Jehovah's Witnesses target grief and see the recently bereaved as "ripe fruit" for conversion, a former elder of the faith says.
Vince and Michele Tylor spoke out after reading the story of Wellington woman Jean Sergent-Shadbolt, who received a handwritten letter from a Jehovah's Witness three months to the day after her step-cousin, friend and flatmate died.
A current senior elder of the faith says it has no policy to target grieving, and those who do so are acting on their own initiative. However, he concedes such people may feel guided by Jehovah's Witness literature.
But Vince Tylor said he knew of members who would trawl though obituaries to find grieving people, or visit cemeteries.
"Not only do we see Watchtower printed material suggesting and supporting writing letters from obituaries such as what Jean received, but we even have reports and articles of encouragement for JWs to go to cemeteries to look for people as well."
Jehovah Witness literature talks of the value of "witnessing" at cemeteries, such as the woman in Chile who wasconverted at her 12-year-old son's grave, through to the multiple sclerosis-suffering Witness who goes through obituaries to find relatives to write to.
As far back as 1938, a Jehovah's Witness car equipped with sound equipment travelled between cemeteries in Brazil, a 2016 edition of Watchtower said.
"On All Souls' Day, the sound car went from cemetery to cemetery playing the records Where Are the Dead?,Jehovah, and Riches, reaching over 40,000 mourners."
Jehovah's Witness senior elder Jason Piscopo, from Sydney, said the faith did not dictate to its members how they spread the word. While door-to-door was its trademark, there were other accepted ways too.
Literature that discussed people going through obituaries or visiting cemeteries did not amount to a directive, but was instead "there to show what others had done".
It would be "inaccurate" to claim the faith targeted any one group within society, he said.
Tylor, who lives in Hawaii, said he left the faith via an official letter a decade ago after becoming aware of what he called its flip-flopping on life-saving measures such as vaccination and organ donation.
His wife whom he met through the faith, was initially reluctant to leave, but eventually did. Two of their three children also left, but their eldest stayed, and effectively disowned his parents.
When Michele Tylor saw her 10-year-old grandson out preaching recently, "he didn't even know me", she said.
The Jehovah's Witness website says "disfellowshipped" former members are not to be ostracised by still-believing family members.
GRIEF TARGETING: THE ULTIMATE COLD CALL
Massey University history professor Peter Lineham, who specialises in New Zealand religion, said "grief targeting" was the ultimate cold-call.
He compared preying on emotionally vulnerable people and identifying mourners from death notices as similar to thieves stealing from houses they knew were unoccupied because the residents were at a wedding or a funeral.
The faith typically had weaker control over its members than other religions, and pushed members to take the initiative in soliciting conversions.
"Jehovah's Witnesses quite manifestly encourage members to seek every opportunity they can. There are very few guidelines around what they can and can't do."
There was no authority in New Zealand that could deal with complaints around grief targeting.
The Advertising Standards Authority could possibly tackle complaints, but they would be hard to stack up, he said. Even though an argument could made that business was being solicited, the only transaction was in the "currency of faith".