Church Tats

Oh my, here’s a church, led by Chris Seay, encouraging members to get tats during Lent. Kris would not want me to get a tat for Lent, how about you?

(CNN)-– In a hip, artsy, area of Houston, a hip, artsy pastor is taking an unorthodox approach to Lent.

Standing in front of his congregation at Ecclesia Church, a congregation he admits is different – more diverse, more urban – than many evangelical churches – Chris Seay encouraged them to do so something he said combines the ideas of sacrifice and devotion that mark the Lenten season, the 40-day lead up to Easter.

He asked them to get tattoos. Specifically, he asked congregants to get a tattoo corresponding with one of the Stations of the Cross, the collection of images that depict scenes in Jesus’ journey to his crucifixion.

“The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering,” Seay said in an interview. “Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.”

To help with the project, Seay enlisted Scott Erickson, artist-in-residence at his church. Erickson designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos, leaving out four stations that Seay said changed in context when you are asking someone to get something permanently drawn on their body.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Just Sayin’

    Just another symptom of what passes for Christianity in the United States.

  • Joel

    Well I sure don’t want to skip past Jesus’ suffering either – that’s why I just made me up a nice cat-of-9-tails to pass out to all my kids in children’s church

  • Jim Eisenbraun

    I tend to like Terry Scott Taylor’s description of tats: “A permanent reminder of a temporary idea.”

  • http://www.davidsnet.ws/Biblical Peter Davids

    Fascinating. One of my colleagues where I teach is an elder at Ecclesia Houston, but he has not told me about this. Slaves in many cultures were branded with the marks of their masters. This would a similarly public discipline, eh?

    Chris is also a major contributor to The Voice translation, the completion of which we celebrated this week (full Bible being released March 22).

  • RJS

    How about me? Unequivocally no … and I don’t need my husband to influence me to this decision.

    (I have seen some nice tattoos on others but have no desire to have one myself for any reason.)

  • Amy

    may be a bit unorthodox, but sounds like his congregation is a bit unorthodox too….

    I do think tattoos can be used to glorify God. I have one on my ankle which isn’t even a Christian symbol, but to me represents a story of how God has transformed my life through his love…I might even stretch to call it an evangelism tool because it gives me an easy conversation starter and something people ask questions about that allow me to share about God.

    sure its not for everyone, but everyone connects to God in different ways.

    I like it!

  • dave

    A SHORT STORY.

    Pastor Chris’ Staff Meeting, March 2012.

    PC: “Hey everybody, this must have been a great & God glorifying idea… after all, it made national news and got everyone talking about how horrible Jesus suffering was.”

    11 year old child of hipster-staffer:
    “Uh, dad, what’s pastor chris talking about? all i hear is people talking about how unorthodox we are, and a bunch of online arguments over whether Christians should get tats…”

    Hipster-Staffer Dad: “shh… its time for our weekly meditation with the Voice”
    ……
    Staff meeting Feb.2013
    PC: “Hey gang, how ’bout a Mardi Gras all night bender this Saturday to show everyone we’ve got freedom in Christ to get loaded… AND our hangover at church time will remind us of the suffering of Jesus to kickoff Lent!”

    Hipster-staffer: “I’ll call CNN”
    ………..
    Staff meeting Feb.2025:
    PC – “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time… hey guys, how about tat removal in the worship service to show how Jesus can take away all our stupid mistakes? guys? hello?”

    THE END.

  • JohnM

    I have to say I’m amazed at the skill of tattoo artists. Other than that acknowledgment – well, let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t voguish when I was young. One less thing to regret in my old age :)

  • http://www.ofdustandkings.com T. E. Hanna

    I have no problem with tattoos if they glorify God. After all, we painted the Sistene Chapel, the Jerusalem Temple was resplendent in its adornment, and even today I love the stained glass windows decorating churches where we gather for worship. If we van decorate those in God-honoring ways, why not the temple of the Holy Spirit? I think it might be a stretch, not to mention irresponsible, to make group tattoos a lenten practice. I would hate to be the guy hired to deal with the unhappy individuals who changed their mind after the hype wore off.

  • Dan

    dave @7, LOL. Works for me.

  • http://robsorbo.com Rob

    I kind of love this.

