The Watch Tower SocietyJehovah’s Witnesses are a sect of Christianity that believe they practice the form of Christianity that is closest to what Jesus himself taught. They share many beliefs with the rest of the Christian denominations. Some key similarities are the belief in a one true God, that the Bible is the transcribed word of the Lord, that Jesus was the one and only son of God who died for their salvation, and that Paradise awaits in the Kingdom of God after the resurrection. They are in some ways a progressive sect of Christianity as they accept the theory of evolution, the big bang theory, and most medical care. Unlike most Christian denominations, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use the symbol of the cross in any of their worship. They believe their purpose is to prepare for the end of days and spread the message from the Watch Tower Society to help provide others with a chance at salvation. Terminally IllWhen a terminally ill Witness is informed of their condition, it is considered normal and healthy for that person and their family to temporarily grieve. Dying among Witnesses appears to be a sacred and intimate affair like many other Christian denominations. The primary caregiver for a terminally ill individual is often an immediate family member. Advanced planning is important for aging Witnesses to ease the transition for their families upon their deaths (“When a Loved One Is Terminally Ill,” n.d.). Witnesses cite Proverbs 15:22 regarding the importance of planning for your death and dying process, The caretaker understands that their ultimate role is to provide comfort to the ill through scriptures, music, and prayer. A person’s caregivers will help them accept the reality of their fate and pass as comfortably as possible. Nurses or other hired help may be used to assist the family in activities like medication management and hygiene. Comfort is the ultimate goal (“Hospice Care – What Is The Goal?,” n.d.).Witnesses do allow medical care for the dying, to a certain degree. While they do accept hospitalization, surgery, and medication, they will not accept a blood transfusion (“Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Accept Medical Treatment?,” n.d.). Witnesses take this belief from the bible, referencing scriptures such as Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:14 Because of these scriptures the view blood as sacred and the consumption of blood from any being in any form to be sinful. Blood transfusions are expressly forbidden, but there is no explicit rule forbidding organ donation or transplantation, if all blood has been removed first (“Jehovah’s Witness Funeral Customs,” n.d.). Virtually all medical care outside of blood transfusions is acceptable within the Watch Tower Society. There are no restrictions on if a Witness needs to die at home or in a hospital, it all depends on the type of care the individual wants or needs (“Hospice Care – What Is The Goal?, n.d.). Part of their belief system is that life is sacred and should be prolonged if possible, except for blood transfusions. They do note that it is becoming increasingly common for people to die within the cold, sterile walls of a hospital and few people today have watched the act of dying. Euthanasia is not permitted for Jehovah’s Witnesses (“What Does The Bible Say About Euthanasia?,” n.d.), even though the Bible never expressly forbids it. On their website they claim their reason for being against euthanasia, even to end immense suffering, come from lengthy scriptures in the Books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel where Saul pleads for death after being mortally wounded and is refused (1 Samuel 31:3, 4) and a person that later ended Saul’s misery was slaughtered by David for going against God’s beliefs on killing another person (2 Samuel 1:6-16). Their stance is that all life is sacred until the end and the suffering individual should be given comfort instead of mercy. Euthanasia for animals is allowed (“What Does The Bible Say About Euthanasia?,” n.d.), as Witnesses do not believe animals have souls like humans and will not live forever in Paradise. ShunningThose that have committed a serious sin decided by the elders or those that decide to leave the Watch Tower Society themselves are considered to be “disfellowshipped”. Thousands of Witnesses are disfellowshipped (Grundy, 2018.), or shunned, each year. Family members of the disfellowshipped individual are to maintain limited contact. A disfellowshipped person is limited to only having contact with their immediate family. They may be left out of the dying process for a loved one or might be completely unaware they were sick to begin with. Witnesses believe that they are tainting their spiritual integrity by continuing to interact with someone that has been disfellowshipped (“If a Relative is Disfellowshipped…,” 2015.). This may translate over to a terminally ill person rejecting a shunned parent or