What are the United Methodist Church’s views on cremation, organ donation?
The Bible does not speak about 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.
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 conclude that since cremation only does rapidly what nature will do also more slowly, cremation is acceptable.
References to “urn” and “interment of ashes” in our Services of Death and Resurrection indicate the practice of cremation is considered an acceptable means of honoring the deceased.
United Methodists encourage organ donation. Our Social Principles explain:
“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).
The church urges all United Methodist congregations to celebrate “Organ Donation Sunday,” preferably on the second Sunday in November, as “a time to come together around the issues of life and Thanksgiving.” This date is recognized in interfaith circles in the U.S. as “National Donor Sabbath.”