Christian Tattoos: Sacred Ink or Unholy Blemish?

Tattoo is a language of sorts; a language of ink under flesh. Tattoo is an idiom of ancient and emerging generations. If we are to reach people of every tongue, tribe and nation (see Revelation 7:9), it will be necessary to speak the languages of the various emerging tribes. Many people today are subdividing into smaller “tribal” units. For some tribes, tattoo is their visual language. Throughout history, many world languages have used visual symbols to communicate; examples of this are modern Chinese and ancient hieroglyphics. Tattoo has lately also become a modern Western symbol-language and brings fresh opportunities to speak God’s word visually.


Sacred Ink is an Internet outreach tool or bridge that exists to speak the language of ink and Jesus. In late 2005 God gathered a team of people to bring glory to himself by reaching less-reached people in a less-used way. Sacred Ink is an Internet faith-art project directed toward individuals who are convinced about tattoo but unconvinced about Jesus. It is a presentation of the “faith stories” of seventeen Christians who bear indelible marks on their bodies that illustrate their indelible connection to God. The separate personalities, images, stories, kinetics and soundscapes of Sacred Ink weave together to form a visual and voice narrative of hope and grace.

As cultures change, new roads must be paved to take us to the market squares of the new emerging tribes and their cultures. The Internet is one of the highways into the midst of many of the new tribal people groups in this digital century. 

Sacred Ink uses the Internet superhighway to travel to new tribes, and people have been responding favorably to the presentation. In the few short weeks since Sacred Ink has gone live online, thousands of people have viewed it in over fifty countries around the world.

Both online and real-life relationships can be cultivated though using tech-testimony sites like Sacred Ink. I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with an old acquaintance through Sacred Ink. This woman is not warm toward Christianity; however, she said she enjoyed the site. We emailed back and forth and scheduled a time to meet. After spending the day at an art exhibit with several of Sacred Ink team members, she commented that if she were going to get involved in a formal religion, it would be Christianity. She was amazed at the way we loved one another. The website was a bridge for her to hear the personal stories of believers in a format that was of interest to her. The Sacred Ink website was the door that allowed her to have face-to-face contact with living, breathing Jesus-lovers.  

In another email one young man mentioned that he had felt very alone as a tattooed believer but was greatly encouraged to read that there were others who shared both faith and tattoo.

Websites can be wonderful places for storytelling about Jesus and they can make pathways for real life meetings, church invitation, further cyber-discussion, encouragement, evangelism and bridge building in general.

Christians with tattoos is still a controversial issue for many people. For some, there are questions about whether tattoo defaces the creation of God and is, in general, sin. There are helpful articles on Sacred Ink that explore the topic of Christians with tattoos and the Mosaic injunction in Leviticus 19:28 in particular. If tattoo is a biblically allowable expression for believers, but is culturally a problem for Christians, it leads to the loss of a language for modern tribal evangelism. In reaching the new tribes in this digital age it is vital we do good exegesis of the scriptures in order to confront any cultural customs that we may have added to the word of God. Twentieth century Christian traditions must not be added to the unchanging and eternal words of scripture. If we do this, we will lose God-given opportunities for sharing the excellent message of life with those whose cultures and languages vary from our own. Separating what is church culture from what are clear biblical standards and then reaching out, without imposing our subculture on new tribes, is more important today than ever. However, in this reexamination of how our traditions as Christians may have become equal with the teaching of God’s word, we must never budge on the clear teaching of the Holy Scripture.

Beyond the Monitor
A great goal for tech-testimony sites such as these would be to move people beyond the computer monitor into face-to-face, voice-to-ear friendships that will lead people toward the excellent person of Jesus. Some Internet evangelism sites, by not focusing on follow-up and discipleship, seem to be an end game instead of a part of a larger plan. Instead, our hope should be that all Internet evangelism sites will move people from mere facts on a screen into real life relationships, worship gatherings, ongoing discussion and becoming bridges to other spiritual opportunities. We live in an unprecedented time of global communication that allows people, even at great distance, to form friendships online and in person.

Social networking sites like MySpace, Xanga, Tribe and America Online, when used in conjunction with sites like Sacred Ink, allow for ongoing discussion with “not yet believers.” Building relationships through social networking sites, especially when connecting to others of a tribal subgroup with similar interests, is a powerful new ministry opportunity.

Sacred Ink Live
An example of how these new ministry opportunities are happening recently occurred at Renaissance Church in Florence, Italy, which hosted a Sacred Ink Live evening in the coffeehouse where the church meets. Mark Brandes, photographer for the Sacred Ink project, displayed poster-size images of Sacred Ink participants as a visual environment for the meeting. There was video projection of the Sacred Ink flash videos and audio testimonies. This created a multimedia framework for discussion about art, tattoo and several faith-oriented topics in Sacred Ink.

Another Sacred Ink Live application being considered is to take the images and audio to a tattoo convention where they will be used to create an artistic multisensory oasis for faith discussion, prayer ministry and a live art project. These conventions could be used to share faith with non-believers. People we meet prior to the convention through online networks would be invited to come to the convention as a meeting place to further the ongoing relationships and faith discussions. Using Internet social networking, live exhibitions and invitations to faith gatherings are exciting ways to move into the next generation both online and face-to-face.

The hope at Sacred Ink is that many tribes beyond the tattoo tribe will utilize the Internet, art, storytelling, social networking and old fashioned friendships to incarnate the message of Jesus into the lives of those who are still unconvinced about him.

Chuckk Gerwig is creator of Sacred Ink. He is also pastor to youth and their families at Santa Cruz Bible Church in Santa Cruz, California, USA.