Friday, February 02, 2007

Dave Wainscott got a tattoo!

A pin just dropped.

Note to my parents :

                                            No, this is not a picture of me.

It is a photo of another Dave Wainscott's back.
              Not only does he have a great name, but he is a believer as well.

A couple quotes on the tattoo trend before I paste in an old column of mine on the controversial(?) topic of Christians and tattoos.

First, the theologian George Carlin:
"New Rule: Just because your tattoo has Chinese characters in it doesn't make you spiritual. It's right above the crack of your a--. And it translates to "Beef with Broccoli". The last time you did anything spiritual, you were praying to God you weren't pregnant. You're not spiritual. You're just high".
-George Carlin, quoted here by Sarcastic Lutheran (an important blog, subtitled: "The cranky spirituality of a postmodern gal")

I officiated at a wedding for a wonderful couple. They asked me to be careful mentioning to one of the grandmothers who would be at the rehearsal dinner exactly how the couple had met.
And please, would I not mention it is the wedding sermon. They were concerned the truth would be too much for her:

the couple had met online.

I found it curious that at the dinner, I found myself seated directly next to the relative in question. So I carefully navigated the conversation with this delightful older woman. I sure didn't want to give her a heart attack by blurting out the secret! But when the couple asked Grandma if she wanted to stand up and say a few words in honor of the couple, she began: "I just love these two young peeople; and isn't it wonderful how they met?"..

I heard a pin and a few jaws drop.
The room was quieter than my parent's living room when they first saw this post's headline on their computer.

"...They met online. Isn't that so wonderful!"

She had known all along, and was good with it.

But I still wonder:
Does she know about the bride's tattoo?(:

So here below are the questions I got circa 1997 on my "Ask Dave" web column....from the bride mentioned above:
Dear Dave:
So what I am wondering is why this one verse is taken as still holding true today, and then the rest of the verses aren't. Also, the devotional writer said that tattoos and body piercing were a form of personal mutilation. I personally disagree because I have a tattoo and a body piercing, and I would not say that I did either as a form of mutilation. What do you think? Have we just forgotten these verses cause we want to secularize God, or have these old testament laws changed, minus the 10 commandments of course. I'd like to know your take on:
1.Why do you think people get tattoos/body piercing?
2.Do you think that it's a form of mutilation?
3.Do you think that God looks down on this...why?
4.If yes to #3, what should people do who have already done this?
5. Do you think it's a generational thing...especially body piercing?

1997 was a long time ago. So last millenium. The whole world and church has changed since then (anyone remember pay phones?). Tattoos have become much more mainstream. And I am not sure how my answer would differ today, but here's how I answered then:

Answer: Probably the best translation of Leviticus 19:28 is the NIV as you have quoted. Most of the purpose of all these OT laws were to call Israel to a life of holiness that was not conformed to the pagan practices around them and pure. note the emphasis on not mixing clothes, etc,. as a symbol of that unity of purpose). One of these practices was cutting or disfiguring (a rough equivalent of tattooing) your body as a way of atoning for the dead (a clearly pagan and I might note modern Mormon principle) getting the attention of whatever god you were praying to. A classic example of this is the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18:28. If a modern person has cut or tattooed themselves as a means of manipulating a deity *(including the Christian God) then that would indeed be sin. Since you are clearly not doing that, I would place a body piercing (clearly to me not the same as self-mutilation) and/or a tattoo under the area of freedom gives to each New Covenant believer to choose if they desire to participate or not. For some it might be sin, but the sin would be in the motive (to invoke a deity or to intentionally offend or blaspheme), not necessarily in the piercing or tattoo itself. Clearly, St Paul asks us, also, to be sensitive to not offending a brother or sister who does not sense the same liberty you do. So in some cases and places, discretion, or at least a lack of flaunting, would be appropriate. A note on tattoos: another reason they were forbidden in OT law is because it would be assumed in may case if a picture of a deity were involved, it would not be the God of Israel. So by extension, a modern tattoo picturing or naming a counterfeit god would likewise be dangerous and open demonic inroads. 

