Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tattoos and Missionaries

The LDS Church strongly discourages body piercings especially on LDS missionaries. Missionaries who are tattooed are limited in the places they can be called. When a prospective missionary applies to go on a mission he or she must answer whether or not they have a tattoo. If they respond that they do they will need to send in a picture of their tattoos if they are in visible places on the body or a written description if in other locations on the body. An LDS General Authorities on the Missionary Executive Committee will review each case and determine whether the candidate will be allowed to serve a mission based on their review. In some extreme cases a missionary may be rejected as a missionary.

In the Bible wizardry, magic, tattooing the skin, and consulting the dead were forbidden under Mosaic law (see Lev. 19:28, 31; Deut. 18:10–12).

Shanna Butler in the March 2006 Ensign wrote: " For some missionaries, having a tattoo means being assigned to serve in a place where their tattoo is either culturally accepted or to a colder climate where long sleeves, and tights for women, will cover their tattoos. A tattoo can limit not only where you can serve, but, depending on its content and your feelings about it, it could also determine whether you can serve at all."

The first time that tattooing and body piercing was brought up officially by a member of the First Presidency was in September 2000 in the Church-wide General Relief Society Meeting when President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

"The practice is growing among young people of tattooing and piercing their bodies. The time will come when they will regret it, but it will then be too late. The scriptures unequivocally declare:
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

It is sad and regrettable that some young men and women have their bodies tattooed. What do they hope to gain by this painful process? Is there “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13) in having unseemly so-called art impregnated into the skin to be carried throughout life, all the way down to old age and death? They must be counseled to shun it. They must be warned to avoid it. The time will come that they will regret it but will have no escape from the constant reminder of their foolishness except through another costly and painful procedure.

I submit that it is an uncomely thing, and yet a common thing, to see young men with ears pierced for earrings, not for one pair only, but for several.

They have no respect for their appearance. Do they think it clever or attractive to so adorn themselves?

I submit it is not adornment. It is making ugly that which was attractive. Not only are ears pierced, but other parts of the body as well, even the tongue. It is absurd.

We—the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve—have taken the position, and I quote, that “the Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings.” (“Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the fads of tattooing and body piercing in the 2000 General Conference:

“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. … 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’ ” (Ensign, Nov. 2000, 52).

In 2001 President Gordon B. Hinckley in a Church-wide Youth Fireside Broadcast said:

"I recently spoke to your mothers and your fathers. Among other things, I talked with them about tattoos.

What creation is more magnificent than the human body? What a wondrous thing it is as the crowning work of the Almighty.

Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, said: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

Did you ever think that your body is holy? You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. Would you disfigure that creation with portrayals of people, animals, and words painted into your skin?

I promise you that the time will come, if you have tattoos, that you will regret your actions. They cannot be washed off. They are permanent. Only by an expensive and painful process can they be removed. If you are tattooed, then probably for the remainder of your life you will carry it with you. I believe the time will come when it will be an embarrassment to you. Avoid it. We, as your Brethren who love you, plead with you not to become so disrespectful of the body which the Lord has given you.

May I mention earrings and rings placed in other parts of the body. These are not manly. They are not attractive. You young men look better without them, and I believe you will feel better without them. As for the young women, you do not need to drape rings up and down your ears. One modest pair of earrings is sufficient.

I mention these things because again they concern your bodies."

In the 2002 Young Women's broadcast YW President Margaret D. Nadauld counseled them: "You are focused on developing your talents and achieving your goals, not piercing and tattooing and flaunting your body."

In the Strength of the Youth pamphlet it says: "Dress modestly to show respect for God and yourself. Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Do not disfigure your body with tattoos and body piercings."

In 2004 during the 175th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Priesthood broadcast, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: "How can any boy who blesses the sacrament, or passes the sacrament, even think of having tattoos put upon his body?”

At the 2004 Young Women's Meeting President Hinckley said: "The Lord has described them as temples. So many these days disfigure their bodies with tattoos. How shortsighted. These markings last for life. Once in place, they cannot be removed except through a difficult and costly process. I cannot understand why any girl would subject herself to such a thing. I plead with you to avoid disfigurement of this kind."

On 7 November 2004 at a BYU devotional D. Todd Christofferson of the Seventy said: "How are we to preserve the sanctity of this most important and sacred of God’s creations? At a minimum, we would not in any way defile our bodies. To be specific, if we possess a sense of the sacred, we would not deface our body as with tattoos and piercings."

On 11 February 2003 at another BYU devotional F. Melvin Hammond of the Seventy also addressed tattoos not being encouraged:

"To gain the praise of the world, we do the most foolish things. We embrace every style of hair: we spike it, color it, frizz it, and even shave it all off--all to get the approval of our peers. We pierce our eyes, ears, noses, and mouths and then hang gaudy jewelry from each as a witness of our desired inclusion into the world. We tattoo our bodies with senseless graffiti to be a part of the "in group," only to discover that the "in group" is really the "out group" in the eternal perspective of things.

