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Over a Dozen Mormon Prophet Tattoos: Where Christians Stand on Ink

I was raised in the LDS Church (aka: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Though I am no longer a Mormon, I do have family members and friends who are and so news, photos, captions, etc., with the M-word in them usually catches my eye. While cruising around a tattoo gallery recently, THIS back piece tattoo caught my attention. At first, I thought it was Photoshopped or a joke, because I know the LDS Church's stance on ink, but after looking into it, I found that this large tattoo was on the back of Jack Armstrong, a long-time tattoo artist and collector who began his tattoo career in the 1920s and owned many tattoo shops throughout the years.  Jack was a Mormon and wasn't joking when he had over a dozen Mormon prophets permanently inked onto his back. He told Don Terry in a New York Times article in 1998:

"Are you ready for this?'' he asked, pulling off his shirt and turning his back to reveal a huge tattoo of Jesus, two dozen past presidents of the Mormon Church and himself, looking like Santa Claus in a baseball cap. ''I'm religious,'' Mr. Armstrong said. ''I'm a Mormon.''

It appears that Armstrong began collecting his prophets before the LDS October, 2000 General Conference, when then-Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said this about tattoos and piercings:

"Now comes the craze of tattooing one's body. I cannot understand why any young man--or young woman, for that matter--would wish to undergo the painful process of disfiguring the skin with various multicolored representations of people, animals, and various symbols. With tattoos, the process is permanent, unless there is another painful and costly undertaking to remove it. Fathers, caution your sons against having their bodies tattooed. They may resist your talk now, but the time will come when they will thank you. A tattoo is graffiti on the temple of the body.

Likewise the piercing of the body for multiple rings in the ears, in the nose, even in the tongue. Can they possibly think that is beautiful? It is a passing fancy, but its effects can be permanent. Some have gone to such extremes that the ring had to be removed by surgery. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also "the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes." We do not, however, take any position "on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings"--one pair."

The Mormons are not alone in their stance on body modifications. Many Christian denominations counsel against "marking the skin," while some "more progressive" sects not only allow them, they base their ministry around them. The Christian Tattoo Association states that they are:

"a non-profit, tax-exempt ministry to tattoo artists and enthusiasts. The main goal of the CTA is to share the Gospel with tattoo artists and enthusiasts. This is achieved by attending local and national tattoo conventions, developing relationships which provide avenues for personal witnessing, sharing our faith through the internet, printed page and conducting bible studies and worship services. The CTA is not a Christian society trying to separate Christian tattooers and tattoo enthusiasts from the influences of the world. We are a ministry designed to assist born-again Christians in taking the Gospel of Jesus to those who have not yet heard the good news."

If you are a Christian, where do you stand on tattoos?

If you are of another faith, what are your feelings about ink?

If you are an atheist or agnostic, do you have tattoos or are they not your cup of tea?

Reader Comments (35)

Wow. That guy had quite a story.

As for your question. You know my feelings about the myth we call religion. I love me some tattoos.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

thats neat. i was a born & raised catholic until i got into high school, where i turned agnostic. i have multiple tattoos and i love them, hoping to get more as money comes my way =) xoxo

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterashley

i don't think the Mormon prophets would like that one bit

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLDSWatch

Raised in a baptist home. Not baptist , or any thing else . I enjoy tattoos . Your body , your choice is the way I feel.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

I am non-religious, but I am open to different religions and someday I may find one that suits me. We'll see. I have many tattoos! My husband's family is LDS, mostly they are very accepting of me... more so since we finally made it official and got hitched. i know his mother loathes my tattoos though. :P

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterD

Atheist, born and raised in a christian home, over 20 tattoo's. Parents, family and friends HATE(ya, and they're the religious ones, huh) the tattoo's and the fact I don't believe in unicorns or talking snakes. Call me Andre 3000 cuz I'm and Outkast. Oh, but my girlfriend LOVES my tattoo's, that's all that matters, right?

Another great blog Jinxi, thanks!

