Texan David Miller wanted to reach millennials with the gospel. But how can Christians effectively communicate that message to a tech-savvy, video-saturated, un-churched generation? Miller’s conclusion: with a tattooed Jesus.
With help from RD Thomas Advertising, Miller developed an ad campaign in 2013 featuring a thorn-crowned Jesus tattooed with words representing humankind’s sins and suffering etched into his chest and outstretched arms, including “outcast,” “jealous,” and “faithless.” The website JesusTattoo.org includes a simple gospel presentation, testimonials, and a video of Jesus as a tattoo artist who changes clients’ condemning tattoos into hope-filled texts. “Addicted” becomes “freedom,” “self-righteous” changes to “humble,” and “fear” turns to “trust.” The clients’ condemnation is then transferred to Jesus, who is covered in tattoos when he removes his shirt.
Last fall, Miller bought advertising on 60 billboards across Lubbock, Texas, featuring the tattooed Jesus image and the organization’s website address. When he applied to run the ad on the jumbotron during Lubbock Independent School District’s high school football games, district officials initially approved the request. But a few days later, they denied the ad, stating, “The District is prohibited from authorizing this public religious speech … using the jumbotron, which is governmental property, at a school-related event based on the Establishment Clause,” according to The Atlantic.
But the school district regularly allows other religious organizations, including Lubbock Christian University, Full Armor Ministries, and Bethany Baptist Church, to advertise with religious messages at student sports events. Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Miller’s behalf, citing religious discrimination.
“No one deserves to be silenced simply for having a viewpoint that school officials don’t favor,” said senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a press release. “When a school creates an opportunity for community advertising, it cannot single out religious messages for censorship. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”
Local news channels reported Lubbock residents’ lively debate about whether the billboards were derogatory or clever. Online comments at The Christian Post reveal readers arguing about whether tattoos on Jesus equate to sacrilegious pagan symbols, and whether it’s wrong to present Jesus as a tattoo artist imbedding dangerous chemicals into people’s skin.
David Wilson, senior pastor at Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock, told ABC News the Jesus Tattoo concept uses a “shock value” to present a message to a specific audience.
“I use the analogy—I like to fish,” Wilson said. “And I use different baits for different fish, and to me this is fishing for people who would never walk in the door of a church.”