Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To Ink or Not to Ink?

I'm struggling with a decision, and I need your help. For some time, I have wanted to get a tattoo of either the word "Hope" or "Created." These are meaningful words to me personally but are also scriptural allusions--1 Peter 3:15 and Colossians 1:16, respectively. I would like to get it on the underside of my wrist. 

My question is this: Would getting this tattoo limit my audience as I move forward with writing and speaking or are tattoos not really a significant point of concern for people anymore? I honestly didn't think this would be a huge deal to people. After all, the newest statistics show 36% of Americans between 18 and 29 now have a tattoo, and nearly one in four Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed. However, others have recently commented that it might marginalize me.

So, I am turning this over to you, my faithful readers. Do you think this would marginalize me with a significant number of people, and do you think I should get it?


Brian said...

In June, I got "agape" in Greek letters tattooed on the underside of my wrist (I think that's an up-and-coming location). I'm still working in "the corporate world" (albeit, television) and it's not a problem. The underside of the wrist is also easily covered with long shirts or a watch, which made my decision much easier to make. I thought about getting a meaningful tattoo there for years and thought about my particular design for a solid length of time, so I knew I was ready.

Imagine you've already got it there, what is your reaction? I found that talking about it out loud helped me gauge myself. And of course, you can always try it out with pen before taking the plunge.

Anonymous said...

I can not answer that definitively for you, but I can say - does the Lord want you to?

I know there are scriptures that suggest not to - but just becuase we do, doesn't impair our salvation. However - are you convinced one way or the other how the Lord is speaking to you.

I am certain that you would marginalize some of your audience - but, if that is the case is that the audience you want to have anyway?

Adam Lancaster said...

understand your predicament. i went through some what the same decisions. art is important to me, and so is christ. i ended up putting a celtic cross on my back. i love it, sometimes i forget its there until i see a mirror, with my shirt off.
i am also considering a new one, on my foot. its more visible, and it may offend some, but the message is whats important to me. it will be the great commandment in greek. that's what i try to walk daily, loving God and loving people. i think if you get out of the south and the SBC, its much less an issue and people respect others for their art and their message

Adam Shields said...

In my mind the people that you most want to reach out to are probably the ones most likely to be offended. But most of their kids probably have tattoos as well. So who knows.

john deere excavator said...

help me.

excavator sales said...

not bad.

PhotoPoet said...

Not a simple issue, but I wonder if some you are trying to reach might consider it giving in to the culture of the world, because of tatoos predominant association with non-Christian elements of society. If so, might that not potentially weaken your credibility, rather than help open doors?

Dean Inserra said...

You and Lancaster tatted up...where did I go wrong as a RA?

Susan C. said...

Here's my perspective coming from a person in their 40's. I think that most older Christians associate tats with gangs and don't like them. If it's on the inside of your arm and not huge, why not. Hope your future wife will have no problem with it. Just don't get one that you're going to regret when you're older. That's my two cents worth.

Tim J. said...

As someone considering something very similar ("already" and "not yet" , one on each wrist respectively) I'd be happy to give you my thoughts.
Significance of permanent marking
A Reminder of truth
Credibility with a younger generation.
bad image with older, more traditional people
Limits on your appearance in certain settings.
Honestly, as someone who hopes to be in full time ministry at some point in the future, I'm having a tough time. Right now, I'm putting off the decision until I have some extra money to use, then i'll make my final decision.
By the way, I'm pretty sure we have some mutual friends... (I hang with Donnie McD as part of the SEBTS IJM team)...
good luck on the decision.

lindasue said...

Having REALLY thought this one thru...over and over. I go with the NO answer. #1 Your body being the temple, #2 You NOT being a stumbling block to others and #3 I just cut out an article about Hepatitis B & C being contracted from getting tattoos. Sooooo, dear Jonathan, I am in the NO group but then again, I am a VERY conservative mom who would not like her daughter to have one either for the same reasons =}

Blessings as you pray this one thru and decide.

