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Beware of Evangelicals Who Ask You Questions About Your Tattoos

cant we be friends
Cartoon by Paco

I have written numerous times about how Evangelicals use fake friendships to evangelize non-Christians:

My Evangelical critics might argue that I have it out for Evangelicals; that I can’t see the “good” Evangelicals do; that Evangelicals sincerely care about people. Believe what you will, but one thing I know for sure: Evangelical zealots are notorious for using disingenuous methods and subterfuge to achieve their God-ordained goal: winning lost souls to Jesus. No other group of Christians — Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses excepted — is willing to use fake friendships to achieve a religious objective. I am friends with several mainline Christian pastors. Not one time have these men and women attempted to evangelize me. We are friends for friendship’s sake.

I am convinced that Evangelicals have a pathological need to make other people to be just like them; to seek, force, and demand conformity to their peculiar religious beliefs. Evangelical zealots see every non-Christian as an evangelization target, a prospect for Heaven, a prospective (tithing) church member. The goal remains what it has always been: to recruit new club members.

Lest readers think that I have developed this opinion post-Jesus, people who were following me back in 2007 know that I was quite vocal about Evangelicals and their nefarious evangelism methods. Readers from that time likely remember my interaction with an emergent church pastor named Iggy. Iggy was bragging about what he and his church were doing for the local community. If I remember right, they were handing out free flower pots to people. I asked if the pots had the church’s name on them and if locals were given church advertising brochures along with the pots. After Iggy admitted that yes, the pots had the church’s name on them, and yes, people were given church advertising brochures, he attempted to defend his actions by saying they were genuinely trying to make friends with people in their community.

Then, as now, I objected to what I considered less-the-honest methods to evangelize people; that the goal wasn’t friendship, but saving the lost and gaining new church members. This led to Iggy and me having an epic war of words, one in which I had a profanity-laced meltdown (for which I later apologized).

I share this story to emphasize the fact that I objected to Evangelicals using fake friendships to evangelize then, and I still object today. Whether I was a Christian or an atheist, it matters not. I despise people who attempt to befriend others for ulterior reasons. All I ask is that Evangelicals be upfront about why they are doing what they are doing. In other words, stop the Trojan horse evangelism practices. Have the “soldiers” get out of the wooden horse and declare themselves: we are here to ravage you in the name of the one true Lord and King, Jesus.

This brings me to the latest Gospel Coalition post about yet another way to evangelize non-Christians. Written by Erin Wheeler, wife of Brad Wheeler, the pastor of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Wheeler writes:

“I like your ink,” I say casually as I walk past the woman in my exercise class. “Thanks,” she mumbles, eyeing me with that look.

It’s the look people give when someone notices their tattoo. They wonder if the person really means the compliment, or if they just happened to notice their purposely and permanently pigmented skin.

At the gym, our conversation continues for a bit. She tells me her tattoo reminds her of a family member she lost a few years ago. I tell her I got my tattoo to remember how God saved my marriage at a time when I thought we might not make it. I have interactions like these frequently: at the gym, at the coffee shop, at the community pool. As a Christian, I’m hoping these tattoo conversations might lead to a more important conversation. A conversation about the gospel.  

As we go through our days, looking to speak to others about Christ, maybe it’s time we considered how asking about someone’s tattoo could be intentionally evangelistic

….

Tattoos present a marvelous gospel opportunity for us. As my coworker, a former tattoo artist, said, “99 percent of people get a tattoo for a reason. There’s a story behind the artwork.” And that, my Christian friend, is an open door! Why not walk through it?

….

Why not ask the barista you order coffee from each morning (whose name I hope you know by now), “Hey Sam, I’ve noticed that tattoo on your arm and have been thinking about it. What is it exactly?” Depending on how he responds, follow up with, “What made you decide on that design?”  

Or how about a coworker or neighbor you’ve gotten to know a bit? Why not take the risk of possibly sounding nosy or weirdly curious: “Hey Laura, I’ve seen those words on your wrist. What made you choose those? I’m curious.” And then shut your mouth and listen. There’s a story behind that tattoo. 

Even if they don’t share their story with you right then and there, it might be the thing God uses to open a door and give you an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s amazing what you can learn about somebody with that simple prompt. 

In response to my questions, I’ve heard people’s whole life stories. I’ve had a man tell me about his tattoo in memoriam for the infant daughter he tragically lost. Others have shared their love of nature—or “Mother Earth” as they called it. I even had a fellow nurse explain her love for Dr. Who because of how he cared for others, particularly the innocent. According to her, that’s what led her into nursing. Even if someone doesn’t remember getting their tattoo, that drunken night or wild weekend is part of their story. 

We can respond to each of these stories with gospel truth. Jesus, the ultimate caregiver, has made a way for the dead to come to life through his own death and resurrection. He knows what suffering is like. He can identify with the broken. He’s the Creator and Sustainer of this amazing world. All we see, he has made. He’s the master storyteller, and he’s at the center of it all. 

Why not use a tattoo story as a bridge to invite others to become a part of God’s larger story?

Do you have tattoos? If you do, remember this post the next time an Evangelical strikes up a conversation with you about your body art. (Especially if it is Jerry Falwell, Jr. asking about your tats that aren’t visible.) Evangelical zealots want to evangelize you so they can put another notch of the handle of their gospel six-shooter. Yet another sinner slain for Jesus. Perhaps unbelievers need to get tattoos that say “Fuck Off” or “No, I am Not Interested in What You Are Selling” or Born-Again Atheist.” Or maybe just wear garlic around your neck to ward off the Evangelical vampires who want to drain the life out of you.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    When sweet Jeebus gets you to your knees and begging for it, you are primed to become a proselytizer. Your mind has been abused and discarded by your whooped up faith and all you want to do is talk about the LSD, wow man, just wow abouit Jeebus and how amazing it all is! All you want to do is turn everything to the Lord. Friends have to listen to you on LSD and people with tattoos must understand that you are looking for a way to LSD, to Jeebus them into a fantastic acid trip. It is great dope and the high lasts and lasts until it doesn’t and you need to find another hit. One good way to avoid the obvious truth, that you are on drugs, is covered nicely by preaching Jeebus on the corners, selling your LSD.

  2. Avatar
    missimontana

    I thought tattoos were forbidden by the Bible? Or now are they okay as long as it’s an excuse to bring people to Jesus? Next thing you know, they’ll be getting people drunk and taking them to cheap motels-just to get the person’s life story and prep them for conversion.

  3. Avatar
    Sage

    I met a guy in Norway who has a tattoo of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I wonder how her conversation with him would go? Maybe he could convert her to Pastafarianism!

    I do not like when people try this with me. The conversation will never go in the direction they had hoped.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    How about asking someone about their tattoo because you are genuinely interested in hearing their story?

    Yeah, I thought evangelicals generally frowned on getting tattoos. I guess they’re hemorrhaging members so fast they have to start easing up on some of the rules that aren’t part of their Precious Culture Wars.

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Bruce Gerencser