The Rev. Terri Lowe, minister of church administration at First Baptist Church, said she was so frustrated Friday she nearly went out and got a tattoo.
The church has been the subject of a hoax this week in which someone sent a text message to hundreds of people locally, alleging the congregation condemns anyone with tattoos.
The texter apparently used the Web site says-it.com and its Church Sign Generator page to create a sign under a First Baptist Church marquee that reads: "God loves you, unless you have tattoos; in that case, you are going to hell."
"This is just an ugly joke," said Mrs. Lowe, who estimated the congregation had received some 100 calls and e-mails about it. "It has caused a whole lot of hurt, judging by conversations with people as they were calling in."
Not only does the church not condemn people with tattoos, she said, but several people in the church have them, including a minister's wife.
Further, Mrs. Lowe said, First Baptist doesn't have a sign like the one pictured in the hoax text.
Ryland Sanders, founder of says-it.com, said something similar happened during the 2008 presidential election when one of the site's fake signs from a synagogue encouraged people to vote for Barack Obama.
"It's unfortunate," he said in an e-mail, "but there's little I can do about it. I can't and don't try to censor what people can put on their church signs; there's literally no way to reliably and effectively filter out all the negative things people can say. I can only say that the majority of people use the site for positive things ... and I won't let a few idiots spoil it for them."
Felicia McGhee-Hilt, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, cautioned people to be wary of what is sent to them.
"You just really have to be careful because of the ever-changing technology," she said, "because it's easy to portray yourself as someone else and send out things that are not true."
Ms. Lowe said that, in contrast to the sign's message, First Baptist is an open and accepting congregation.
"Statements like that give Christians a bad name," she said. "In doing so, we have totally missed the message of love that Jesus came to proclaim."