For many years tattoos and decorative piercings weren't a real issue for members of the Mormon Church. Until the year 2000, there was only one reference to tattooing in all of Mormon teaching and that was in the 1965 unofficial personal publication Mormon Doctrine by Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie. It states; "Tattooing is a desecration of the human body and should not be permitted, unless all that is involved is the placing of a blood type or an identification number in an obscure place. Latter-day Saint servicemen in particular are counseled to avoid the pitfalls of tattooing. Persons who are tattooed are not, however, denied the ordinances and blessings of the temple."
We--the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve--have taken the position, and I quote, that the Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings." President Gordon B. Hinckley
At the time my husband and I were very active, temple recommend holding members of the church and had been operating a tattoo studio without any prejudice for many years. We were never treated poorly or shunned by the members of our Ward or Stake. Our Stake President's wife more than once brought her children to our studio to get tattoos. It was such a non issue that one of the ways I billed myself in advertising was Kita Kazoo the Mormon Girl Tattoo Artist.
Since then we both have been subjected to many discussions and debates on the right or wrong of getting and doing tattoos and piercings. At first I would defend my choice of profession using the scriptures, but eventually I got tired of it and began asking those who questioned me to explain to me, what horrible thing would happen in our society if everyone had a tattoo? After all, sins are those things that violate the golden rule and keep us from loving one another, not things such as, what clothing we wear or how we do our hair.
Now, 8 years later the whole subject of tattoos and piercings has in my opinion gotten out of hand. Now it is not so surprising to find that the local church authorities, such as bishops, stake presidents and temple presidents are taking it upon themselves to punish members who choose to get a tattoo. Not just in Utah, but all over the world. This has become such a big issue that people are leaving the church over it.
Some people who have tattoos are told not to take the sacrament and others are not allowed access to the temple. Some are being counseled to not marry those who have tattoos and piercings. As having been a 30+ year student of Mormonism and its history I feel that this behavior is not in line with the teachings of Mormonism or Christianity in any way.
Mormons aren't the only religion that superstitiously believes that tattoos are an evil and to be avoided as they supposedly will lead to worse sins. Many Christian Churches and Jewish Rabbi's do also. And there are good reasons for a religion to not want their flock to get tattoos or piercings.
Getting a tattoo not only changes the way you look but it also changes the way you think and feel about yourself. It is a clear message that you feel that you are the owner of your body and worse of all (to religious leaders), your mind!
Historically tattoos have been used as an expression of faith and commitment. One would think that getting a symbol of your beliefs tattooed on ones self would be encouraged. However, because of the recent history of American tattooing and the popularizations of tattooing, tattoos are being presented by the media and politicians as a dangerous amusement. It is not new for counter-culture decorations to be viewed as repulsive to many of the elders of our society.