you can prove it, we will believe it.
Q: Have you had any complaints that the church is somehow offensive to Muslims and Jews? Or noninclusive of vegetarians?
A: Veggie bacon counts too. Our mission states, “First and foremost, Praise Bacon! (Even if you don’t like bacon -- gasp -- all you have to do is enjoy the scent.)”
Q: What are some of the tenets of Baconism?
A: Bacon is our god, bacon is not jealous, you may have other gods or no gods before bacon. It would be nice if, as some other religions teach, you would love your neighbor and be a generally nice, moral person. Baconists love those of all races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders and beliefs, and they in turn love the divine smell. The smell of bacon is bestowed equally on all people (except those who have no sense of smell, for whom baconists feel much pity).
Q: How many members do you have and what does membership involve?
A: We count about 3,500 humans and 300 pets as members. We will baptize any family member in the name of Bacon as long as they love the smell of bacon, be it real or vegetarian. We ran ads in the religious section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for six months to attract members and placed two billboards in the city. Occasionally I appear on "Penn's Sunday School" to answer callers’ questions.
Q: You’ve said that nonreligious wedding officiants are discriminated against in Nevada, where you’re based. How so, and how are you trying to change this?
A: Nevada law has long prevented people who are not affiliated with religious organizations from performing weddings. There was a lawsuit that was recently settled, but the results were unsatisfactory to secular groups. Now you can avoid the religious requirement and become a notary public to perform weddings, but you have to pay a fee and take a test every year. To get around this, we started doing weddings as a religious organization for free.
Q: How many wedding ceremonies have been performed?
A: In Las Vegas, we currently have four clergy who have performed or scheduled at least 12 weddings so far. They range from simple ceremonies to ones with many guests. Worldwide, we have 600 registered clergy.