As I first started investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I looked at the ink on my arms and felt pangs of anxiety. Being in my 30s, I already had more than one tattoo and worried that if the missionaries knew of them, the door of this amazing faith would be closed.
For weeks, I wondered if I could actually be a member of the church if I had them. I worried about being accepted by the congregation, or being “good enough” to join the church. Every Latter-Day Saint I had seen was clean-cut and conservatively dressed, without any tattoos or gratuitous piercings.
This fear seems so silly in retrospect, but my mind constructed all kinds of scenarios where my decision to get tattooed would be an obstacle to continue. Luckily, they proved to be no obstacle at all.
While tattoos are explicitly discouraged by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, their existence does not prevent anyone from being a member, being baptized, or even serving on a mission. My wife and I both have tattoos and have successfully converted to the faith, being both baptized and confirmed.
If you’re seeking the church and also have some ink, do not fear. I’m sure some people will have negative opinions about them, but I have never personally felt judged in the church for having mine. In fact, the members I’ve met are much more interested in sharing their testimony and helping others find the answers they need, rather than talking about worldly things like tattoos or hairstyles.
Of the folks who have asked about my tattoos, it’s been out of curiosity and not out of judgment. People have asked what mine were and what they meant, but I haven’t once heard someone talk about them negatively. After my baptism, someone did joke that my ear-piercing holes had grown up — but this was simply in jest and good-natured fun. There are many other members with tattoos as well.
I’m certain other people can point to specific examples to the contrary. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is large and full of all different kinds of folks. As imperfect beings, we regularly fall short of our ideals. This is why we need the savior!
With that being said, my advice is to not let the fear of judgment hold you back from seeking truth in the church. Instead, focus on your relationship with Heavenly Father and the things you can learn from scripture, prayer, and lessons with the missionaries.
But if you’re interested in learning more about what official church doctrine states about tattoos, I’ve tried to compile what I understand church doctrine to be about tattoos.
What Mormons Believe About Tattoos
Much like other branches of Christianity, Latter-day Saints compare our bodies to temples of God. Likewise, we believe we should treat our bodies as we would treat a literal temple. This is why we believe in following the Word of Wisdom and why tattoos are generally discouraged by church leaders.
This makes sense with some consideration. You wouldn’t go into a house of the Lord and start moving the furniture or scribbling pictures on the wall. The same principle applies to the church’s view of tattoos.
However, I don’t know of any examples of members being excommunicated, denied baptism, or passed over for temple recommends for having (or even getting) tattoos. That would never happen. Likewise, I’ve read reports of missionaries getting tattoos before they go on their mission, as well as other examples of active church members getting their own.
For example, members in Polynesia often have elaborate tribal tattoos, as the practice is a large part of their heritage and culture. Other members simply think tattoos are beautiful works of art and want to express themselves. No matter the reason, there are distinct counter-examples to point to and illustrate that the issue is not cut and dry. Much of this issue is left up to the individual.
As for me, I wish that I never got mine, but I had that regret before I found the church. I will likely get them removed in time, but feel much less negatively about them since being baptized. While immersion in the font didn’t wipe away the physical ink, the person who got those tattoos was reborn in the name of Christ.
However, I would never judge anyone who chooses differently than I have. It’s a personal choice and I ultimately believe an individual should pray to Heavenly Father and decide what is right for them. That said, I’m sure my opinion isn’t universal among LDS members.
Will I Be Judged For My Tattoos?
While we’ve covered the official church position and my own thoughts, one lingering question remains. Will other church-goers judge you for your tattoos?
As I touched on above, I think most folks will just be elated that you’re researching the church. Even if a member had a strong negative opinion about tattoos, they should be more interested in shepherding you closer to Heavenly Father by teaching you about Jesus Christ. In fact, if it was your first time at the church and folks saw your ink, other members may be more interested in getting to know you and understanding your story!
However, there are almost 17 million members in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s impossible for me to tell you what the hearts of all members contain. I can tell you that all members are seeking to live their lives by the example that Jesus Christ set during his time on earth. Unfortunately, we often fail at this goal.
Of course, this means that judgment is possible. But I’ve had tattoos for a lot longer than I’ve been a member and I’ve experienced a lot more negativity about my tattoos outside the church.
This isn’t to say your experience will match mine. However, I would strongly encourage you to avoid letting the existence of your tattoos block you from pursuing your relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you do end up having a negative experience with someone judging you, please understand that it doesn’t reflect the teachings of the church, or even the opinions of most of its members. Yes, the church teaches that your body is a temple. No, it doesn’t teach adherents to judge based on immutable characteristics.
We all seek to love one another, irrespective of physical attributes and past choices.