In April 2006 Julie B. Beck who was a counselor in the Young Women's Presidency at that time said: "For instance, you would not want to “hide your light” by wearing clothing that diminishes your royal potential. You would not use improper language or stories or mar your body with tattoos or other procedures debasing for a daughter of royal birth."

In 2006 President Gordon B. Hinckley said to the youth of the Church during a New Year's broadcast:

" I am concerned about some trends that seem to have infiltrated our society, and in a particular way large numbers of youth.... One of the trends I wish to mention involves tattoos. Without exception, the tattoos that cover large portions of the arms, legs, and even face and neck, are hideous. I am puzzled by this trend that seems to have overtaken so many. What creation is more magnificent than the human body? What a wondrous thing it is as the crowning work of the Almighty. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, said: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). How truly beautiful is a well-groomed young woman who is clean in body and mind. She is a daughter of God in whom her Eternal Father can take pride. How handsome is a young man who is well groomed. He is a son of God in whom his Eternal Father can also take pride. He does not need tattoos on his body." (New Year's Eve Fireside For Youth, Dec. 31, 2006).

In the 31 March 2007 Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: " "Be clean in body and dress and manner. Do not permit yourself to be tattooed. If you do, some day you will regret it. Only a painful and costly procedure can remove the tattoo." (Church News, Saturday, [31 March 2007]: 62).

The LDS website under Gospel Topics states: "Latter-day prophets strongly discourage the tattooing of the body. Those who disregard this counsel show a lack of respect for themselves and for God. The Apostle Paul taught of the significance of our bodies and the danger of purposefully defiling them: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

If you have a tattoo, you wear a constant reminder of a mistake you have made. You might consider having it removed." (“Tattooing,” True to the Faith, (2004),167.)

Investigators taught by LDS missionaries are not precluded from baptism because they have a tattoo or body piercing. Worthy members are allowed to go to the temple even if they have tattooes or body piercings.

Missionaries are held to a higher standard. If they have tasteful tattoos that aren't vulgar or graphic then it is still possible to go on a mission if their clothes will hide them. The best policy to avoid the danger of not serving is to not get a tattoo at all.

An interesting thing is that blood banks have a policy that donors not be tattooed for a year prior to giving blood. (See Church News, [Saturday, 8 September 2007]: 11).

LDS Articles on Tattooing

“I Am Clean”
Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘I Am Clean’,” Ensign, May 2007, 62. Do not permit yourself to be tattooed. Only a painful and costly procedure can remove the tattoo.

You Have a Noble Birthright
Julie B. Beck, “You Have a Noble Birthright,” Ensign, May 2006, 106. You would not use improper language or stories or mar your body with tattoos or other procedures debasing for a daughter of royal birth.

Tattoos and Your Mission
Shanna Butler, “Tattoos and Your Mission,” Liahona, Mar 2006, 18–20. For some missionaries, having a tattoo means being assigned to serve in a place where their tattoo is either culturally accepted or to a colder climate where long sleeves, and tights for women, will cover their tattoos. Laser tattoo removal can remove some tattoos—at least partially—but removal is much more painful than getting tattooed in the first place.

Q&A: Questions and Answers
“Q&A: Questions and Answers--Is There Anything the Matter with Getting a Tattoo,” New Era, Mar 2006, 14–16. Besides being expensive and painful, a tattoo can affect getting a job or even your eligibility to serve a mission (see “Tattoos and Your Mission” on p. 44 of this issue). A tattoo can also be very dangerous to your health; you can get diseases from a tattoo if the needle they use is dirty.
.
David, a Future Missionary
Darwin B. Christenson, “David, a Future Missionary,” Ensign, May 2001, 28. He also knows he does not need to wear the uniform of the supposed “nonconformists” by body piercing and tattoos.

"More Than Skin Deep"
Janet Thomas, New Era, Feb. 2001, 44–48. Many fads are fairly harmless. But this one leaves people marked—or mutilated—for life.

"A Prophet's Counsel and Prayer for Youth"
Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Jan. 2001, 2–11. Did you ever think that your body is holy? You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. Would you disfigure that creation with portrayals of people, animals, and words painted into your skin?

"Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children"
Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 2000, 50–53. Teach [your children] that their bodies are the creation of the Almighty.

Your Greatest Challenge, Mother
Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100. The practice is growing among young people of tattooing and piercing their bodies. The time will come when they will regret it, but it will then be too late.

One Link Still Holds
Vaughn J. Featherstone, “One Link Still Holds,” Ensign, Nov 1999, 13. We don’t have to wonder about earrings for boys and men, tattoos, spiked hair, the four-letter words, and obscene gestures.

"I Have a Question"
David A. Burton, Ensign, Feb. 1999, 52–53. Is there anything wrong with getting a tattoo or body piercing?

"Q&A: Questions and Answers"
New Era, June 1996, 16–18. I have been thinking about getting a tattoo. Is there anything wrong with having a tattoo?

I have known a couple of missionaries with tattoos when I served thirty years ago who had served in the military. Most of their tattoos were on their biceps and were hidden by their shirts whether they were short-sleeved or long-sleeved. Today tattoos come in some pretty amazing places. One of my cousins was a tattoo artist and had tattoos on almost every surface of her body. Today prospective missionaries need to be warned that a tattoo could keep you from going on a mission. The missionary committee is pretty tough about it today.

