Mormons and Tattoos?

Michael Schooley March 5, 2013 14

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.

Templeception?

Pictured: a temple tattooed on a temple.

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.

Plus, what do you do with this guy?

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!

 

14 Comments »

  1. gregg March 6, 2013 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Its not that we as members of the LDS faith aren’t allowed to get tattoo’s. Rather its that as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we shouldn’t get tattoo’s or extra piercings. We still have the choice and as far as I now there are guidlines for church disaplen on the matter. Rather its just council not to get them.

  2. Elizabeth March 6, 2013 at 10:06 am - Reply

    I was an inactive member for about five years, and in one of my less than stellar points in life I got a tattoo on the top of my foot. Being a woman there is almost no pair of heels that will cover that up. My husband has a few tattoos as well from his inactive years but he was smarter in that his are where they can easily be covered. Now being a fully active temple going member the stares (and I’m sure judgments since this is Utah after all) follow. Yes it is something I regret doing, but here is my perspective on it, I learned a lot about how to be a better person and to not judge people from being inactive and while I know there are those who judge me every time I step in a temple for it my tattoo reminds me of the time when I didn’t have the gospel in my life and to not take it for granted now that I again have it. Now that being said when my husband and I came back to church our bishop was very understanding and wonderful. Fact of the matter is that what needs to be said about it has been said by the brethren and now we are all accountable to our own agency.

  3. Joshua Glass March 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    I would get a tattoo if I could think of something I would want on my body forever but I can’t so I don’t. I think the churches position on tattoos should be like the rest of the worlds: Don’t do it if it makes you look stupid!

  4. Margie March 7, 2013 at 9:11 am - Reply

    My son was in the MTC with a young man who had been on the other side of the religious field and had several tatoos. He was still having laser treatments to remove the most visible ones and was going somewhere where he would always wear long sleeves. He was worthy to serve in every way but to represent the church he and his leaders wanted a cleaner and dignified look. The tatoo won’t stop you from getting callings but I know many people who do regret that they got them. One of my close friends has many visible tatoos including full sleeve and chest. I love her and would love to take her to a relief society night. Hehe, that’s my rebellious nature.

  5. Maryvic March 7, 2013 at 9:36 am - Reply

    Sounds like an old timers opinions (not to sound rude). The culture that those men, prohpet and apostles, grew up in is not ued to seeing extra piercings or tattoos. To tell someone in, lets say, India, who is Mormon that she cannot have her extra piercings because the Lord doesn’t like it, when in their culture, in can mean something completely different. Like, showing that a woman is married (Like a wedding band), is widowed, is pregnant, or that she is a woman, (like hijabs, or dresses in western cultures). To tell them, if they’re Mormon, that they cannon have extra piercings is a lack of sociology of their customs. It may make sense in a western society, but not in others.
    That’s why they should integrate the Mormon beliefs to the new culture. For example, allowing Polynesian men to wear a tupenu to church. Hope everyone understands where I’m coming from.

  6. Joshua S March 7, 2013 at 11:57 am - Reply

    Regarding the sin of permanent aesthetic enhancement, I must confess… I got braces. This artificial manipulation of my God-given smile will haunt me for the rest of my life. It was my choice and I know I will have to live with the consequences.

  7. Becky March 9, 2013 at 4:28 am - Reply

    I had a couple of extra piercings in my ear before the Church ever said a word about women wearing more than one pair of earrings. I do not plan to get anymore, but I love the ones I have and don’t feel bad about keeping them. I do have to take the 2 extra ones out when I go to the Temple, which doesn’t bother me. One is in the top of my ear and I constantly play with it. I would be lost without it! As far as tattoo’s go, I don’t think people should judge. Some people view them as art and in their eyes they are making their body’s more beautiful. Personally, I NEVER thought I would want a tattoo. NEVER, EVER, EVER! But, my precious little dog died in August and I can’t put into words how bad I miss her. All of my dogs have been great, but this little Westie was truly an angel for me through some VERY hard physical and mental challenges. She got cancer in her stomach, and the day came when I HAD to let her go because I promised that I wouldn’t let her suffer. I have some ink prints of her paws. She was small for a Westie, and her paws were very little. Lately after having missed her beyond what I can describe for these past months, I just want to get one of her paw prints in a discreet area. I am disabled and don’t have much of a social life since my injury and illnesses, so she was my best buddy. I wish SO MUCH that she could just come home. So, I’ve been giving it A LOT of thought and I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty serious about getting one of my baby’s paws tattooed somewhere for ME. I don’t feel that there is anything wrong about that.

  8. Molly June 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while as a life long member. I have always loved tattoos. Living in polynesia, I view them differently than a lot of members. It’s cultural and beautiful. Lately I’ve had an even stronger desire than ever to get a tattoo. Not a cartoon character, but something very personal to me, and would help me feel closer to home. How would this be different than permanently enhancing my body through cosmetic surgery, as so many Utah girls do. Why is this worse??

