This is a GUEST INTERVIEW POST in which I had a chance to sit and talk with my good friend Aaron Davis, a.k.a. the “Tattoo Preacher”. Aaron has been in ministry for over 17 years and truly has a passion to reach the lost at any cost. He currently serves as the Online Campus Pastor of Oasis Church.
My Interview with Aaron
Adonis: How did you come up with the name Tattoo Preacher?
Aaron: Really, it was a fluke… I was trying to find a screen name for a social network when social networking was first becoming popular several years ago. Aaron Davis was already taken so I started thinking about names that wouldn’t be taken. I tried to think of something that would quickly define who/what I was while also setting me apart from other screen names. I thought to myself, “I’m tattooed and I’m a preacher…How about TattooPreacher…?” It was available and it stuck…As I anticipated, the name got quite a bit of attention and I began getting emails very quickly about being a Pastor and having tattoos… Interestingly enough, it also opened significant ministry doors which was totally unexpected…the rest is history i guess.
Adonis: Have you ever received any negative reactions or comments from Christians regarding your tattoos? If so, Why do you think they responded the way they did?
Aaron: When I read this question, I literally laughed out loud because I think you would be shocked by how many have actually responded hatefully about this issue…It is sad the amount of prejudice still existant in the church today. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if someone has tattoos or simply combs their hair differently than everyone else, people will often have a negative reaction to anything that has to do with being different. The same legalistic spirit of religion that was prevalent in the pharisees (the spirit that ultimately sought to kill Jesus) is still very much in existence today. It takes on an Angel of Light appearance and hides behind a false veil of “holiness” but love is not it’s root, it is in actuality very evil and it’s root is hatred, self-righteousness and division.
With that said, for too many years, self-righteousness and legalism (the law) have been taught to be “holiness” and people from the leadership to the lay person have adopted an attitude that they somehow are made more righteous (in right standing with God) by their works. When the Gospel is “Works based” it becomes self-righteousness and not God-Righteousness…and as you well know, the Bible tells us that our attempts at self-righteous living is like filthy rags to a Holy God and also the very reason that none of us can boast of righteous living because we are only made righteous through Christ.
The problem is this, self-righteousness has being renamed and is wrongly being taught as holiness. When this happens, people wrongly believe that they are holy because they don’t do what others are doing and they become prideful in their works, which is in direct opposition to what the Word of God says. The lesson goes right back to Paul confronting the early church and the Jews about circumcision as a means of justification when it is not the ceremony or the pomp and circumstance that makes us righteous in God’s eyes. The second that we become finger pointers we’ve stepped into pride, self-righteousness, and judgment…and outside of Grace… I could write an entire book on this one question, but where the rubber meets the road, when we are NOT exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, we are walking outside of the Spirit and in pride, self-righteousness and unrighteousness judgement.
Adonis: How have your tattoos made it possible for you to reach people in your line of work in a positive way?
Aaron: It has become more acceptable in some circles for a preacher to have tattoos, but it has not been that way for long… I’ve had tattoos for about 16 years now and because it has been outside of the norm, my appearance has given me audience with those who had a negative stereotypical perception of pastors and christianity and simply didn’t want anything to do with what they would call “a suit”. My appearance literally broke down walls before they were even formed because I already didn’t fit within the paradigms of their own prejudices.
Many who are not in church have as much prejudice against christians as christians do against “the world”. Some have solid justification for their prejudice because those who were representing God were not operating in the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace…etc) and basically just making God look hateful by being hateful to them and condemning them before even knowing them…but when they saw me, it turned their pre-conceived ideas on their heads because to them, christians, and especially pastors didn’t “look like me”… As a result, it triggered their curiosity and opened a door for me to share the Gospel and the LOVE of God where before they only understood judgment and animosity… The truth is this, most people that I come in contact with are not Anti-Christ, they are anti-christian because of how they have been mistreated and aggressively judged by christians. Many that I talk with are blown away when they find out that God actually loves them because they have seen so much hatred and exclusion exhibited toward them from those who call themselves christians. Somewhere along the way the “they shall know them by their love” was lost in translation and “they shall know them by their judgment and mouth” became the norm for how “the world” sees christians… It’s sad really… but my soap box vent has been to show those who have been wounded by some of the church, the Love of God… It’s amazing to me how much that Love breaks down every other wall…
Adonis: Have you ever considered having any of your tattoos removed?
