Ad Campaign With Tattooed Jesus Gets Lots of Ink, Not All of It Positive

Marked by our past: a strained metaphor?

The evangelicals at are drawing predictably polarized responses for billboards around Lubbock, Texas, that show Christ covered in tattoos (reading "outcast," "jealous" and "addicted," among other things) and a provocative online video (below) that casts the Messiah as a basement tattoo artist. The campaign is a very broad modern metaphor for the Christian idea of Jesus suffering for the sins of others so they might be saved. (It's also the second coming in recent months of Christ as a hipster. Good lord!)

In the video, Jesus changes his customers' negative tattoos into positive ones. For example, a middle-aged man with "depressed" tattooed on his wrist (heavy symbolism for potential suicide) leaves with the word "confident" there instead. At day's end, when he's finally alone, an exhausted Christ removes his shirt, and we see his body covered with the negative phrases he removed from his customers. "Jesus's love is transformative," explains a spokesperson for "No matter what you've been marked with, faith in Him and love for others will transform us."

Critics, including older Texans interviewed about the billboards by Austin station KEYE-TV, blast the concept as "derogatory" and "blasphemous," though younger Texans have reacted in a more positive way. Since teens and young adults generally love tattoos, the generational divide isn't surprising. The campaign is certainly spreading the word, with the clip's YouTube views—130,000 in about two weeks—ascending since press coverage began in earnest a few days ago.

Personally, I find the premise quite moving, and as valid an updating of New Testament themes as Jesus Christ Superstar was a few generations ago. That said, the tattoo concept works better in the video than on the billboards. The latter, glimpsed briefly from passing cars, can easily be misinterpreted, while the six-minute video affords time for explanation and contemplation. Still, it's not entirely successful, at times threading the needle between artistic license and unintentional goofiness, particularly in the awkward overkill of the closing narration ("Tell Him … that you want Him to be your friend!") and the fact that the actor in some shots resembles Geico's caveman or a freaky Jim Morrison.

I kept praying Zombie Boy would show up and give the Savior a real challenge … and maybe trigger Armageddon right on the spot. Of course, some lost souls are beyond redemption.