Shame, Guilt, and Tattoos in the Pulpits and Pews
“What is Jesus going to think when you get to heaven and have all those tattoos?”
This is what Nicki asked me during a band practice break in Boulder, Colorado. Nicki was our mandolin player and a Cornell educated mountain woman. I was a newly converted 20-something struggling to find my place in a band that was playing dozens of shows in bars around Colorado. I chuckled at Nicki’s question and replied, “Jesus isn’t concerned about my tattoos. I am totally accepted because he lived and died for me.”
I continued to struggle with my place in the band. I would eventually play out the rest of the shows I had committed to and essentially give up music in Colorado.
A few months after my last show I would leave Colorado and head to my home state of Louisiana to attend a Christian college. I would graduate with a B.A. in Christian Studies, meet and marry a pastor’s daughter, and become a dad before heading to seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. This would all happen within 5 years of my conversion.
What happened before my conversion were years of alcohol and drug abuse and hopes of playing music for the rest of my life. In a sense, my tattoos helped me to keep the dream alive and remember who I was and where I wanted to be. Today, at a Southern Baptist seminary and Southern Baptist church, I find myself answering Nicki’s question in my head as good willed brothers and sisters examine my tattoos from afar. My tattoos now seem to remind me more of who I was than who I am. Is this how it should be?
Russell Moore recently wrote a very helpful post called, The Church Needs More Tattoos. In the post he describes that 21st Century churches will become filled with tattoos as the gospel advances into our American subcultures. Moore writes:
That young woman with the Wicca tattoo, or the old man with the Hell’s Angels marking, they may wonder, as they feel the pull of the gospel, “How can I enter with this visible reminder on me of my past?” That question is the same we all had, regardless of how “respectable” we looked when we came to Christ: “Deep is the stain that we cannot hide? What can avail to wash it away?”
Unbelievers stained with the ink and evidences of a life of running headlong into hell will be saved from their eternal destruction by a Savior who lived and died for them. These tatted up converts will enter our churches, seminaries, and pulpits. The skin of American Christianity is changing. But are our responses to tattooed converts in the church changing? I hope so, and by God’s grace I hope to help bring about that change in response. I hope to tell others what I told Nicki five years ago, “Jesus isn’t concerned about my tattoos. I am totally accepted because Jesus lived and died for me.” That is the good news of the gospel eternal. A message more permanent than any tattoo.
Listening is only half the battle. The war is won by asking the right questions.
I am blessed to work in communications, inspired by entrepreneurship, and a learner of leadership.