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Hallo again to all.

Faint not! A blood donation.Last Monday, we did something considered heretical by one of the fastest-growing religious groups in the world.* It took about half an hour, involved filling out a form with a few dozen questions, and sitting still for a bit. Then there were biscuits, granola, jelly beans and juice. For Jehovah's Witnesses, this thirty or forty minutes spent in donating blood — something we try to do every eight weeks or so without fail — put us clearly outside the bounds of Christianity.

On scriptural, doctrinal, theological and medical grounds, Jehovah's Witnesses find convincing evidence for their belief that blood donation and transfusion is entirely against the will of God. For them, it is not an adiaphoron, a matter on which believers may disagree; it is an indicator of who is inside and who is outside the body of fellowship. On all of the same counts, we believe blood donation to be something that can express the best spirit of Christian self-giving and sacrifice when it is done in a safe medical facility. Evaluating all the same sources, we find no reason for religious opposition and many positive reasons for religious people who can donate to do so. Blood drives are not infrequent occurrences at parish churches in our experience, and they can be a thoughtful manifestation of a congregation's tangible care for the community in which it is planted. (We count ourselves fortunate to live in places with efficient and safe systems for blood collection, screening and distribution.)

National Blood ServiceWe are thankful, too, for a physical constitution that doesn't miss a pint here and there, and want to make it clear that we do not think of blood donation as a religious duty, regardless of medical disposition. The regular opportunity to donate, however, began as a kind of rite of passage in our rural high school at an annual blood drive, and has continued to be a concrete way of sharing personal renewable resources with others who might need them. On a few occasions it has even been possible to make a direct donation for a friend who was scheduled for an operation, or for a relative with the same blood type. A few hours' wooziness always disappears in short order, but the medical benefits to patients in need are lasting and undoubtedly in some cases life-saving.

Canadian Blood ServicesSurely Anglicans, who have no opposition to blood donation and transfusion on religious grounds, have reason to make the point that we believe this to be a medical procedure vouchsafed to us in providence as a safe and worthwhile thing. There is nothing particularly Anglican about blood donation, but as Jehovah's Witnesses continue to grow at an astonishing pace, and mainline churches maintain membership levels or even decline, it may be possible that some day Anglicans', Methodists', Moravians' and Lutherans' American Blood Centersability to donate and receive blood will be as distinct a matter in some religious landscapes as questions of polity, dietary restrictions or worship style are today. We are not aware of any Anglican synodical pronouncements to date on the permissibility of blood donation and transfusion, but it could be that their day will come.

Sociologists of religion note that Jehovah's Witnesses have grown at a faster rate throughout the world than Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), members of another The Australian Red Cross Blood Servicehighly-visible religion that began in the United States in the nineteenth century. If current membership trends continue, in relatively short order there will be more Jehovah's Witnesses than Anglicans in North America. Jehovah's Witnesses could well outstrip worldwide Anglicanism in numerical strength in the current century. In that event, how will we distinguish ourselves doctrinally, practically, publicly and in every phase of Christian life? Our exegetical, liturgical, sacramental, musical, artistic and homiletical traditions provide New Zealand Blood Serviceclear paths forward, to be sure. So does our commitment to historical, creedal definitions of the Christian faith with respect to the Trinity and the incarnation. Could it be that medical ethics-on-the-ground in instances like blood donation will be added to those Anglican distinctives?

Practically speaking, blood donation is one way in which we who are able to do so can incarnate a significant and effective way of loving our neighbours as Christ has loved us. So far from being a heresy or a marker of who is outside the body of Christians, it is a good and joyful thing.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 5 February 2006

* Jehovah's Witnesses (formally known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society or the International Bible Students Association) began in 1879 and now number 13 million adherents; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) started in 1830 and count 11 million members today.

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