The tattoo gun buzzed as it made contact with Maranda Gerlack’s shoulder, but she didn’t think about the scraping feeling on her skin. All she could think about was the son she lost 24 hours after he was born — the inspiration for the tattoo she was receiving.
Ms. Gerlack is one of almost 40 percent of the generation born after 1981 who have at least one tattoo, according to 2010 data from the Pew Research Center. Many of those tattoos are expressions of faith, though religious teaching on the matter is divided.
Floyd Guinn, 39, is a tattoo artist and owner of Redeeming Tattoos in Tyler. He has given tattoos to priests and ministers, he said, and has someone come in who wants a religious-themed tattoo at least once a day.
Guinn, a devout Christian, believes his profession is a calling from God.
One of Guinn’s employees, Hope Peterson, is also a Christian. She hopes to be able to combine tattooing with a degree in counseling.
“I really felt this is where the Lord wanted me,” Ms. Peterson said. “Wherever you are should be your ministry.”
Guinn was worried about whether he would be embraced in a religiously conservative community and a town that boasted nine tattoo shops. But business has been good for two years, he said, which he credits to his shop’s Christian atmosphere. Several paintings of Jesus and other Christian art hang from the shop’s walls.
“I try to keep it about Him and less about me,” Guinn said.
Still, he knows there are Christians who disagree with him.
The verse many people cite as a religious argument against tattoos is Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.”
But the verse isn’t referencing what tattoos are used for today, Guinn argues.
“That’s an old Pagan ritual,” Guinn said. “Tattoos are now more of an expression of what’s on the inside.”
Ms. Peterson, also a Christian, called the Leviticus verse part of the “Old Law” referencing the fact that there are many verses in the Old Testament Christians don’t adhere to, such as the verse preceding that forbids trimming beards.
Ms. Peterson also referenced Revelation 19:16, “On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.”
Ms. Gerlack decided to get a rosary with a large cross tattooed on her back in memory of her son, Kameron. After a healthy pregnancy, Kameron was delivered in October with undeveloped lungs. He was sent to Dallas, where he died a day after his birth. Ms. Gerlack was still in Tyler and unable to be there.
“He was in his dad’s arms when he passed away,” she said. “Some days I wake up and I still can’t believe it.”
Ms. Gerlack got the original rosary tattoo in January from another tattoo artist, and had Guinn add the words “embrace life with every breath” across her shoulders; a reference to Kameron’s lungs, she said.
“I’m Catholic, so the rosary is a pretty important symbol to me,” she said. “I wanted to have something in remembrance of Kameron and have him a part of me.”