Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Not Your Granny’s Presbyterians

Among Christian denominations, Presbyterians have a reputation for sobriety and decorum. However, as denominations and churches try to out do one another in the rush to appear the most “authentic” and “with it”, that noble reputation might be coming to an end.

On the website of Covenant Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America is a section where websurfers can listen to audio files addressing a wide variety of issues and topics. Finding one on tattooing, I thought I’d hear a rational discourse against this popular form of personal disfigurement since Presbyterians are renowned for their skill at argumentation.

Much to my surprise, the lecturer, Margie Haack of , gave an exposition on tattoos literally making them of little more consequence than applying makeup up or toning one’s muscles. Haack deceptively lumps all of these under the politically correct banner of “body modification“.

While doing a satisfactory job explicating the various emotional traumas tempting individuals to do something like this to their bodies, her message is woefully inadequate in extolling the shortcomings and dangers of these ghastly scribblings. No where does she even suggest tattoos might be something questionable yet eraseable (at least in the metaphysical sense) under Christ’s redeeming blood.

In fact, the only guilt trip was laid on those daring to retain the traditional Judeo-Christian reluctance to the practice. Throughout, Haack criticizes Christians leery of those branded in this fashion, likening the attitude to racial prejudice. But the last time I checked, the individual has no choice over their race; getting tattooed is a matter of personal volition.

Might most Christians raised properly or later schooled in correct deportment pull back from individuals exhibiting these markings since there might be something wrong with tattooing? After all, most of those with an affinity for this form of decoration aren’t exactly known for their reputations as upstanding members of the community.

Haack attributes these pangs of conscience to misguided middle class values. Interesting, isn’t it, how these attacks on decency always boil down to this argument.

Haack further undermines traditional Biblical teachings on this issue by equating Scriptural injunctions against the practice in question with other Old Testament legal provisions no longer observed under the dispensation or covenant of grace of the New Testament such as dietary restrictions against pork, garments of mixed fabric, and other hygienic or ceremonial matters. While some rules such as those dealing with diet have been rescinded elsewhere in the Bible, ceremonial ones fulfilled by Christ’s coming, and others specified for the particular cultural and historical setting of ancient Israel, many still serve as moral principles and commands conductive to personal health and well being.

For example, nothing much is going to happen to you if you occasionally enjoy some pork or shellfish. However, it only takes one prick of a dirty tattoo needle to get hepatitis (ask Pamela Anderson) or AIDS.

When that happens, I suppose all the pro-tattoo clergy, academics, and otherwise unproductive intellectuals will turn around and lecture all of the unenlightened clods of the middle class why it is now our Christian obligation to put more into the collection plate or have taken out in taxes to alleviate suffering that could have been prevented in the first place.

Interestingly, Mrs. Haack goes on to create the impression that somehow Christians are spiritually superior if they deface themselves with this religious graffiti. Haack justifies tattoos all in the name of Jesus since some early and medieval Christians had them.

While we must study the past or be doomed to repeat it, that does not mean it is the end all in terms of doctrine and practice. After all, if everything had been peachy keen from day one onward, there wouldn’t have been much need for a Reformation, would there?

Haack also provides example of cotemporary Christians who have exhibited their “spirituality” through being tattooed. Specifically, she mentions Jeremy Huggins whom she is careful to point out is a graduate of Covenant Seminary and whom mentions in his own lecture about blogging archived on Covenant Seminary’s webpage his enjoyment of smoking and whiskey. My haven’t we come along way; I remember back in my Christian school days you played it down if you liked “The Simpsons” for fear of running afoul of authorities.

It is revealed that Huggins has a Hebrew word emblazoned across his chest and a Greek phrase etched into his back to remind him of his reliance upon God. If that’s what it takes to jog his memory, his faith must be pretty weak.

If these inscriptions are on sections of his anatomy not normally gawked at by the church going public, then why are we even being told about them? Could be it that those like Rev. Huggins feel guilty about what they have done to themselves, and instead of seeking forgiveness, they try to drown out the shame with applause and accolades from today’s doctrinally fickle congregations?

Since these human billboards advertise their intense religious devotion, it won’t be long until those with tattoos come to be seen as more dedicated to their God than those not decorated in this manner. Eventually in much the same manner as Christians who did not care to view “The Passion” were pressed for a reason as to why they did not want to see the movie, those without tattoos will be hounded by taunts such as “Jesus was scarred for you. Don’t you love him enough to be scarred for him?”

Interestingly, this unsightly body vandalism in a sense serves as a roadmap to certain questionable trends underway within the Presbyterian Church in America. This denomination, once noted for its sticktoitiveness to propriety now, from the attitudes conveyed on their flagship seminary’s website, would rather Christian young people drink, smoke, and turn their bodies into human sketchpads than read Left Behind novels.

Much of the ministry within this denomination is targeted at the highly educated. While that is commendable since this segment is often overlooked in terms of witness, maybe Presbyterians need to worry more about winning approval of the Lord rather than that of slovenly college professors and students.

I ask you what would you rather your children do? Are you going to be so pleased with you own sense of tolerance when your daughter or son comes home having put your broadmindedness into practice?

Furthermore, why should I listen to some preacher prattle on about the “evils” of some young adult activities such as dating (as is the case in the now pervasive Josh Harris I Kissed Dating Goodbye syndrome) or as to why I ought to drop more into the collection plate when the pastor looks like a cheesy roadside advertisement for his own lack of self-discipline especially if he does not readily display a sense of repentance over such an obvious shortcoming?

It has been said youth is fleeting; the indiscretions of it are not. As such, you should not do much of anything you would not want to catch your granny or grampy doing since, try as we might to put the passage of time out of our minds, one day each of us will be one of those elderly souls that have to dispense advice to the young whether they want to hear it or not.

Copyright 2004 by Frederick Meekins

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