Tribal Winged Cross Tattoo
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
We use the word Tribal because generally most tattoos are done for people who wish to identify themselves with a particular subculture, or to use a noun with a more exclusive feel, a particular 'tribe'. After David Beckham had a winged cross tattooed on the back of his neck during the 2004 World Cup, fans had similar tattoos done to feel closer to their hero. If some people in the gang/chapter/tribe have a tattoo, then it's a must-have for others who want to be part of that group.
For the past hundred years or so, tattoos have been associated with gangsters, convicts, low-ranking military and the lower classes. This holds certain glamour and makes tattoos sought after by people who are not gangsters, convicts, low-ranking military or lower class, but nevertheless want that 'tough guy' image.
And this is often OK. The problem comes when something unforeseen occurs - causing embarrassment in minor cases or life-threatening situations in extreme cases. Hundreds of years ago, legend has it that a tattoo of a Christian Cross on a sailor's back was his insurance against excessive flogging. Today, corporal punishment is no longer permitted1. A Cross tattoo would be unfortunate for any of today's British or American military who happened to be captured by somebody wanting to payback Abu Ghraib and other atrocities. Sometimes being in a tribe has undesired consequences.
Fashions and tastes are forever changing. What might be acceptable now is often unacceptable later. We just cannot accurately predict where we will be in the future, who we will want to be associated with, and who we will not want to be associated with.
That's the down side.
Advantages of Tattoos
In a tattoo's favour is that the artwork, if done properly, can be very attractive. A tattoo has the advantage over jewelry, in that for certain jobs, jewelry is not permitted for uniform reasons or safety. Jewelry can be easily lost, stolen or broken. Such things do not affect tattoos.
Non-Christians and the cross tattoo
For a non-Christian to sport a Christian symbol has its drawbacks. No matter how attractive the cross might be to the bearer, he or she has no control over the reaction of people who see it. Some may assume the bearer is Christian and ask awkward questions. With no faith, the bearer loses credibility. If persecuted for bearing a cross that has no religious significance to the bearer, then that is a double tragedy.
Christians and the cross tattoo
Conversely, if a Christian sports a cross tattoo, they will have no problem in supporting that with their faith. But the Christian could easily encounter disapproval from their peers for displaying a desire to belong to a 'tribe'.
A cross tattoo can be an opportunity to evangelize and it is the Christian's duty to evangelize as much as possible. However, a tattoo is unlikely to give any better message than a lapel badge or some other piece of jewelry. And those are no match for the message a Christian can give through actions. The Church does not encourage tattoos; God's old laws to Moses (Lev. 19:28) specifically prohibits tattoos. (Consequently in World War II, forcibly tattooing Jews in the concentration camps added to their humiliation.) Based on the literal interpretation of Lev. 19:28, permanently ingraining a dye into the skin's dermis verges on the sacrilege.
But that is a charge that doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.
In the First Crusade, warriors had a Latin Cross tattooed on their arms to ensure they received a Christian burial. Pilgrims to Jerusalem and pilgrims to the tomb of St. James, would come back with a souvenir in the form of a small cross tattoo on the insides of their wrists as proof of their pilgrimage.
Such identification marking is quite different to cosmetic or wanaabe-in-your-gang tattoos, and Christians have generally opted to keep their bodies free of such adornments. Our bodies belong to God and are to be used to spread the love taught by Jesus. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 likens our bodies as 'a temple of God'. What sort of Christian would deface a temple with graffiti? Of course, a temple of God might well be decorated with a cross, and a Christian could argue that a cross tattoo is a mark of one's faith, not graffiti.
It is worth reading Lev. 19 for other forbidden acts we probably often fail with: 'Don't pick up fallen fruit.' 'Don't wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.' 'Stand up when an older person enters the room....' And we may decide these are not too important these days. (The purpose of those laws was to prevent Jews falling into the trap of worshipping Pagan gods.) However, the chapter also instructs that we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves2, which is incredibly important. It is up to the individual to decide how important the prohibition of tattooing is in the 21st century.
Similarly, closer examination of 1 Cor. 6 (mentioned above) reveals it is a warning against sexual promiscuity. It does not mention tattoos, and it does not mention eating too much, smoking, drinking, overworking, and many of the other things we do that damage our body temple much more than a tattoo might.
Cross designs used for tattoos
Christians have a duty to evangelize and a tattooed cross is a constant advertisement of one's faith. However, a tattoo must be a minor advertisement in comparison to our actions. As Saint Francis said; "Proclaim the Gospel. Use words if you must."