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiger

My family is Baptist and are sure I am going to hell for a million and one reasons, the tattoo's are just one more reason. I have many Buddhist themed tattoos, as that is something that I enjoy studying and find great peace in. I find they are a reminder to me to live the best life I can, but so are many of my other non "religious" tattoos. I do find they are great conversation pieces and brighten the ideas and minds of others and have brought me respect from others in my travels around the world. But I think my favorite tattoo I have is my Jehanne Darc (Joan of Arc) which I suppose some can find religious.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDita

Need a corection in your title> Mormons are NOT Christians. The Mormon religion is a CULT.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRich

@ Rich

I certainly do not want to stand up for Mormons, but um, they are Christians. Who are you to say they are not. They absolutely follow the teaching of Jesus Christ. Yes they have some other issues, but they are Christians because they say they are. You may think they are wrong, but that does not change anything.

IMHO, all Christians are part of a cult, but for some reason, I doubt that that has any relevance to your opinion on rather you are a Christian.

There are over 1200 different sect of Christianity in the United States alone. All with different interpretations of the bible. Within those 1200 sects there is more division into conservative and liberal branches.

Christians need to learn that here is always a sect that is more conservative than theirs own is and that will damn their version of Christianity to hell.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I was raised a Mormon too and actually site one of the reasons for leaving the religion because of my Bishop's insistence that I have a small tattoo removed. I understand the Church's view that the body is a temple but it is my temple and I thought that free agency was given to all so I did not appreciate the outcry over my little splotch of ink and his unwillingness to allow me to make this choice. There are other issues as well but this was a big one in my decision to step away. Thank you for writing about this.

and @ Rich
I can assure you that Mormons are Christians. It is in the title and name of the church and they incessantly preach about him - make no mistakes about that.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

I am a participating member of the LDS religion (Mormon). My father (who is also a member) ironically has a tattoo of the devil on his shoulder which he got when he was in the army before he joined the church. Throughout his life, he has NEVER had any problems with any church leader telling him to make sure to keep it covered or have it removed. Asa member of the church, I do not judge him any differently. As a member, I have personally made a commitment to follow council quoted above. I really enjoyed the statement given by Margarete in that we all have choices to make in our own lives, and my religion teaches that we must not judge others for their actions. If someone wants a tattoo, then let them get it and move on. If they choose not to because they are motivated by religion, then that is their choice and move on. I believe that bigotry is introduced by people on either side of the debate when they start pointing fingers.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJust another mormon

I was born and raised a Muslim and like Mormans (with views on tattoos) it is considered a big no no. In growing into the agnostic young woman I am now, I have a few to start with and will only to continue to get more and I feel it stands true to the cliche, that tattoos are a great way to show who you are and in having many many chistian friends it can be a beautiful way to show ones faith.

yey tattoos.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFatima

Very interesting indeed!
I personally am an Atheist, and i think tattoos and piercings are a beautiful addition to any persons body.
I have many of both tattoos and piercings on my self and work in a tattoo parlor as a piercer.
Both of my parents are christian but my dad has more tattoos than me and my mom is catching up to me in the piercing section.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterautumn

I was told by my family that tattoos were defouling your body and piercings meant you were a slave to satan and cutting your hair means you are removing the authority your husband and God have over you........... Ive never felt that any of this was particularly true, it only has some sort of symbolism to them. I cut my hair. I have many piercings. And I want more tattoos :) But it all doesnt mean I dont believe in God. I do. Its just that I dont think doing things to your body means your going to hell. People in Africa do it. Why cant I?

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

I my opinion, ALL "religions" are cults. I respect traditions and methods of achieving a spiritual connection, but (in MY opinion), the spiritual connection is the goal. The path (religion) is simply that.......a path! People get so hung up worshiping the "religion" that they lose sight of the goal.

I, in no way, wish to offend anyone. This is simply MY truth. Know that you are blessed.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSkate Fink

IMO...I think it is up to each person. I really cannot see any strong verse against tattooing in the Bible (okay, is tattooing a word or did I just make that up??). There are some that speak against destroying the body as it is a temple of God....1 Cor. 3:16--"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." 1 Cor. 6:19--"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." And I'm not sure, but I THINK that they are referring to sexual immorality, rather than tattoos, in those verses, since they are both preceeded by warnings against sexual immorality.

I do know that there is a scripture about tithing--and before anyone condemns me by asking me if I tithe, yes, I do when I have an income (I am currently looking for work, but teachers are not in great demand here, and no, moving is not an option right now for lots of different issues)--Malachi 3:10--"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, " says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." So if you are tattooing and are a Christian, you better be tithing first.