Aaron: No, that removal stuff hurts too much…HA! I’m kidding… I like the work that I have gotten and different pieces came during different seasons of my life… As a result, each one kind of has sentimental value… I have a SWAT tattoo from when I was a SWAT officer that I have gone back and forth with about getting covered up with something else, but like I said, it is representative of where i’ve been and have become resolved in the fact that I don’t care to cover it right now.
I would say this, talking from experience, don’t get a tattoo until you know EXACTLY what you want, then find a GREAT artist and save your pennies until you can afford to pay them… and then wait a while to make sure that you don’t want to change your mind. When I was a teenager, I had an idea of a tattoo that I wanted… Today, I realize that it was TOTAL CHEESE and if I had it on my body I would have regretted it from the time I hit 20 til now… I’m so glad that I didn’t rebel and get it at 14 after Dad said, “Wait until your an adult and I’ll pay for the first one…” I waited until I was 20 to get my first tattoo and i’m glad I did because I was able to make an adult decision with a little bit of maturity under my belt… I love having tattoos but for me it’s been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember. Honestly, I believe that God had every intention of me being the Tattooed Preacher from the time that He created me and I believe that I would feel incomplete and even compromising who I was created to be if I didn’t have them…
Adonis: Have you heard of any stories of Christians with tattoos being judged by others within the church and as a result they are now totally turned off by the church in general?
Aaron: Yeah, there is this guy I know, they call him the Tattooed Preacher…HA! I’m just kidding… Honestly, every tattoo artist i’ve ever had has told me stories of how they wished they could go to church or would like to, but felt ostracized and like an outcast by all of the gawking eyes and even hateful words they’ve experienced…Many of them were raised in church and believe in Jesus but just don’t want anything to do with church because of the inconsistencies in the love department that they have experienced. I have a friend in Amsterdam who actually rededicated her life to the Lord under my online ministry a few year ago and I encouraged her to try to find a local church so that she could be a part of a church family and be properly covered. She went to several churches on my prompting and was kicked out of every one… One even stopped her on the steps and told her that she could not come in because she was a child of Satan (because she had tattoos…) I think many christians would be outraged if they saw and heard the things that I have as it pertains to the Body of Christ and how they have treated me and others that I know but this is still absolutely happening in every town all around the world. The stories almost sound unrealistic but I’ve experienced it myself and I can tell you confidently, it is still an epidemic! But to be fair, it IS getting better a little bit at a time… I believe that it’s time for the church to mature a bit and recognize that apart from Love we are like Corinthians 13 says, “just resounding gongs”… I’ll end this answer with a quote from Pastor David Crank in St. Louis a few days ago that I absolutely loved, “When one is casting a wide net, it is not very productive to throw rocks at the fish and then hope that they will continue to swim around your boat. God is love & when you love them you can win them”.
Adonis: Being a Father myself, I can totally see the bond that you have with your son Rocky. Will you allow him to get a tattoo when he is older? If so, how old will he have to be before he can get one?
Aaron: It’s funny that you ask that, I was thinking about that very thing yesterday and here is my take. The bible says, Train up a child in the way HE should go… My #1 responsibility as a parent is to encourage his strengths and help him navigate his weaknesses so that they do not become his downfall. I don’t want my son to be “like his daddy”, I want him to be who God created him to be (whatever that looks like) and I will do everything in my power to help me become that man. I realize that my input will mold his perceptions and I believe that God gave him to me because of the influence that I and his mother would have on him…He’s a world changer, I already see that in him… A leaders leader… Recognizing the potential in him both for success and possible failure (if unbridled in certain areas of his personality), I’m asking God for wisdom on how to best influence him to carry the responsibility and calling that God has placed upon his life.
