"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father ... to keep oneself unstained by the world."
James 1:27

Body piercing and tattooing are not new ideas. These practices go back thousands of years, even before the days of Leviticus 19:28. Likewise, in our own culture, piercing and tattooing have left their mark. However, until recently, the influence has never been considered positive. Instead, piercing and tattooing the body carried a negative stigma associated with rebellion or questionable character. In fact, seemingly innocent tattoos usually came with a story like, "One night me and my buddies were drunk and ..." Hence, in light of its growing popularity among Christian youth, should Christians view this as just another harmless fad? Or is it a symptom of something much deeper?

We can learn from the lessons of the Israelites. God repeatedly warned His people to "Be careful," and not follow the customs or ways of the pagans. Over and over again they did not heed these warnings given for their protection and preservation. Consequently, they were continually seduced and ensnared by their enemies, and "... went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them." (2 Kings 17:15 NAS)

Biblical "principles" were not just relegated to history. They are also for the Church today. Nonetheless, according to Charles Spurgeon, the carnal mind does not understand the principles of separation from the world. Yet, he warns, "When the town is on fire, our house cannot be too far from the flames. When the plague sweeps the land, we too are in danger. The further one is from the viper ... and ... from worldly conformity the better." But, where are we living today? Are we keeping our families further from the fires of the culture, or are we living right on the edge?

The Heart of America's Youth Culture

David Kuplian, vice-president of WorldNetDaily.com, says that " ... throughout history certain societal behaviors contribute to its spiral downward and make a people ripe for rebellion against God." Describing today's "celebratory" piercing and tattooing of the body as one of the cultural indicators bearing "a striking resemblance to the ageless spirit of defiant paganism," Kuplian laments, " ... it's as though the rebellious spirit of reprobate, pagan civilizations of the past was tapped into by today's pop culture." ("The Marketing of Evil," Whistleblower, December 2003)

Although Kuplians's report is based on the current condition of our culture, Christians should also take notice ... especially since we see evidence of similar popular youth expressions growing in the Church.

Just how bad have things become? In a private, sobering conversation with someone who has firsthand knowledge of a popular youth missionary training facility, a volunteer sadly told me, "You will see everything here ...." He was referring to tongue and body piercing, tattoos and immodest dress, which of course included girls with their bare midriffs showing.

Sliding Toward Secularism

Six years ago my daughter surprised me with the news that a girl in her church youth group was getting her tongue pierced. Many were confused about why this girl, who was regarded as a leader, diligently read her Bible, and who even gave up part of her summer to go on a teen mission trip, would want a stud in her tongue.

Since tongue piercing was clearly "counter-culture," and because I was concerned about its influence on her friends, the next time she called our house, I questioned her about whether or not this would compromise her witness for Christ. I also asked her to reconsider identifying with those hostile to our faith. To my dismay, I learned her mother had actually given her permission, and the only explanation she gave me was, "I told my mother this is just something I need to do."

I have heard other shallow responses from Christian young people such as: "This is a proclamation of my faith," or "My tattoo(s) open the door for me to witness." Still, not everyone would agree with this generation's new statements of faith.

What Can Christians Learn from Starbucks?

Out of curiosity, I called Starbucks' Seattle cooperate office with a question: "Does Starbucks have a dress code?" In response I was told, "On the job we do not allow tattoos, tongue piercing, or more than one earring per ear." Why? Because Starbucks wants their employees "to have a certain demeanor," which in turn will "create a positive image and environment." To be sure, if Starbucks did not think it would hurt business, the successful corporate leader would not require its employees to leave their tongue piercing and tattoos at home.

But something doesn't add up here. Standards are higher at Starbucks than they are for Christian young people in the church? What can we learn from Starbucks, the Pottery Barn and other successful companies, who share similar dress codes? Body piercing and tattoos send a negative message -- a message Christians should not be willing to send.

Therefore, if the Church wants the next generation to identify with Christ, and not the culture, our young people must lovingly be taught the truth: Those who have publicly committed themselves to pursuing godliness should support that claim not only by being clothed with righteous behavior, but also by modeling Christian character in their demeanor, wardrobe, and modest appearance.

If Starbucks doesn't think body piercing and tattoos are "good for business," why would Christians accept the idea they are good for witnessing? Similarly speaking, during his weekly radio broadcast, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has cautioned that "thoughtful Christians" should not identify with those in our culture marked with piercing and tattoos.

Like the Israelites of old, American Christians have become careless. As a result, spiritual confusion continues to grow, and it is becoming more and more difficult for the next generation to clearly see where the world ends and the church begins.


Cathy Mickels (cmickels@charter.net) is the former Washington state president of Phyllis Schlafly's national organization Eagle Forum. She is also the co-author of Spiritual Junk Food: The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth, Winepress Publishing, 1-877-421-READ.