Reading Time: 3 minutes

Kentucky tattoo artists cover racist tattoos for free: Our calling to extend the grace we have received

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

email

A tattoo artist works on an inked arm
© ViDi Studio/stock.adobe.com

When Kentucky tattoo artists Ryun King and his colleagues watched “the protests, inequality, and people standing up for racial rights” last summer, they felt compelled to try and help. So when Covid restrictions eased and they were able to reopen their shop, they posted on Instagram “If you have a racist tattoo and you want it gone, I’ll cover it for free. No questions asked.”

As Daniella Genovese writes, the response was beyond anything they could have imagined

As their post began to make the rounds, people started reaching out from California to New York and even overseas from places like Ireland and South Africa. Now King and the other artists at the Gallery X Art Collective spend every Thursday turning swastikas, Confederate flags, SS bolts, and other racist tattoos into something that can be displayed with pride. 

Often, the only things more impressive than the final product are the stories that go along with them. 

As King notes, “I’ve had a father that told me that he didn’t take [his] shirt off in front of his kids ever . . . because of some mistake he made when he was in his early 20s in prison and got in with the wrong crowd . . . I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone go . . . ‘I generally hated this race.’ It was always like ‘I felt pressured into this’ . . . or ‘I thought I was going to die in prison.'” 

While their ability to transform racist images into something else is a big part of the endeavor’s success, it’s the promise of “No questions asked” that drives most of the response. 

Normally, those who are ashamed of these tattoos are “pretty much at the whim of whoever is going to be able to cover that for you, if you feel brave enough to even enter the establishment to say, ‘yes, this was me, no, this isn’t who I am.'” By creating an environment in which people can feel comfortable owning their past and then move on from it, they have transformed the lives of countless individuals. 

As Christians, we are called to do much the same.

Extend the grace you have received

One of our key callings as followers of Christ is to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). 

While we may know and recognize that we are called to exhibit that kind of forgiveness, actually doing so is often much more difficult. And God knew it would be. That’s why our forgiveness of others is meant to be an extension of our gratitude for and understanding of the forgiveness that we have received from him. 

When we remember all that he has done for us, it enables us to better extend the same grace to others. That step is crucial, especially when trying to minister to people who look at their past with shame and regret. 

However, as Ryun King and his colleagues can attest, creating a safe space where people are not defined by their worst mistakes but rather are free to accept and embrace a new life can enable them to do just that.

That should be a defining characteristic of every Christian community. 

What can you do to help it define yours?