Anonymous said...

Finally, the crucial question of our day is addressed. (Sarcasm present).

erika klipa said...


I live in the south, and am "southern baptist", although the church I attend is quite different from the traditional churches in our area (we are going multi-site in January, near a college campus; we do home groups, etc.).

I am a 46 year old mom of five, and I am getting my first tattoos this weekend. I was originally planning on one tatt on the back of my neck with a vine that said "grow", but lately I am leaning toward three separate tatts, one on the back of my neck that says "do justice", one on the inside of my wrist that says "love mercy", and the other on my foot that says "walk humbly" (Micah 6:8).

I understand the dilemma of whether to tattoo or not, because I have certain friends that attend traditional churches in town that will have a collective stroke when they find out about this. However, many of the leadership in our church (including our former senior pastor) have quite large tattoos.

Bottom line is, I have been on an incredible journey with Jesus, and these tatts will be symbolic of that journey and of the trajectory of my life from this point on. Yes, I want to have these tatts until I am 80 and wrinkled up (if God grants me those years!). I hope the tatts are a constant reminder every day of how to live my life. Do I need tattoos to remind me? Probably not. Do I want them to remind me? Absolutely.

By the way, my husband approves, as do most of my kids, except, hah, my Marine son.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that there are more comments about this than probably any other "issue" related post that I've read here.

You really have to base your answer to this question based on what the Lord tells us through Scripture. HE is constant.

Scripture doesn't directly answer your question, Jonathan. Leviticus 19:28 says "...and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord..." However, in its context, this verse is discussing preparation for death in which many bodies (at that time in cultural history)were tattooed with pagan religious symbols.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 suggests "Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So, honor God with your body..."

This scripture doesn't ban tattoos, but it does question why someone would want a tattoo and which possibly to get.

The question to ask yourself is if your tattoo is edifying God.

As a Christian, decisions need to be made in the eyes of God. So, if you choose to get a tattoo, remember that, while man looks at the outside appearance, God looks at the heart.

Zack said...

Talk to Clay Rowe about it. Dude's got some sweet Jesus ink.

erika klipa said...

In context, 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 is speaking with regard to sexual sin. In verse 18, it is stated "Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body." (NLT)

I don't think getting a tattoo is considered a sexual sin.

Jacob said...

Jonathan, we met at Catalyst. I'm glad to read your blog and am enjoying it. I strongly encourage you to make your number one priority the truth. The truth about tattoos is that they are permanent, safe, and signify great passion.

If someone has a false perception about tattoos, that should not deter your involvement.

People have false perceptions about everything. If you live life trying not to upset those perceptions, it is not life at all.

That is not to say you should be abrasive in upsetting those perceptions. Rather, speak the truth in love.

Wear that tat because of the truth it presents, and do it in love for those who are wrong about it.

darin said...

I'm a 36 year old American Baptist Pastor with a tattoo and an ear-ring. Our cultures are perhaps a bit different, North/South and all... but here is what I think. some of the saints in my church don't like the ear-ring and the don't like the tattoo even though it is covered most of the time. But they hear me preach and they witness how I attempt to care for them. that is what really matters to them so they live with it. Younger folks and by younger I mean 50's on down, find both an ear-ring and a tat credible.

but here is the deal brother. Tattoos, ear-rings, other piercings, whatever. You be who God intended you to be. I didn't get a tat to gain credibility. I got it cause I wanted to have my faith inked. Be yourself. Some people will like it, some people won't. some like my ever-changing facial hair stylings, some don't. Some like what has been called my 'hip' hairstyle, some don't.

But in my experience if you live your life and expend your energy in ministry trying to please others, you loose your identity and your connection to God, and end up loosing your credibility with everybody

So boldly go and be the unique person that God created you to be. If you love people in the name of Christ, in my experiences, ink or piercings, or hairstyles, won't be a hinderance at all.

Len Flack said...

I'd echo jacob & darin's advice.