7 comments:

The Faithful Dissident said...

I don't have any tattoos and I have just one pair of earrings. I can't say personally that I find tattoos or all body piercing to be attractive, but sometimes I wonder about how this counsel could be received in a self-proclaimed worldwide church which is already sometimes accused of being a white American gerontocracy.

Let's say that a Hindu woman converts to Mormonism. Would she be allowed to go on a mission if that red dot on her forehead can't be washed off? Many Indian women have their noses pierced. Personally, I find it to be very pretty, not ugly. What about certain tribes in Africa, who stretch out their necks with rings, or wear those heavy earrings that make the earlobes hang down? Could a young man or woman with long earlobes serve a mission?

These things are not considered particularly attractive to most white westerners, but is what they do "bad" or offensive to God? Are they defiling their personal temples just because they are doing something that is considered beautiful in their native culture?

So, to answer President Hinckley's question "Can they possibly think that is beautiful?" Well, no disrespect intended, I think that it depends on who you ask and where you ask it.

Sadie said...

Several times it is mentioned in your post that removing tattoos is "expensive and painful" - you could also add "and not always possible" - I know someone who has spent a lot of money trying to get a tattoo removed, but because of the colour of the ink, it has only lightened, not gone totally.

S.Faux said...

I can understand why tattoos are an issue in full-time missionary work, but I hope we LDS never look down upon members who have tattoos. My oldest son went into the military, got tattooed, and went inactive for a fair number of years. Then, a couple of years ago he reactivated, got ordained an Elder, got a Patriarchal Blessing, got endowed, and now he is marrying an R.M. in the temple. The tattoo(s) are going nowhere.

He has served in the 9-11 emergency, the Katrina emergency, in the Honor Guard, and now in the Middle East. He loves discussing the gospel with non-LDS soldiers. In the context of these achievements, a tattoo seems a little thing, and I hope any further impact is minimal.

Dr. B said...

faithful: I think that the General Authorities take in to account the cultural mores of places like Samoa, Tonga etc. Otherwise half the mission force wouldn't be allowed to serve.

s faux: Members with tattoos can still hold temple recommends and investigators can be baptized there is no stigma for having a tattoo.

The Church leaders do however hold missionaries to a higher standard because President Hinckley instructed the young men and women not to tattoo their bodies on five different occasion up until last year. So they were told since 1999 not to tattoo their bodies or have piercings. I understand fully about your son my father was in the Navy in WWII and had a tattoo on each of his biceps. It is very common for guys in the military as a rite of passage to have them. As a kid I thought they were cool but I do remember him telling me how he regretted doing it on several occasions and not to be an idiot like him when I grew up. I'm sure it is no big deal for anyone other than missionaries having them and no one in the church really notices that stuff. Personally I have never seen any members tattoos and can only recall once discussing it in a ward gathering and surprisingly a few of the sisters described tattoos with butterflies in delicate places. It is a form of feminism like women smoking I bet there is a large amount of women who have them. I guess if you want to go on a mission bad enough you won't get one. Otherwise you will have to take your chances with a tough nosed bishop or stake president or General Authority.

Mo Mommy said...

I would argue that within the Mormon culture there is an underlying and vicious stigma attached to having tattoos. I can't even begin to relate all the hurtful stories people have related to me.
However, with missionaries I don't think it's untoward to have a certain standard. You wouldn't expect to lead a large corporation and be covered neck to fingertip in ink would you? In such situations, image is everything. Even the military has regulations about what types of tattoos you can have and where, and tattooos are a deeply ingrained part of the military culture.
As far as our bodies being our temples...
Our temples are beautiful, often grandiose, buildings.They have beautiful pictures, flowers, and extravagant chandeliers adorning their walls. Do these things make the buildings sacred? Certainly not. But we decorate them and make them beautiful in homage to the wonderful and holy work therein. So if someone wants celebrate the wonderful work taking place inside them, so be it. Just remember that not everyone has the same idea of beautiful as you.

isi_2a1nigah said...

It's 2011 and the last comment was left in 2008-_- But anyways, I'm 19 and I want to serve a mission! I have a couple tattoos though. I got em thinking it would be better getting them before the mission rather than after. The R.M's that get tattoos are most likely the ones who didn't serve with the right intentions or the ones that fall into temptation. I don't want to fall into that category. Then again, I wonder if I'll even get the approval to serve a mission due to the fact that I have tattoos. Reading the comments I noticed none of them had this type of experience so I thought I would throw my story in there and let the next person who has the same problem know what's going on. I'll leave another comment once I know I can serve or not(:

Anonymous said...

I'm getting a tattoo reading, "The Law makes NOTHING perfect" as the argument that tattoos are against Levite Law is contrary to the grace given to us in the new covenant laid by the blood of Jesus Christ. Praise God we are not held to the law anymore! As the following verse after tattoos mentions that men are not to shave their beards.

Do we not paint the walls of the Temples?

These biased, close-minded opinions in the post disgust me.