The other day, a non-Mormon coworker of mine asked me if it’s okay for a Mormon person to get tattoos. Quick as a whistle the answer flew to my mind and straight out my mouth, “Nope! Mormons aren’t supposed to get tattoos!” I’ve never put much thought into the matter; I’ve just always known it. Of course, she followed up with the expected “why not?” and I had a bit of thinking to do. The immediate reply that popped through my head was the standard-issue “the body is a temple!” answer, but upon review I decided that an answer like that might come across a bit odd and unclear to a person who wasn’t accustomed to hearing it. My brain began searching through my head’s catalogues of doctrine, “Mormons can’t get tattoos, because that’s against the… the…” My mind shuffled through the commandments with catchy names, “…Law of Chasti… no… Word of Wis… no…” and then on to the less catchy but equally important commandments and teachings, but nothing specific came to mind. Less confident than the first time, I uttered, “Because… the body is a temple. We should treat it like a beautiful building. You wouldn’t write all over the walls of a temple!” among other things. She then wanted to know what the consequence would be if a Mormon did get a tattoo, and that’s where I was a bit stumped.
As far as I know, there are no specific consequences or official church discipline associated with getting a tattoo. If I go right now to my local tattoo parlor and get a huge and mighty dragon (let’s call him “Ancalagon the Black”) tattooed across my back, there’s nothing keeping me from serving in a calling, helping in church meetings, holding a temple recommend, participating in my ward chili cook-off, etc etc.
Thinking about it from the Church’s point of view, it would be pretty tough to put any specific restrictions on our inked-up brethren without alienating investigators with tattoos and pushing away potential converts, or discouraging our brothers and sisters who have gotten a tat during a period of inactivity from returning to the flock. Additionally, there are some people who get tattoos for different cultural reasons, where the cultural norms are different and tattoos aren’t looked upon as “rebellious” or “extreme” as they may be seen in western civilization. It would be difficult to institute a universal rule of tattoos.
Thinking about it later, the specific modern council that I recalled was a part of President Gordon B Hinckley’s famous talk to the youth in November of 2000. You may remember it for the 6 “B’s” that he gave us. Be grateful, Be smart, Be clean, Be true, Be humble, and Be prayerful. While speaking about “Be Clean” he touched on tattoos, saying the following:
Did you ever think that your body is holy? You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. Would you disfigure that creation with portrayals of people, animals, and words painted into your skin?
I promise you that the time will come, if you have tattoos, that you will regret your actions. They cannot be washed off. They are permanent. Only by an expensive and painful process can they be removed. If you are tattooed, then probably for the remainder of your life you will carry it with you. I believe the time will come when it will be an embarrassment to you. Avoid it. We, as your Brethren who love you, plead with you not to become so disrespectful of the body which the Lord has given you.
May I mention earrings and rings placed in other parts of the body. These are not manly. They are not attractive. You young men look better without them, and I believe you will feel better without them. As for the young women, you do not need to drape rings up and down your ears. One modest pair of earrings is sufficient.
I mention these things because again they concern your bodies.
How truly beautiful is a well-groomed young woman who is clean in body and mind. She is a daughter of God in whom her Eternal Father can take pride. How handsome is a young man who is well groomed. He is a son of God, deemed worthy of holding the holy priesthood of God. He does not need tattoos or earrings on or in his body. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are all united in counseling against these things.
Now, there is always the question about what is doctrine and what is advice when it comes to the words of the prophets, but I don’t want to get into that right now. I want to know your opinions on the matter. Are tattoos acceptable or disrespectful? Should someone with tattoos be allowed to serve in prominent church callings? Should there be discipline for church members who get tattoos? Leave comments!