Cremation rather than ground burial has rapidly increased in frequency over the past decade. Currently more than one third of deaths nationwide lead to cremation with a projection of more than half by 2025. A September survey of evangelical leaders showed that a majority are bucking the trend.
Although almost all indicated that there is no strong theological objection to cremation and that their denominations have no rules against it, 64 percent prefer whole body burial, 8 percent prefer cremation, 9 percent accept either, and 2 percent are undecided or don’t know.
Bob Wenz of Colorado Springs listed reasons for cremation: 1.) More financially responsible (because of lower cost); 2.) No theological basis to object to cremation; 3.) “From the perspective of science, there is really no significant difference between burning a body and the decomposition that takes place over time after burial.”
Favoring traditional whole body burial is Roy Taylor of the Presbyterian Church in America, based in Atlanta. “Biblically, we burn garbage and bury treasure. This is a simple way to explain the principle of why our Judeo-Christian values should line up with the Scriptures,” he said. “Jesus was buried and rose bodily as the firstfruits of those who will also follow him in the resurrection of the dead.”
“There is a preference for whole body burial that is rooted in tradition and symbolism,” said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals. “But almost all those who responded to the survey indicate this is their preference and not a mandate. My guess is that cremation will increase in popularity and frequency among evangelicals along with the rest of American’s population.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.