    I would be tempted to participate if I attended that church, but I’d have to find the right tattoo.

  • Nathan

    Wow.
    tattoos are a gateway to drunkenness and shameless self-promotion?

    talk about a massive leap, and an uncharitable one at that.

    If there is anything I know about Chris Seay, I know that he is deeply focused on the particularity of the culture of the people in his faith community. I’m confident the leadership of Ecclesia is able to make decisions and any course corrections, if needed, without our derision or approval.

  • jamie

    what’s with all the sarcastic mockery? I get annoyed that it’s acceptable in christianity to sarcastically mock or criticize because we don’t like an idea…just because this idea isn’t something that would fit you or your community doesn’t mean it isn’t appropriate for theirs.

    and nathan….tattoos are the gateway to drunkenness and shameless self-promotion? really?

    I respect and appreciate those that respectively commented on this idea.

  • Steve

    Y’all are a little snarky, no? Not the normal level of thought-provoking discourse I enjoy on this blog. I go to Ecclesia and I got a tattoo. About 50 people out of a church of about 1500 got them. There was no pressure to do so, and in fact (as Chris said) the staff spent a lot of effort persuading people NOT to do it. The official line was, if you already have tattoos, or if you’ve been thinking of getting one, then please join this art project. Otherwise, please do not. A LOT of people in our church have tattoos already, as we are located within blocks of dozens of parlors — most people I talked to in the church heard about the project and said, “Yep. That makes perfect sense for who we are and where we are and whom we want to reach.” My conclusion, after reading 1.5 weeks of snarky and nasty (and plain silly) comments on various media outlets? I’m disappointed that people are pronouncing judgment on such a creative project without bothering to learn the details, or hear our personal stories, or understand our congregation and the neighborhood we serve in. I had deeply personal reasons for doing this, and in our context, this has been a very powerful project. In any other context, it might be a freak show. But I don’t serve in those contexts, and the commenters don’t understand ours.

  • Steve

    Nathan was commenting on the sarcasm in comment #7, not saying it himself. Nathan, thanks for the support.

  • jamie

    Thanks for the clarification Steve.

    And I’m sorry that there has been so many dumb comments about this through the various outlets. Unfortunatly with media people feel like they can say whatever they want….sad for the Christian community to get sucked into this.

  • jamie

    sorry nathan, i didn’t catch that sarcasm…

  • Mark

    I think I would ask a similar question to what I would ask concerning putting a dab of ash on your forehead on some particular Wednesday. What’s the point? What good does that do anyone? The sacrifice of the cross was a sacrifice for the sake of others. Is getting a tattoo in this context really a sacrifice? And how is anyone else truly helped through this?

  • Steve

    @Mark, In my case, the point is to carry a beautiful piece of artwork on my body, art that is deeply meaningful to me, reflective of my own spiritual journey, and therefore an important part of my gospel story. I didn’t see it as a sacrifice, and I actually had no concern about who would be helped by it. However, we have had some amazing stories in the last few weeks about people in our neighborhood and around Houston being blown away about a church that not only thinks tattoos are tolerable, but that is embracing this art form that is so important to them. I didn’t do this as an evangelistic effort, and didn’t actually expect much of it in that respect, but I can tell you that I have told my personal faith story to more people in the last month, than I had in a long time before that. I have also had complete strangers engage me in extended conversation, in which we shared our tattoos and told our stories about them. For now, then, while there’s buzz about this, we have had lots of amazing conversations that I did not expect, and many heavily tattooed people who have felt rejected by other churches (which, given the comments in the media, seems to be most other churches) have been deeply moved by the project, and have had their hearts opened toward Jesus. After the buzz is over, I’ll be left with beautiful, meaningful art that reminds me of an important part of my personal journey. I’m very comfortable with that.

  • J.L. Schafer

    Perhaps I will get a tattoo of Leviticus 19:28.

  • Mark

    @Steve. That is a wholly legitimate answer. That is what I did not hear in the original post. Thanks.

  • Jim Hampton

    Wow…I love how quickly people jump to judge Chris and Ecclesia based on a short newspaper article.