As I said earlier, Tattoos for me don’t even feel like they are optional, they literally feel like an outward expression of me, like a haircut or clothing style, it’s just a part of who I am. Unless I see that same passion in him, I wouldn’t encourage him to get tattooed. As you know, I came out of Law Enforcement…I have many people come to me when they are thinking about becoming a cop asking for my input and I try to talk them out of it… I believe it is a noble calling and one that, if you can be talked out of it, you probably weren’t called to it. I usually will tell people, if you can do anything else and be happy, do that…
I believe that people often have pipe dream perceptions of what it would be like to be a cop, and honestly, tattoos have the same parallel…People get them for a number of different reasons and I would say that several of those reasons, depending upon the person, should be avoided. But…If it is a passion of theirs and something that they strongly desire, like going into law enforcement, I would recommend that they pray long and hard about it and then do what they feel is right… I guess, what I am taking the long road all around saying is this, be sure that you are sure and then if you are, enjoy it…
Back to Rocky…As long as I have the power to do so, with Rocky, I will discourage it, not because I think it is wrong, but I want him to KNOW that it is right FOR HIM before he does it… Much like my dad asking me to wait… I would encourage him to do the same… But here’s the deal, I’m going to spend the next 15 years (he’s 3) teaching him everything I know about following the leading of the Holy Spirit and being God’s man first… and if at the end of that childhood and adolescent training, he decides that he wants a tattoo, he’ll be an adult and I hope that I did my job well enough that he makes a Spirit lead, God’s man decision… and whatever he does, tattoo or no, he’ll be his daddy’s boy AND his own man walking in Love with God and others and ultimately living in the fullness of his potential as he pursues his destiny…If I did my job as his father, then I believe that will be the case…
Adonis: Is there any concern that having tattoos will create a certain perception or stigma about you in a negative way?
Aaron: I love this question, thank you for asking it! I had a pastor friend a few years ago tell me, Aaron, you are such a fantastic speaker but you have to realize, you are alienating yourself from ministry opportunities by continuing to get tattoos, a lot of churches won’t have you in to speak because you will scare them away with your look…they will assume that you are a rebel and it will cost you…my response to him was this, Pastor, if a church won’t have me in, then I wasn’t called to that church. Even Jesus understood who he was called to, in Matt 15, he confronts a Canaanite woman and tells her, “I’m called to the lost sheep of Israel”… At that point, Jesus was very on point, he had 3 years to accomplish a lot of ministry and train his disciples in order to fulfill his ministry before returning to the Father. He also knew that after He left, the Gospel would be shared among the gentiles (of which she was) by Paul and his disciples but at that point, his ministry was focused on his immediate sphere of influence (the Jews)…Time was limited, and He was sticking to what God had called Him to do in that season…
I used to be concerned about people not liking me or “what if I lose influence…” but what I came to understand is this, God has called me to be ME, when I finally embraced that calling, and quit trying to be anyone else, ministry flourished for me. Each one of us is called to reach our specific sphere of influence… when I was trying to be something or someone else or even concern myself about the possibility of “not reaching” someone because of their perceptions of me, I was operating outside of faith and not trusting God to order my footsteps. I believed that God called me to be me, and if He did, then He will fulfill the destiny that He has placed in me… My job is staying connected to Him…He’s the vine, i’m just the branch but as long as I stay connected to Him, I will produce the fruit that I was created to produce. When I realized that I was only called to reach the ones that He purposed me to reach, I actually became liberated… He created me to be me and as a result, I’ve come to realize that those who don’t accept me, are just not who I am called to… God will send a “Paul” later to reach them because He is faithful and it is He who starts and finishes the work, but for me, I have to stay focused on who He has called me to reach… The churches who will have me, are the sheep I am called to reach…those who will not, do not motivate my decisions because i’m simply not called to them in this season and i’m ok with that… Funny thing about God, I’ve seen Him take the very ones that present circumstances kept me from being able to relate to, change their life circumstances, and then bring me back into the picture to minister to them in the next season. The church is notoriously behind the trends, but changes do take place… Blue Jeans were yesterdays tattoos…Now, I challenge you to find a pastor who doesn’t wear them…Many will in the pulpit now… Tattoos, although still taboo in some circles, will continue to be more and more acceptable and the churches who may not have had me speak yesterday may just do so tomorrow…I’m simply not worried about it…
Adonis: What would you say to people who think that tattoos are totally against God’s Word?
