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FIRST-PERSON: My testimony in ink

BELTSVILLE, Md. (BP) — I cringe with every remembrance of an occasion when I was the new pastor at First Baptist Church of Beltsville. David Lee, then the BCM/D executive director, invited convention pastors, along with their families, to a getaway weekend at a beautiful retreat center in Pennsylvania. I was happily splashing in the pool with my young children when I became aware of confused and hurt glances cast in my direction. Sweet brothers and sisters in Christ, faithful servants in the BCM/D, were shocked by the Confederate flag emblazoned on my arm, a decades-old tattoo of a former worldview.

Rather than gathering those saints together to explain the disconnect between my tattoo and my heart, I quietly slipped out of the pool and committed to never hurting anyone else with the inked message on my skin. To my brothers and sisters in Christ who may have been hurt or confused that day, here is the story that I should have told you years ago.

Racial distrust and bias infect the adolescent heart quickly and often without much notice. My teen years fostered a growing racism that rarely came to the light of day, but festered as I left the shelter of my Christian upbringing.

I was not following Christ when I entered adulthood in the ranks of the military, and I had little care or concern for the feelings of other people. There was no sense of caution or concern when I asked the tattoo artist to ink me with a huge confederate flag embellished with a general’s sword. It was not an intentional choice speaking to overt racial hatred; it was a subconscious admission of distrust toward persons different than me.

I dislike thinking too long about the days before I began following Jesus. God’s grace redeemed me from the burden of sins that have mostly gone untold for decades.

 A testimony of change can be edifying and cathartic in the body of Christ, and I hope that hearing that Jesus can radically transform an uncaring and

angry person who proudly wears a Confederate flag into a Christian pastor in a multi-ethnic church is an encouragement to you. I can tell you that as God transformed my mind through the years, the tattoo began to haunt me in a way that is similar to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” I felt as if everyone could see my tattoo, and I developed a habit of constantly pulling down the sleeve of my shirt. Something had to change.

Two years ago, I began researching cover-up tattoo artists in the Washington, D.C., metro area. I bore the high expense and pain of numerous visits to transform a symbol of my former worldview into a symbol of my testimony of deliverance through Jesus.

Where a Confederate flag once flew, the Lion of Judah now resides on my skin and in my heart. I am shocked that my gracious God allows me to serve in a church where I worship alongside saints from Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, Liberia, Vietnam, Guatemala and other nations. On the average Sunday, I shake more black and brown hands than white hands.

    About the Author

  • Keith Holland