"I was sitting in a lesson at church and the teacher said that all people with tattoos are bad people." Unfortunately, this is the kind of email Latter-day Saint author Al Fox Carraway receives too often. But it also opens up room for discussion on how we should include all members, ink or no.
As Carraway shares in a post about the email:
"👏🏻EVERYONE IS WELCOME TO PARTAKE OF THE LOVE & BLESSINGS OF CHRIST. EVERYONE IS WELCOME IN THIS GOSPEL.👏🏻 It is never ok to teach hate."
This topic is very close to my heart. Members of my family have tattoos and one had a child in their ward come up and say that only bad people had tattoos.
Maybe this child's parents implicitly taught him this. I think it's much more likely this child made the connection "bad people have tattoos" because it was a simple, black-and-white way to explain why someone would go against the counsel of Church leaders.
This is an easy thing to do, but that doesn't make it true. Tattoos or any other physical or social dividers don't mean a person is good or bad. It's not that simple to determine a person's character.
So what do we do when we see adults and children using this kind of logic to explain why people smoke, drink coffee, break the Sabbath, or a number of other decisions that go against the advice of our leaders or teachings of the gospel?
In Carraway's post, many shared uplifting examples from their own lives of how to approach people with love who have tattoos and break the idea that only bad people have tattoos.
Editor's note: The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.
"I'm inked. And I'm always careful to make sure at church they are covered. . . not because I'm embarrassed but out of respect. Our ward is the most loving and compassionate ward. I remember on an Easter weekend I had worn a quarter sleeve. I kept a sweater on but at the potluck afterward, I took it off. I didn't think much of it and a little bit showed. A brother came up and was very polite in coming up to me and asked if I could adjust my sleeve. Thinking I offended him because he was older, I started to tug a bit. He was like no. . . I want to see and know the story because I know tattoos have a meaning. I about cried because the one he wanted to see was a representation of my grandparents. He loved the story and the meanings." —Melissa Brown
"We had this 'discussion' in Relief Society a few years back. The sister teaching shared her very narrow view on the subject and I, being moderately tattooed and still fresh in my return to full activity after being inactive for 10 years, spoke up. The look on my mother's face was heartbreaking as I could see the worry in her eyes, 'Will this push Cheryl away again?' I've been so terribly hurt by members, throughout my life, that it would've been fair for my sweet mother to genuinely worry. However, almost all of the sisters in the room spoke up and squashed the whole idea that tattooed people are bad, misguided, wrong, or worse. Whether they were speaking about myself or someone else, my heart was touched. At that moment, I learned that there really is 'one in every bunch' but that doesn't mean the whole bunch is rotten."—Cheryl Smith
"I joined the Church when I was 26. I also have fought severe depression and suicidal tendencies since I was a teenager. Two years ago, I fell into the deepest depression I've ever dealt with. I sat on my couch for three hours with my loaded pistol one day, begging God for the courage to pull the trigger. Thankfully, I didn't. My wife had me go to a mental health clinic, I got on meds and things got better. In the midst of this, I got some tattoos, have a very long beard, and slipped back into chewing tobacco again. Of course, I lost my temple recommend, but I promised my wife I'd still go to church with her and I do. At the time, I was in the Elders Quorum. When I told the president what was going on, he just smiled and said, 'Brother Hoss, the Lord still loves you and needs you. I'm not releasing you.' Sure there are those that have attacked me verbally. . . . But there are more good people than there are bad apples. Most show love and support continually."—Hoss Barela
"As an ordinance worker in the temple, I got to see the gospel in action and the rewards of the Atonement. One young man talked to me at the front desk, he was covered in tats and he glowed from his temple experience. What a change was wrought in the young man. True evidence of the Saviors Atonement at work. People need to get a life, quit judging, and embrace the Saviors atoning sacrifice. It is there for ALL to partake of."—Patrick Crisp
Members of the Church aren't perfect. There are going to be moments when accidentally or intentionally, someone offends someone else. But we should always try to reach out with love because this Church is for everyone. Christ's Atonement is for everyone. And we all have sins, weaknesses, and mistakes on our docket, so why not show compassion to everyone, tattoos and all?
Lead image from Al Fox Carraway's Facebook page