    I’ve had the opportunity to follow this story through the blog of Scott Erickson, the artist mentioned, as well as having some friends who attend there. In short, Chris never told everyone they needed to do this–they offered it as a way of commemorating Lent for those who might wish to join them.

    To understand this, you have to understand their congregation, which is made up of many people who came from really hard lifestyles, many of you can’t even imagine. God is doing some remarkable work there among the marginalized of society. And for many of those that Ecclesia is reaching out to, tattoos have been a way of chronicling their story, as each tat serves as a part of their overall life narrative. Chris and the church saw this as an opportunity to add another chapter to that narratives, helping them name their place in God’s overarching narrative.

    Each of us is entitled to her/his own opinion on this, but at least try to understand what Ecclesia is really doing before attempting to offer judgement.

  • jamie

    yes, i was waiting to see how long it took for leviticus 19:28 to be brought up.

    i would ask…do you trim your beard or your side burns?

    Steve, thanks for your thoughts. I really appreciate them. i pray you and others in your community are not getting too caught up in the criticisms.

    haha i hate to admit this…but i’ve been watching some of those tattoo reality shows. yea, i know. but, regardless of how dumb those shows are i keep being drawn back to one thing. I think (i’m no expert) many people get tattoos to represent/remember/memorialize something that is very important to them. Many times there are tremendous stories that go along with the tattoos.

  • Luke Allison

    Here’s what I just got done on my arm…one whole sleeve finished. http://instagr.am/p/meRt8/

    But, yeah, I think that’s a terrible idea anyway.

  • J.L. Schafer

    Thanks for another great idea. Grow a beard and then trim/shave into it “Lev 19:27.”

  • Jeremy

    Sorry, but if you feel the need to bash on tattoos from some crypto-christian pedestal it reveals 2 things:

    1. A complete lack of understanding of the biblical narrative regarding tattoos (and worship I general), and a similarly incoherent theology.

    2. A complete disconnect with the current reality which we inhabit.

    It’s fine if you don’t want one, but don’t get snide.

  • scotmcknight

    I sense maybe I should declare my colors … to me tats are totally adiaphora, totally up to the person. I have no dog in this fight… but a CNN Belief blog on that will sure get Chris Seay into a discussion more widespread, intense, involved than he may care for…

  • MatthewS

    Off-topic from Lent, but if you ever watch the show “New Tricks” there is a hilarious moment where an “old dog” gets a tattoo. My wife and I were in stitches at the whole situation when his wife says something like “well, let’s see it then”.

  • Just Sayin’

    Anyone who can call a tat a “beautiful piece of art” must never have been to an art gallery. It’s like calling urine patterns in the snow “beautiful swirly things.”

  • Kyle

    I think it critical for the church to work its unassailable and immutable truths into as many ostensibly unconventional (or traditionally secular) modalities as possible. We can go further and say that this tension, this way of rupturing secular practices and behaviors and markings into a new way, is the distinctive of God’s power, and the tattoo could be a synecdoche of this dynamic. The body marked through rededication to God’s purposes. The transience of bodily impulses, the aging and stretching and growing of the flesh, held firm through an artistic seal of higher ownership worked into that very flesh. This need not be careless scrawling or ostentation to gain self-affirming social status. It is precisely the opposite, and even a short conversation with the tattoo’s owner would make this clear. Since we are not called to put holiness beneath self-evident and formulaic demonstrations of holiness, the conversation is indispensable and in fact welcomed.

  • Kyle

    Jim Hampton,

    That’s beautifully put, and ties into my last post. If you’ve been framing your life in a particular way, such as through a string of tattoos, then putting all at the foot of God could easily justify a new tattoo with a new significance, which would necessarily change the whole narrative of the other, older works. Redemption of tattoos through a tattoo.

  • Luke Allison

    Just Sayin’ # 29:

    Spoken exactly like somebody named “Just Sayin’”.

  • Susan N.

    In the movie ‘Larry Crowne,’ Larry’s free-spirited friend, Talia, got a tattoo: two Chinese characters meaning, “Courageous spirit.”

    Larry looks, then does a double-take, and regretfully informs his friend that the characters actually are the words for “soy sauce.”

    That’d be my luck…

  • Just Sayin’

    Funny how the laser tattoo removal business is growing exponentially, removing so many of these amazing “works of art.”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X