The tattoo debate in Christian circles has raged on and on, round and round in circles for many years. My intention with this post is not to further this debate or discuss tattoos on a theological level. I think the arguments on both sides of the spectrum are clear and that extremists in both camps try to “use” scripture to support their opinion. What bothers me about the argument is that it tends – as all such debates seem to do – to degenerate into disunity. Whatever your opinion – learned or not – on the matter, our differences should never divide us. To tattoo or not tattoo is, in my opinion, not a salvation issue. We can, therefore, agree to disagree.
The following pages seem to be a good snapshot of the opposing arguments. Grace should supercede in these faith issues over which there is disagreement.
I also think it’s important to note that traditionally, tattoos have been associated with rebellion and loose living, a stereotype which isn’t necessarily true today but still clouds people’s opinions. I have a feeling that many Christians who are in opposition to tattoos feel so because of this stereotype and not necessarily a deep spiritual conviction. This might be a contentious point but maybe our paradigms need to be challenged.
Having contextualised the above, I feel it necessary too, to explain my cautious love of tattoos. I say cautious because I do not love or even like all tattoos. As with any art form, there are examples of meaningful, well executed works that evoke emotion and express beauty and then there are those that are just plain ugly or inappropriate. I prefer subtle, clever & minimal tattoos that hold deep meaning for the wearer and communicate something of real importance.
Spur of the moment tattoos are a bad idea. A great tattoo, in my opinion, is born out of much thought and consideration. Furthermore, one’s motives in taking such a big step are certainly important. I believe we are called to give God glory in all we do and that inking oneself should not be merely vanity but that the ink should speak deeply of who we are. Maybe what I’m saying is this: If you need a tattoo to speak of who you are and that isn’t obvious without the tattoo then the piece is meaningless.
It’s easier to explain by way of example. Two tattoos I really like are those of my friends, Ettienne and Brian. I asked them to contribute to this post because I truly believe that they epitomise what I am trying to say.
Ettienne has a beautiful piece (the best tattoo I have ever seen, thanks to Tattoo Tony) on his inner forearm that simply says “Jesus”. This is a blatant declaration of faith and, I’m sure, a reminder of the commitment Ett has made to follow Christ.
Ettienne says about this piece:
“From the start, I knew that I wanted Christ’s name tattooed on me; that was a no-brainer. Jesus has done the most amazing, most incredible things in my life, and I love Him for that. This tattoo isn’t for anyone else, it’s for me, and it’s for Jesus.”
The great thing about Ettienne’s tattoo is that he lives what his arm communicates. I remember speaking to him about Jesus one night and our deep reverence and love for that name. That fact is true for Ett, with or without his tattoo. He isn’t defined by the work on his arm. It is merely an extension of his walk with Jesus.
His tat has also given him awesome opportunities to share Jesus and speak truth into the lives of many teenagers and young adults as well as the skateboarding sub-culture and while I am not purporting that these are reasons to get a tattoo, Ettienne has used the opportunities that have arisen through his tattoos to share his faith.
Brian, a youth pastor at Waterkloof Baptist Church (great community by the way) in Pretoria, South Africa has the words Soli Deo Gloria inked on his inner forearm with a 5 pointed red star as part of the design.
“The star is 5 pointed representing Sola 5 (the five key points of the reformation) which are Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Christus (in Jesus Christ alone), Sola Gratia (by God’s grace alone), Sola Scriptura (as revealed in the scriptures alone), and all this is Soli Deo Gloria (for God’s glory alone).
The star is a red star because that’s often equated with revolutionaries, and Christ was pretty revolutionary”
I love that! The thought behind it, what it communicates. The fact that it is a real reflection of who Brian is and how he strives to live his life. What an incredible testimony to the truth of Jesus.
So. I love tattoos. What I don’t like are meaningless “art”, excessive ink and badly designed and executed work.
I don’t have a tattoo myself but do have one waiting in the wings for when I have enough expendable income to make it happen. Here’s the design:
The four letters represent my wife, Yolanda and my 3 daughters, Mikaela, Gemma and Emily. My first calling on here on earth is to be a Godly father. I love these 4 “girls” so much and this tattoo will be, for me, like a seal on the promise that is already in my heart. I’d like to say that the stars mean something but they don’t. I just like stars. I think they look pretty kool.
Having shared all of the above, I am aware that the tattoo debate will probably continue ad infinitum. Maybe this would even be a great forum for discussion and debate on this issue.