Aaron: The first thing I would say is, whatever you do, DON’T get a tattoo then! (i’m laughing while writing that)… I understand the reasoning behind why some feel that tattoos are against God’s Word… and this is the #1 question that I usually get from people online. So I did a video blog on it. If you go to my website, www.TattooPreacher.com and go to my video blog section it is Video Blog #26- The Bible on Tattoos and Piercings.
In a nutshell, most people who believe this way base their entire perception on a single scripture, Leviticus 19:28 You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead nor print or tattoo any marks upon you; I am the Lord. The issue here is concerning what God is saying and WHY this was a law in the old testament. I believe that this particular scripture is commonly quoted because it justifies a prejudice that people already have… but, if we are to be fair and present a balanced argument, if someone is against tattoos because of the law, then they must also be against cutting your hair around the temples of your head which is presented in the scripture directly preceding verse 28…Leviticus 19:27 You shall not round the corners of the hair of your heads nor trim the corners of your beard [as some idolaters do]. God was taking a people who were for 400 years, immersed in a pagan culture through slavery and who had adopted pagan worship practices into their worship of God. They were confused about what pleased God because of what they had seen and, as a result did not know what they should do as part of their worship practices. Because of their lack of clarity, God explained here in these scriptures that these things were not necessary in their worship and He didn’t demand these practiced in order to be pleased because, HE IS THE LORD not the God’s that their enslavers served in Egypt.
When you think about it, when Moses didn’t come back down the mountain in time, what was the first thing the Israelites did…? They melted their gold, made a pagan god and had an orgy to worship the god… (Which was exactly what they were taught in Egypt) God understood this and outlined things in the Law for their clarity… vs 27-28 directly had to do with worship practices that the Egyptians observed…The hair cut that is being referenced in vs 27 was cut when the Egyptians worshiped the sun god…Egyptians also cut their flesh and tattooed it in worship for the dead so that the god’s would notice them and allow their dead passage into the afterlife… Israelites would have understood this and would also understand why the two scriptures were listed together as they were both religious practices that were observed by the Egyptians in their worship… there is so much about the law when we study it that we can come to understand if we pursue it from a balanced perspective. But, to take a single scripture out of context to defend a prejudice is a fail I think…
Adonis: What’s the coolest tattoo that you have seen?
Aaron: That’s really hard to answer because I classify tattoos by artist and style. There are so many QUALITY artists out there with such amazing personal talents and styles… Some do portraits, some specialize in animals, some do traditional work, some use color while others just black and white… So, i’m not sure I have an all time favorite… but this one got my attention right off the bat more than any other i think I have ever seen… it is by a tattooist in Milwaukee named Dan Hazelton and when I saw it I was blown away… I’ve got a little bit of a super hero complex and when I was on the SWAT team my Nick Name was Spider Man so this one kind of holds some weight with me, but overall I just loved the concept of the “Superhero inside”
Adonis: I trust that people with tattoos are reading this post. Some may have been judged by Christians or others. In the closing moments of this interview what words of encouragement can you leave with them?
Aaron: That is probably the easiest answer of this interview. What I would tell them is this, God Loves you! People fail but God doesn’t. If you have experienced hurt at the hands of unloving christians, it’s important to realize that people are imperfect and make mistakes and many of them simply have not been taught properly as it pertains to who God really is and how He feels about us… But if you are wanting a relationship with God, He’s waiting and wants to have that relationship with you far more than you could ever imagine. I would also encourage them in understanding that not all christians or churches are alike and many HAVE come to know God in His truest form which is Love and they would love them and accept them (tattoos and all) at their churches…Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find what you are looking for. And while you are looking, I’m part of one of the most happenin’ churches on the planet and you can join us LIVE online every week for our church services at 8:30, 10:15 and 12:15 cst if you are interested! We livestream and also offer the services on demand online at www.OasisChurch.tv …I’m the online campus pastor there and we are averaging just under 70,000 people a month tuning in to our online programing. We’ll love ya and accept you there if you are having trouble finding a church locally that you can attend…and the final thing I think I would want you to know is… I love ya…
Well that’s about all the time I had with the Tattoo Preacher. For more info or further discussion please feel free to get in touch with my good friend Aaron Davis.