Tattoos have eked their
way into Americas mainstream culture and have become suddenly
fashionable. Once criminals, circus performers and sailors were
the typical candidates to have their skin inked. Now professional
athletes, musicians, Hollywood celebrities, teens and 20-somethings
eagerly sport tattoos.
An estimated 20 million
Americans have tattoos. In the past 20 years, the number of tattoo
parlors in the United States has grown from a little more than 300
to in excess of 4,000. Tattooing is also one of the fastest growing
retail businesses in America. Although tattoos are trendy, they
remain fraught with hazards ranging from disease to regret. Despite
the risks, many young people are getting tattooed and some
say it has everything to do with their faith.
have preconceived ideas of what Christians should act and look like,"
says Cornelius*, 29, a sales associate who has two tattoos and lives
in the Midwest. "I come at those kinds of people from a different
angle and that leads to conversations about God. If anything, my
tattoos are witnessing tools."
Assemblies of God missionary
Luis Carrera, who has three tattoos that he received while in prison
before he became a Christian, says the markings send the wrong message
and are a prime example of Christians following rather than leading.
"Tattoos are a reflection
of rebellion in society," says Carrera, 46. "As Christians we shouldnt
let society make an impact on us; we should make an impact on society."
According to a study
from the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, youths who
get tattoos are more likely than their peers to smoke cigarettes
or marijuana, go on drinking binges, have premarital sex, engage
in serious fights, join gangs, skip school and receive poor grades.
"People who get tattoos
tend to be involved in high-risk behaviors," explains URMC pediatrician
Timothy Roberts. "[Teens] with tattoos are often the kids who get
into trouble as adolescents."
Cornelius wanted a tattoo
when he turned 18. But out of respect for his Christian parents
he decided not to obtain one until he moved out on his own. Yet
even after he left his parents home, he felt uneasy and waited
until age 26 to have a cross tattooed onto his shoulder.
"Getting a tattoo is
not something you think about for a month and go do," says Cornelius.
"Its going to be on your body for the rest of your life."
When a teen seeks counsel
about whether to be tattooed, Scott Bruegman, 31, an A/G pastor
who has ministered to teens for seven years, engages the teen in
conversation, urging the youth to imagine the future.
"I ask them what they
think their children will think of their tattoo," says Bruegman,
who is starting a youth church in a Denver suburb. "After we discuss
those possibilities I point them to the Bible and encourage them
to talk to their parents and spend a lot of time thinking and praying
The American Academy
of Dermatology predicts that half of those who get tattooed will
regret their decision at some point. But regret is only one of the
drawbacks commonly associated with being tattooed.
A person can contract
different strains of hepatitis or human immuno-deficiency virus
if sterile equipment and application procedures are not strictly
used and followed. Last year University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center research revealed that people who received a tattoo in a
commercial tattoo parlor were nine times more likely to be infected
with hepatitis C than people who did not have a tattoo.
The risks can be financial,
too. In the marketplace, some employers are leery of hiring those
who have visible tattoos. Another cost is when a persons regret
over having a tattoo moves them to having it removed. Besides being
painful, tattoo removal can cost several thousand dollars.
Its been three
years since Cornelius was first tattooed and he says he has no regrets
and has suffered no ill side effects or financial setbacks. "God
is more concerned about the condition of my soul than the color
on my skin," he says.
Carrera has a different
"I want to be a reflection
of the One who has transformed my life," he says. "As Christians
we should be trying to identify ourselves with Christ rather than
with the trends of our culture."