Tattoos—not just the peel-off kind—are the latest fad needling into evangelical subculture, following the WWJD bracelet craze among Christian youth last year (CT, Nov. 16, 1998, p. 17).

Traditionally associated with bikers, gangs, and sailors, tattoos have become a mainstream fashion statement among professional athletes and celebrities.

For a growing number of Christians, tattoos are being used as a permanent proclamation of faith.

Derrick Rachul's tattoo on his upper arm is a stylized image of Jesus on the cross. Currently an aviation student at Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta, Canada, he and seven friends each paid $50 to get the image etched into their arms three years ago.

The following summer, Rachul traveled to Hawaii with Youth with a Mission to evangelize surfers, and he believes the tattoos opened doors for conversation.

"I met a guy that had a whole pile of tattoos—demons, naked women, the whole bit," Rachul says. "He noticed my tattoo and asked me about it. I told him I'm a Christian and talked about what it represents."

Sociologists have noted the trend. "For a small but growing subculture within evangelical Christianity, religious tattooing is becoming an increasingly legitimate expression of individuality, identity, and faith," according to a paper presented by Lori Jensen and Donald Miller at a recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Last year, tattoo artists from almost 100 U.S. tattoo parlors joined the newly formed Christian Tattoo Association. Tattoos of Saint Michael slaying the Devil and of the Last Supper are popular.

Not all Christians are rejoicing over the trend, noting that Leviticus 19:28 (sandwiched between bans on beard trimming and prostitution) prohibits the practice. "I'd be really surprised if anybody could make a very good case in the Bible or on the basis of Christian tradition that this is somehow a really good thing," says Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Bishop Rick Foss of Fargo, North Dakota.

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