Tattoos in Mormon Country
Or Will Tattoos Keep You Out Of Heaven When A Disfigured Penis Does Not?
What do you see when you look at this picture? I see a lady. I see a lady that may have been exercising. I see a lady who takes great care of herself. And someone who has intelligence and is stylish too. She is probably married and maybe a mother of three children—someone who loves her parents and grandparents. I see someone who probably has a good-paying job with responsibilities. Someone interested in Asian culture. A lady who has good friends and is a good friend in return. Someone who is a strong and independent-thinking woman. What do you see?
Oh yes, of course, the tattoos. Her tattoos are amazing and extremely well done. It looks like a lot of thought went into her tattoos; each one seems to be important to her. She looks at ease and is a confident woman. Should she be judged or profiled because of her tattoos? Of course not, right? Should she be able to worship her God if she so desires? And should she have the right not to be judged as someone less because of her look? Should the tattoos make a difference?
Okay, let us jump back over fifty years ago. When I was a young teen in England, I decided to get my very first tattoo. At that time, people assumed you were serving in the Royal Navy or were just out of prison if you had any tattoos. The only other pigeon-hole to place you in may have been as a member of a motorcycle club or MC. Over the last twenty years or more, tattoos have exploded throughout the world. You can now see them in all and every walk of life. My parent's generation as a whole may be the last not to be tattooed at all or in very few numbers. You can see cops with tattoos as well as sports players of every sport. No longer the preserve of the Maori or Polynesian. No longer the preserve of the Japanese Yakuza. Even so, tattoos continue to be stigmatized throughout certain religious, educational, and white-collar employment groups.
In England, fifty years ago, less than 10% of people were tattooed, and most tattoos were hidden by clothing. By 2012 the numbers had risen to about 21%, and today the number is approximately 30-35%. As these numbers continue to rise, one would assume that most of society would be comfortable with tattoos just like they have become more comfortable with multiple piercings. And yet not so everywhere.
As a practicing Mormon over the last thirty-five years, I have served in most church leadership responsibilities, local and regional. I taught at Brigham Young University with tattoos, even obtaining a large Celtic skull tattoo on my forearm while I was teaching. I worked for the church in the Welfare department for many years. I have never felt particularly held back by having my tattoos. And yet, I have many friends who feel very uncomfortable attending church because they are being judged for being different. You might suggest they should ignore other people's judgments; however, it is difficult to do so when it is not just other people who are judging you but also the organization itself.
Let me explain. According to the pamphlet, For the ‘Strength of Youth’ manual, which is aimed at youth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. Young women, if you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of earrings.” The word ‘disfigure’ has a lot of weight to it. The church's explanation is:
Our bodies are a gift from God, a blessing we received because we were righteous in the premortal life. The scriptures compare the body to a temple of God, and we should respect our bodies as we would a temple. In teaching about how to care for our bodies, prophets have warned against tattooing or excessive piercing.
The example most often used is the question directly from church leadership. Would you spray graffiti on the outside of the Salt Lake Temple? If not, then you should not disfigure your body either. As your body is a temple, your skin should not be defaced. It is, as yet, not a sin according to the Mormon leadership. However, as emblems of a rebellious nature, your love of Jesus Christ is now not enough. Apparently, it would be best if you looked a certain way to be deemed a righteous disciple. Loving the Saviour is not sufficient. Having tattoos in Mormon land is not sufficient to keep you out of heaven at the moment. Paying your 10% tithing and another financial obligation known as Fast Offerings is much more important. Not drinking alcohol, not smoking, not taking any drugs, and obeying the ‘Word of Wisdom,’ a health code of sorts, is also vital. Being loyal to the church authorities and church teachings are also crucial. And yet tattoos, piercings, and my gosh, long hair are not well tolerated. You may hear the general membership of a local church ward being supportive, but behind closed doors, there are always discussions about how we can help this poor, misled man or woman. In my long experience, the conversation in leadership meetings is always the same: when this person has more faith, they will be more obedient and thus toe the line.
The most interesting thing to me is that you are not encouraged to look like Jesus and be like Jesus. You are encouraged to look and be like the 15 Apostles of the church. You must dress like them and even talk like them.
Artists use paintbrushes to paint art of many kinds. Sculptures use clay or stone to create meaningful art. Women use differing types of make-up to look how they wish to look. And yet, tattoo guns are seen as evil and pernicious.
Again the argument is one should not mess with the body given to us by God Himself because it is perfect in every way. No tattoos or piercings. However, the most interesting aspect of the argument goes out of the proverbial window when you ask why Mormons (and others) deliberately maim and cut into their son's penis. Most of the rest of the world does not carry out this barbaric, ancient ritualistic practice. Whenever I ask anyone why this is done, they reply, “To look like other men in the family.” I submit that when girls across the globe are subjected to this practice, it is unacceptable. And yet, for boys, apparently God demands it.
It seems to me you can not have it both ways. If the human body is so sacred it should never be disfigured; then I have to assume using a knife on God's penis creation, likewise, is not acceptable? Tattoos seem quite trivial in comparison. One of the arguments given by church leaders is you can not remove the tattoo when you know better. I would suggest you can not put your penis back together either. It should be possible to go to heaven with the decorated tattooed skin you have, as well as a fully perfectly formed penis!
© Stephen G. Arrowsmith 2021