  9. Stephanie September 4, 2013 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    I personally have 13 tattoos and 10 piercings. My tattoos are all quotes and scriptures of what God has taught me. And I have the piercings because I feel better and more beautiful with them.
    I get flack all the time from fellow members. My boyfriend is on his mission and constantly tells me my choice on the matter is completely between me and Heavenly Father.
    I know that people mean well, but, saying I will regret it, or that it makes me less attractive, or my dedication to church insincere, is totally out of line.
    It’s not graffiti in my mind. I actually drew and designed all of my tattoos, they are all my own original artwork. I think if someone questions whether or not they affect my spiritual progression, that’s a fair question. And I can confidently answer no, they don’t. To me, they are reminders spiritual moments between me and heavenly father, things he’s taught me that have changed my life. I know that it’s not typical for members to have tattoos, but I really think that things need to be reassessed in the fact that, members that grew up in the church need to be a little more open-minded. The only people that church that I never had an issue with people who is never been inactive, growing up in the church, don’t know anything but just the church teaches. The fact is, that in the Bible, I have yet to find a person specifically says don’t attack to your bodies. There is a lot of talk about networking your body with the names of the dead and pagan rituals. And that I can completely agree with. And, it’ll type with the prophecy lately. I take it very seriously. When of my tattoos have been done on a whim, or have been done for inappropriate reasons. To do, you wouldn’t believe how many conversations my tattoos of opened up with people never even met before, in regards to my faith, and what they mean.
    All this being said, I think my main point is this. People who have tattoos and people who don’t are different in one way. The people without tattoos Carolot about the fact that people with tattoos have their tattoos. But the people with tattoos, they don’t care if the people without them don’t ever get them. We never bring it up. We don’t comment telling people they should go in get tattoos right now. Or piercings. We simply accept people for who they are and how to choose to express themselves. My tattoos, are for me. Yes some of them are visible, and some of them arent. But they are there for me, for me to read and remember everything that I’ve been through. The fact of the matter is, they’re not hurting anybody else. If people choose to look at them and be bothered, that’s their own choice. And didn’t one of the Presidents say once that it is our choice to be offended or not?
    I think that because people you’ve been so differently, it’s a hard thing for us to just flat out say it’s black-and-white. And it is culturally different, in addition to being individually different. I am the kind person when I have a house I would love to just paint murals on the walls of certain of certain rooms. Therefore I don’t see painting the wall of the church as graffiti, I see it as art.
    I agree that in certain aspects, tattoos can bureaucratic but I also know, thank you wait till the right time to make that choice, and you are certain of it after much prayer and contemplation and planning, and then you take more additional time, to watch and look at that image for every single day at that time; and you still want to get it. Then I think you should. That’s the difference between graffiti and art. Graffiti is done in spite or anger, or an malicious intentions. And art is done as an expression of something beautiful someone has seen or heard or learned.

  10. Katie Vaughan September 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    I can think of three reasons why someone would get a tattoo:
    Self expression that they feel that can’t express in any other way than by getting a tattoo.
    Jumping onto the tattoo bandwagon fad so as not to feel left out.
    Rebellion against something.
    (okay, I added a 4th) They joined a gang.
    (okay, I added a 5th) They were drunk.

    One and two are probably the most common, I would think. It’s something that I think about more and more since I see so many young people getting them. And, not just getting 1 or 2, but getting their whole bodies tattooed up before they’re even 30! It’s interesting to me that President Hinkley came out with that quote in 2000 which is way before the huge “tattoo fad” we seem to be experiencing now. I must admit that I tend to make snap judgements about people based on their tattoos. I know I shouldn’t, and it’s something that I’m working on, but it happens. I saw a woman about 25 years-old at the grocery store today, and she had a silhouette of a Scotty dog tattooed on her throat, and it made me sad for her because she’ll probably have to live with that for the rest of her life. I must admit, even though I’ve always been a practicing Mormon, I debated getting a tattoo about 12 years ago (around the time I was 24), and my tattoo of choice was going to be a ladybug. Thank goodness I had the sense not to do that, because how lame would that be now?!
    I think it’s important to heed the council of the Prophet. Don’t do something permanent now that you will regret later. Find another way to express yourself more creatively than a tattoo. I have many friends with tattoos and, in fact all of my siblings have tattoos (some to greater degrees than others), and I love all of these people!
    Just as in everything else we do as Latter-day Saints, we should always love our fellow bothers and sisters–tattoos, flaws and all–just as Christ would.

  11. Matt January 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    I like to imagine Nephites with tattoos/piercings. Captain moroni, Alma, Helaman.

  12. Jalee January 6, 2014 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    I got a tattoo in 1999, a year before the prophet gave that counsel. In 14 years, I have not once regretted it. Now I am a mother of four. When my kids see people with tattoos, they do not judge. They know that a tattoo does not make someone a bad person.

    I recently had a family member compared getting a nice tattoo on your body with hanging a nice painting in the temple. Just something for you all contemplate.

    I’m pretty sure I will go to Hell for judging people before I will go to Hell for having a tattoo.

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