What are the Church's views on cremation and organ donation?

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.
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.

Cremation

The Bible does not speak about the issue of cremation vs. burial, but usually assumes that bodies will be buried. In the cultures that produced the Hebrew Bible, if a body was burned, it often would have been a sign of disrespect for the person or a punishment for sin (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Joshua 7:25).  However, it appears cremation may have occurred with no intent to dishonor the dead 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. This was because of the belief of both religions in a physical resurrection to come. With the spread of Christianity, cremation disappeared almost entirely as a practice in the West until about 200 years ago. Notable exceptions occurred during times of plague and war when large numbers of the deceased needed to be cared for quickly.

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Some of those opposing cremation argue the body must not be cremated because at some future date the believer's soul will be reunited with his or her body. Even some who do not hold the soul is separable from the body may express hesitancy to embrace cremation. Still others, whatever their belief about soul and body, conclude that since cremation only does rapidly what nature will do also more slowly, cremation is acceptable.

References in our Services of Death and Resurrection to "urn" and "interment of ashes" indicate the practice of cremation is an acceptable means of honoring the deceased.

Organ Donation

United Methodists encourage organ donation as a gift of love. The Social Principles explain:

"We believe that 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 a part of their love and ministry to others in need." (Organ Transplantation and Donation).

United Methodist congregations are encouraged 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."


This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.