The Table Podcast

Leaving Hate Behind

In this episode, Dr. Thomas Tarrants shares with Bill Hendricks his personal story of transformation through the gospel from a violent racist in the Ku Klux Klan to a committed pursuer of Christ and racial reconciliation.

Timecodes
00:29
Tarrants is introduced
3:31
Tarrants shares the start of his involvement with racism
13:44
Tarrants discusses how he began committing violent racist acts
20:16
Tarrants shares how he became a Christian
30:17
How did people know Tarrants became a Christian?
36:36
What did Tarrants do after prison?
39:46
How did Tarrants move towards racial reconciliation?
42:10
How can we love people different from us?
Resources Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation by Thomas Tarrants
Transcript
Bill Hendricks
Well hello. Welcome to the Table Podcast from Dallas Theological Seminary. I am Bill Hendricks, the executive director for Christian Leadership at the Hendricks Center. On the table we discuss issues of God and culture. Today, what I want you to do as we start this is I want you think about the least likely person you can think of who would ever convert to Christianity, and who would ever follow Jesus Christ as a disciple. Just fix that person in your mind.

For some people that’s going to mean a drug cartel kingpin, or a pedophile, or some terrible leader somewhere who’s enslaved their people. For somebody else they can probably think of an abortion doctor they might think of. They might think of a politician they detest. They might think of a relative that they’re just certain could never ever, ever come to faith.

Well, our guest today fits that category. Tom Tarrants is the president emeritus of the CS Lewis Institute, an international discipleship ministry based in Washington DC, or the DC area. Prior to that he was a pastor. Prior to that he of course went to seminary. Prior to that he got an undergraduate degree in classics. Prior to that he was in prison. Prior to that he was a terrorist for the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama and Mississippi. Prior to that he was a high school kid in Mobile, Alabama where he grew up, and prior to that he was an average kid in the south whose parents worked and he played with his buddies.

Tom Tarrants, I know I’ve probably given away a lot of the punchline to the story here, but welcome to the Table Podcast. We’re so excited to have you with us today.

Thomas Tarrants
Well thank you, Bill. It’s a great pleasure to be with you. I appreciate the work you’re doing there and the work of Dallas Seminary. I’m especially grateful for Darrell Bock and his good scholarship that has helped me a lot.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, Doctor Bock is my colleague. He’s the executive director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and he’s also senior research professor of New Testament here at Dallas Seminary. So, Tom, I knew instantly I wanted you on this podcast when I picked up a copy of your book that was recently released entitled Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation.

There are so many layers in your story that we could go into. There’s the whole civil rights era in the south, there’s how you became radicalized by the white supremacists and your activities with the Klan. Then we get into racial – where does racism come from, and what do we do about racial reconciliation. We could do a whole podcast with you on prison and prison life and prisoners, which is a big thing; anti-Semitism, political polarization.

I guess what I want to start with, though, so you’re this average kid in Mobile, Alabama in the early 1960s, and how in the world did you get involved with the Klan?

Thomas Tarrants
Well, it is a strange odyssey I suppose you’d say because I was raised going to church every Sunday. My mother took us or sent us, and went to a big Baptist Church, and went to Sunday school every Sunday and all the rest and made a profession of faith when I was 13, although I was not born again. A common problem.
Bill Hendricks
Yes, I’m afraid so.
Thomas Tarrants
In many circles. But I didn’t know it, so I thought my ticket was punched and I was good to go. And the way I got into all of this was through the desegregation of public schools in Alabama. We were put under a federal court order to desegregate the University of Alabama and various public schools and facilities, and that generated an enormous amount of agitation, aggravation –
Bill Hendricks
Anger, yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
– among many, many white people. And actually, it helped to trigger a populist wave across the south that was probably lead more by Governor George Wallace than anybody else. His name would be most readily attached to it.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
So it was a populist period just like today actually.
Bill Hendricks
Which is a kind of a cautionary tale isn’t it? We’ve got to be very careful when we just sort of swallow the party line, I guess you’d call it, of people that we agree with, but we might think, “Wow, is it really possible that we could be going against the tide?” Not only the tide of history, but I think what you point out ultimately in your book, this is really going against the love of God for people.
Thomas Tarrants
Absolutely, and it’s part of the danger of periods of populist sentiment. What happens is something occurs that unsettles people and society becomes really disoriented, and that’s what was happening in the ‘60s. It was a real social upheaval. I was raised in Mobile, as you had mentioned. Since the founding in 1703 everything had been segregated.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Thomas Tarrants
And when I grew up, in public places bathrooms had a sign over the door for whites, or others for coloreds, or water fountains, and just the whole society was structured that way.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And so that to me was normal. I didn’t have any – it’s hard for people today to imagine what that would have been like, but it’s the flip, it’s the reverse of the way things are today. We consider things today to be normal where you have free access and equal opportunity, equal rights and things like that. At least in theory we do.

