Note to the reader: This blog post deals with Christian theology written from the point of view of a lay person who has done a lot of research on this topic. I welcome comments on the topic at hand, but this is not the place to take potshots at religion or religious people. If you feel the need to do so, you're welcome to start your own blog.
Also, this should go without saying, but the comments below do not imply any practice of religious discrimination on the part of Blue Lotus Mehndi. Blue Lotus Mehndi gladly serves ALL clients without hesitation and has always done so.
This also is long. My apologies, but I can't unpack this topic in 140 characters or less.
In my blog post titled Henna: Myth vs. Fact, I correct two very common misunderstandings about henna. First, henna is not necessarily a religious practice, although it has been done for religious occasions, and some people incorporate religious symbols into their henna designs. Second, henna is not a “fake tattoo” (it isn't trying to emulate traditional ink tattooing) and is a completely separate art form.
Having said that, as a henna artist working in a conservative part of the U.S., the question often comes up: Are tattoos (that is, traditional ink tattoos) OK for Christians? And if not, what about henna?
For those Christians who are opposed to tattooing, the verse above from Leviticus is all that needs saying on the topic. End of sentence. Case closed. But let's take a look at where this verse – the only verse in the Bible that addresses tattooing – falls in the Torah and what its purpose was.
The tattoo prohibition is found in Leviticus, namely in the list of Levitical laws. This is a fairly long list of regulations that governed almost every aspect of life for the ancient Hebrews under their covenant with Yahweh.
Within chapter 19 alone, you find laws that are straightforward and hardly controversial: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Lev. 19:15) Others appear completely irrelevant – even incomprehensible – to a 21st-century Westerner: “If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free ...” (Lev. 19:20)
There's even a rule that appears to prohibit cotton/polyester T-shirts: “... nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” (Lev. 19:19b) But most importantly, let's look at the verse immediately preceding the no-tattoo rule: “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” (Lev. 19:27)
Which brings us to this gentleman:
He is an Orthodox (probably Chasidic) Jew, a member of a sect of Judaism that believes in absolute and strict adherence to all Levitical regulations.
Note that he is not a Southern Baptist preacher.
I don't know of any modern Christian authorities who are arguing that men shouldn't shave their beards nor “round off the hair” of their temples (trim their sideburns). Christians generally hold that the ceremonial laws, cleanliness laws, agricultural and industrial regulations, and many other aspects of Levitical law are not applicable to Christians.
Jesus demonstrates this in the New Testament book of Acts when he appears to the Apostle Peter (a Jew by birth) in a vision and commands him to eat “unclean” animals. (These unclean animals are listed in the 11th chapter of Leviticus.) Throughout the New Testament, the Apostles and other writers continue to stress that the old forms of Levitical law-keeping, which served to divide Jew from Gentile, are no longer in force.
(It should go without saying that the Ten Commandments are still considered valid. Just thought I'd throw that in there.)
So …if we aren't concerned with ancient shaving regulations and eating bacon, I don't see any compelling reason to prohibit tattooing, either. And if tattooing isn't taboo, then it follows that henna – which is not even tattooing in the first place – can be enjoyed by the devout Christian.
And if you still insist on banning tattooing based solely on its mention in Leviticus, then you need to grow a beard, throw out your cotton/polyester blend garments and start raising animals to slaughter for peace offerings. You can't have it both ways.
I'd like to note that Judaism and Islam, which do have traditional bans on tattooing, generally accept henna body art. Sephardic Jews and Muslims of many different nations incorporate henna into their celebrations. So do Armenian Christians! In fact, henna is nearly universal and crosses practically all religious, cultural and national boundaries.