I'm a 25 year old Conservative Baptist (CBAmerica) pastor in Northern NY (farm country, not NYC). I have a tattoo, a "long" goatee, and shave my head bald most of the time. Considering an ear or brow piercing, but my wife isn't sure she'd like that, so I'm not pushing it unless she reconsiders.

I look more punk than anyone else in my congregation (except a soldier who just got stationed in Germany), but it's just who I am. It's not been an issue.

robert fortner said...


The Lord gave you free will. Use it. Make your own decision. The opinion of others should not factor into your life.

I'm 41 years old, and I don't have any tats, but my best friend has several, and I really don't think that people think differently of the 2 of us just because he's inked and I'm not.

Bottom line: If there is really someone out there who would view you having a tattoo as a stumbling block, then they were really looking hard for something to stumble over, so they would find something wrong, ink or no ink.


Tim J. said...

I'm beginning to think you should get it... just my opinion

shana said...

Hey! I stumbled across your blog via twitter, and I'm really glad I did! I've been going back and forth on the tattoo issue for several years now, asking many of the same questions posted/commented here. Thanks for contributing to the conversation - God and I will continue to talk it through.

Micah Fries said...


I'm a 29 year old pastor who is the Senior Pastor of a fairly good sized, 100+ year old Southern Baptist church in the Midwest.

I've got a tat on the upper left arm. It's not massive, but it's not small either. I don't broadcast it, but I don't hide it either. For instance, we had a church wide event at the local water park and I went around with it fully exposed, etc.

To date, it's never caused me a problem. In fact, I would argue that it's been just the opposite. It's opened more doors with more people than I ever imagined.

It also hasn't impeded my ministry beyond my church. I serve on the associational level, I chair a committee for the MBC and I served on an SBC committee this past summer.

Not that those are necessarily what you're shooting for, my point however is that even in that very traditional world that I find myself swimming in a lot, it's never caused me a problem. In fact, if my wife didn't mind, I'd be going to get more.

Johnny Carr said...

J - I would suggest you do what I do: My 7 year old daughter and I like to share her Inks that she gets from the machine at Wal Mart. The nice thing is that I can sport some Barbie ink for two days and then wash it off before Sunday! I get the best of both worlds and feel good about it.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Ok. So I am blown away by all the responses. Thank you guys for weighing in. This really is something I wanted help with. I wasn't just posting for the heck of it.

I appreciate all the people who have tattoos who posted. Brian, Adam, Erika and others. I think this indicates that simply getting a tattoo isn't a career killer.

I also appreciate the words of people like Susan C. and Linda who live and work in the conservative world and can recognize that the stigma against tattoos still exists and could communicate an incorrect message about my character or spiritual maturity.

I appreciate the comments from Jacob and others who basically say, "Screw everyone. Do what you want." In this case, however, I need to weigh influence vs. freedom. I like Paul's words about these things when he basically says I can do whatever I want to, but I shouldn't do something just cause I can. Sometimes you have to consider bigger issues like impact and influence.

I especially like the comment of Tim J. Any friend of Donnie's is a friend of mine. It is good to hear from someone who is struggling with the same decision and knows how complex it is.

After this post and all these comments, I probably won't get a tattoo on my wrist. But, I may get something on the underside of my arm higher up. This still serves as a personal expression, but doesn't unnecessarily marginalize me and my voice.

Thanks everyone. Great comments.

Brian said...

Erika, Just seeing your comment. One of my friends has those phrases as well! Though, he put "do justice" on his wrist (you serve with your hands), "love mercy" near his collar bone (near his heart), and "walk humbly" on his foot (needs no explanation). Very cool.

Jonathan, your thoughts about getting one higher up are interesting to me. I don't want a tattoo higher up on my arm because I worry it would be even harder to hide. If I wanted to, I could where I watch all day every day and never see it again; but if I had one on my forearm or bicep, I would have to use long(ish) sleeved shirts to cover it. Stew on it and you'll know what's right.