I honestly feel that that is a "gray area" in the Bible, and it's up to the individual person to make that choice, I know of many people at my old church who had tattoos and were allowed to participate in ministry, etc. As long as they are clean, appropriate I don't see why someone should object to someone else getting one. Personally, I refuse. I dont' like needles for one thing, and I am a teacher so you cannot have visible tattoos showing when working in most public schools--or private schools--that I have ever worked in or been in.

I dont' want to lead anyone astray, however, so if anyone comes up with a scripture that is against tattooing, please let me know.

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

Mormons are First Century Christians, not Creedal (4th Century) Christians:


May 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBot

For "you'll never know", the Old Testament does prohibit marks on the body:

Leviticus 19:28
Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you.

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlma

@ Alma...

Thank you for that scripture!! I guess there is one in there that I couldn't recall!

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

@ you'll never know

I did not think you were serious about not knowing about the verse, given our previous discussions.

Question, the verse cited has been by conservative sects such as yours to claim that tattoos are a sin. Given your previous statement of how it does not hurt anyone else and it should be a personal choice, do you throw that logical thinking out the window in light of your new found knowledge regarding this topic.

I only ask because both of the points you made were part of my debate with you about same sex marriage.

Did you find the forum on homosexuality and the bible that Jinxi set up for us to keep our conversation going?

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

@ Steve...

Yes, it changes my view. I honestly do not remember seeing that verse, but then again, I read a lot more in the NT; I have read the OT though, but I just tend to memorize more out of the new, as it refers to the life and ministry of Jesus, whereas the OT is before His time, and I'd rather follow Jesus. If that doesn't make sense, sorry. But now that I have seen that verse, no I will NEVER get a tattoo! I'm not condemning anyone who has one, but I personally will never get one now. Like I said before, I'd personally rather be safe.

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

@ Steve again...

no, I didn't find the new forum. ????

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

okay, let me try this again. I just reread what I wrote and I confused myself.

Okay, no, I did not honestly know that verse was in there (Lev. 19:28) about tattooing. Yes, I have read the whole Bible, but yes, it's also true that I do read and memorize and study more out of the New Testament, as it is the life and ministry of Jesus and the OT is before Jesus. Yes, I do believe in everything in the Bible, if it's in there once, OT or NT, it's as good as God's word for me (well yeah I guess it is:) ), even though I tend to follow more of the NT teachings. Now, as I said above, I do not condemn anyone for any way they live their life or what they choose to do with their bodies (ie, tattooing). I will not be for it if it says no in the Bible, but I have never or will never condemn anyone. That's not my place. I will only talk about my beliefs and why. Yes, that above noted scripture changes my views on tattooing, as like I said before, I really couldn't recall any except what I quoted further up, and that's why I said anyone who finds one against it to let me know, because I do not in any way want to lead anyone down the wrong path in the future. But now that it has been pointed out to me, I'm going to stop saying that it's a gray area and point that verse out. Yes, it is up to each person to do what they want, even if it is not acceptable to God, it's not my place to judge but I can only preach about the warnings and dangers of not following God's laws, and the consequences that I honestly believe will happen to those who go their own way. Just because I believe these, does not mean I personally am condemning anyone. And if I had a tattoo right now, and were to see that verse (Lev. 19:28), yes I would go and pay to get it removed.

Like I said before, I am not condemning anyone at any time, just backing up my beliefs. I just wanted to retype this and explain because I went back over my post right above this and it sounded like I was only believing the NT, but I follow both, as far as the laws and rules.

Hope this makes sense.

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteryou'll never know

@ you'll never know

You can find the forum farther up on the left hand side of any of the pages. It says "Let's discuss it more", click on it and you will see the forum. Jinxi posted all of our posts in order for easier reading.

Now on to this issue. My question to you is do you think that tattoos should be illegal? The reason that I ask is because you support laws that ban same sex marriage because it is a sin. So should all sin be made illegal or is it a personal choice for everyone to make? In which case why don't you think that same sex marriage should be a persons individual choice just like you do for tattoos?

May 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

A couple of times, I have been asked the question "Why are so many vegans atheists?"

I am not sure the connection between atheist/vegan/tattoos, but I am a vegan atheist, and I help run my boyfriend's tattoo shop!

May 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Carlaine
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