And of course as you have noted so well, when is the last time you have heard anyone. even the most conservative Christian. claim that some of the mandates from this same chapter are directly applicable today: the beard (cutting your beard a certain way was also a pagan ritual of the day) and fruit regulations, for example. You have picked up on the two streams of OT law, which scholars often call "ceremonial law" and "moral law." As you have suggested, the 10 Commandments fall clearly under basic an intrinsic moral law, while the more ceremonially, or culturally-conditioned items (such as piercing, tattoo, fruit, beard) are not law that were ever meant to be lived out by people of another day and culture. or better yet, of a new Covenant. Didn't Jesus summarize even the 10 Commandments into the 2 Commands to love God and neighbor? 

Of course many would suggest that this leaves an open door to ignore OT laws against homosexuality, for example. One cannot biblically make this case, as sexuality is fundamentally moral, or better yet, based on creation, as opposed to culture or tradition,. And besides, this behavior is clearly spoken against in the NT (1 Cor 6:9). Tattoos, piercing, fruit and beards are not. 

1.I can't make a blanket statement about why people get tattoos or piercing. Some may do it just because they like the way they look; some to attract attention, some to fly in the face of tradition, some because they desire to witness to Christ. Maybe a large percentage of younger kids who do it, do it as an attempt to rebel or react against their parents generation, but I could never make a blanket judgment. 

2.I don't see piercing as necessarily a form of mutilation generally speaking, though for some it may indeed be an intentional or unintentional way of doing the equivalent. Some may do it as a manifestation of low self-esteem or a self-hatred, but certainly not all. 

3.I think God has a lot more important things to worry about or look down upon. 

4.If an individual has a tattoo that is directly satanic or their conscience will not leave them alone after becoming enlightened or becoming a Christian, they have and should take steps to remove them. However, as this is not always possible , I can't believe God is not all that hung up on it. In a previous church, no one less than my associate pastor had tattoos he was sorry he had received. He was embarrassed by them,. and knew they might offend some Christians, but as they were not satanic, he did not feel pressure to have them removed at all costs. And let me state again, I have no intrinsic problem with tattoos in and of themselves, especially on persons such as yourself, whom I know and trust to follow the Spirit's guidelines for you as an individual. I wouldn't see the need to remove them unless you were so clearly convicted,. In itself, I'm guessing the tattoo is neutral, the way I read the Bible. 

5.For some it may well be a generational thing; even the contemporary equivalent of something someone who grew up in the forties did that is now completely inoffensive in our current century and culture. But as this trend crosses generations, it is also bigger than that.   

Here's an answer I really respect from Skibster, (a great wedding photographer, by the way) a deeper theologian than myself.

Here's a discussion on our forum centered around "Does God Hate Your Tattoos?," including comments by our self-confessed "very tattooed" (even in Koine Greek) guitar player.

Steve Beard at Thunderstruck has a whole list of "tattoo and church" links about halfway down this page.

More to say on tattoos as branding later.

Finally, some of my favorite "tattoo" lyrics (do you have others?):
"You say I'm written on your soul; then write me on your Me on you"
-The 77s, "Tattoo"
"I never wanted this tattoo...I never paid for this tattoo" -Chagall Guevara
"I Need Somebody" ...lyrics by the genius St. Steve Taylor (any song that includes the lines: "Hey look! It smokes, it drinks,it philosophizes!...if you reapply, you'll need a written excuse from" has gotta be churchworthy!)


  1. Hey Dave
    In 45 years, we will have millions of old ladies with tattoos and RAP Music will be the elevator music in shopping malls!
    Think About it!?!

  2. yep, amazing times..

    i'm not countin on the rap, though..maybe Beatles muzak'll still be in (:


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!