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At the time of Jesus, cremation was widely practiced by the Romans, but rarely by Jews and Christians because of their belief that the bodies of believers would one day be physically resurrected. Photo by MaryW, courtesy of Pixabay.

Photo by MaryW, courtesy of Pixabay.

At the time of Jesus, cremation was widely practiced by the Romans, but rarely by Jews and Christians because of their belief that the bodies of believers would one day be physically resurrected.

What are the church’s views on cremation, organ donation?

The Bible does not speak about the issue of cremation vs. burial, but usually assumes that bodies will be buried. If a body was burned, it was usually either a sign of disrespect for the person or a punishment for sin (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Joshua 7:25), though sometimes cremation may have occurred after a plague or large massacre (Amos 6:9-10).

At the time of Jesus, cremation was widely practiced by the Romans, occasionally by the Greeks, but rarely by Jews and Christians (because of their belief that the bodies of believers would one day be physically resurrected). With the spread of Christianity, cremation disappeared almost entirely as a practice in the West, until about 200 years ago (an exception seems to be during times of plague and war, when large numbers of bodies needed to be taken care of quickly).

The main issue regarding cremation is the belief that at some future date, the believer's soul will be reunited with his or her body. Therefore, those opposing cremation argue that the body must not be destroyed. On the other hand, more and more people are coming to agree with the view that, since cremation only does rapidly what nature will do much more slowly, cremation is acceptable.

While United Methodists take no direct stand against cremation, we do take a very proactive stand to encourage organ donation. Our Social Principles state:

"Organ transplantation and organ donation are acts of charity, agape love, and self-sacrifice. We recognize the life-giving benefits of organ and other tissue donation and encourage all people of faith to become organ and tissue donors as part of their love and ministry to others in need" (¶ 162 (W)).

As a way to embody this stand in our corporate worship life, General Conference 2000 urged all United Methodist congregations to celebrate "Organ Donation Sunday" on the second Sunday prior to Thanksgiving week, which is recognized in interfaith circles in the U.S. as "National Donor Sabbath." (See Book of Resolutions 2012, pp. 430-440).

How is cremation and organ donation consistent with resurrection of the body?

Have questions? Ask the UMC. Check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published Oct. 20, 2016.