child. While Witnesses are allowed to attend the funerals of disfellowshipped loved ones and vice versa (“Mourning and Funerals – For Whom?,” n.d.), it is only loosely encouraged and may be done under the basis that the disfellowshipped person had been making an active attempt to “redeem” themselves in the eyes of the Watch Tower Society before their death. Being disfellowshipped and being demanded to shun a loved one by your community are events to mourn on their own outside of death. For some broken families, a person being disfellowshipped may as well be dead to them as they will never have contact with that person again. The shunned person knows that unless they make dramatic changes and beg to be reaccepted into the Watch Tower Society, they will have limited contact with their family forever. This involves a mourning process very similar to if the person or family had died. If the individual has not redeemed themselves within the eyes of the Watch Tower Society before their death, their family may be heavily pressured by their community to pass the funeral for the shunned individual entirely. They have ceased to exist. Upon Death Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that once a person takes their last breath, their conscious is gone from this world until the Resurrection (“How Do Jehovah’s Witnesses View Funerals?,” n.d.). Witnesses do not believe in a concept of hell and their comfort from death is the reassurance that if they are worthy in the eyes of God, they will be reborn. Otherwise, they cease to exist entirely (“The Beliefs and Practices of Jehovah’s Witness,” n.d.). In their culture, they avoid anything that could resemble a celebration of a person, pagan religion, or idol. They do not partake in wakes for the same reason they do not celebrate a person’s birthday. All celebrations are to be saved for the Resurrection, in which they believe Christ will return to Earth and rapture his believers up to Paradise. This holds regardless of the ethnic or cultural beliefs of a family, they are not allowed to partake in cultural practices that may be deemed as celebratory such as loud theatrical wailing, having a party, or alcoholic drink after the funeral. Their funerals are similar to other Christian denominations but are relatively short at only around 15-30 minutes long (“Jehovah’s Witness Funeral Customs,” n.d.). Decorative sympathy flowers adorning the casket through the service are also allowed. During the service, scriptures regarding having hope for the dead and explaining to the attendees what the bible says about death and rapture. A funeral may also bring to light good deeds or qualities of the deceased as encouraging lessons for the living from their example. Witnesses believe that funerals are not an opportunity to show off your status and flashy funerals are frowned upon while modest funerals are encouraged (“How Do Jehovah’s Witnesses View Funerals?,” n.d.). Individuals that do not belong to the Watch Tower Society or are “good” disfellowshipped people may attend a funeral for a Witness. These funerals can take place within a Kingdom Hall (their place of worship), a funeral parlor, the person’s home, crematory, or graveyard. Embalming and cremation are both acceptable forms of bodily disposal within their culture. As they believe that the dead will be physically resurrected at the end of days, it makes sense that they may want to preserve their corpses through embalming. Some denominations of Christianity claim that cremation dishonors the body, but Jehovah’s Witnesses (“What Does The Bible Say About Cremation?,” n.d.) use parts of the bible to justify the practice of cremation. They take lines such as (Genesis 3:19) and interpret cremation as simply speeding up the process. Disposal of the corpse comes down to the wishes of the deceased for the handling of their remains, local customs as long as they do not contradict Biblical instructions, respect the legal practices and authority in the area they are disposing of the corpse in, and consideration of the feelings of family and friends regarding burial or cremation. The BereavedGrief is viewed as acceptable by their society. There is no specified period for grieving after the passing of a family member (“How Do Jehovah’s Witnesses View Funerals?,” n.d.). They recognize that everyone mourns in their own way at their own pace. At the same time, mourning the anniversary of a loved one’s passing is frowned upon, as that is seen as a form of celebration. The way that they comfort the bereaved is very similar to how most Americans would comfort each other. They believe in cooking a meal for the family, offering to take care of the children for a while, asking if the family needs help with tasks around the home. The goal is to comfort the family and help ease their pain immediately after the loss by offering practical help (“Comforting Those Who Mourn,” n.d.) and scriptures.
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