And so my whole world was turned upside-down and many other people felt the same way. And the danger in these periods like this is that – and it’s social upheaval. People are just saying, “What in the world is happening? What’s going on?”

Bill Hendricks
A lot of fear I suppose.
Thomas Tarrants
Well, absolutely. It’s rooted in fear, and the fear gives rise to anger, then anger gives rise to all kinds of bad things.
Bill Hendricks
So how did you connect then with the white supremacy group?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, my high school was the largest in the city and was selected for a test case you might say. And so when I arrived at school to start the school year in September, the grounds were surrounded by national guard troops to ensure the safe conduct of I think it was two young African American girls into the school.
Bill Hendricks
So they were integrating your school with two African Americans, that’s all.
Thomas Tarrants
Two, and student body was about 2,000.
Bill Hendricks
Oh my gosh. So I mean those two girls – I mean I would have been terrified if I had been them. I mean I know there’s a lot of fear and anger for those 2,000 white students, but I just think about those two poor little girls and that just seems like not very good wisdom to do it that way.
Thomas Tarrants
I’m sure it was really difficult for them. Federal marshals escorted them, but it was not an easy thing. So I was very angry about it all, and others were too. I wasn’t raised to be a racist, or my parents didn’t teach me that sort of thing, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. And the federal government, I was angry at the federal government.

George Wallace had stood in the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Mississippi defying the assistant US attorney. The general wouldn’t let the students go in. Then the National Guard up there was federalized, and so just stirred up a lot of anger, and so that flowed over to me.

And then there were people distributing racist and anti-Semitic propaganda, I would say, around the school at that point. And I got hold of some of that and started reading it, and that’s where I started going off the rail so to speak.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah. Just for the benefit of particularly younger listeners to this podcast, how did the Jews get tied up in this whole – I think people can see from the history of slavery the antagonism between whites and blacks, but how did the Jews get into this anti-Semitism thing?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, far right ideology, which was what I stumbled into, says that the Jews are actually conducting a great conspiracy, and have been for a long time to try to dominate the world. And they do it in a very secretive way, and they try to control key points in society through their influence. And often you hear international bankers and wealthy people influencing politics and whatever.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Thomas Tarrants
And so the narrative was that the Jews actually were behind communism, which was a big fear at that particular time.
Bill Hendricks
Yes.
Thomas Tarrants
Jews were behind communism and using it for their nefarious ends, and the communists, at the behest of the Jews, were actually behind the civil rights movement. And of course you do have some Jewish people involved in civil rights movement, no question about that, but that’s the fact that some were involved is a far cry from it being a conspiracy.

But none the less, that was all woven together as a piece. And when you’re 17 years old you haven’t really developed your critical thinking skills very much at that point, and so I just swallowed it.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah, you didn’t have anybody in your life to help you process any of that and help you think critically.
Thomas Tarrants
No, I didn’t because I was alienated from my father, and so he wasn’t an option. And I just fell into a crowd of folks that felt this way, and they reinforced these things that I was reading and it became a kind of peer group of extremists I suppose you’d say.
Bill Hendricks
Tom, would you go so far as to characterize your adoption of these ideas of this narrative as almost buying into a whole new religion?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, I would say it’s – I’d back up a step and say that it was a change of worldview.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
It was a very significant change of worldview, and it does have a religious component to it as I got more and more into it. There was a kind of racist religion that justified all of this. And so yeah, definitely a religious component, but first of all it was a shift in worldview, and so that’s –
Bill Hendricks
Worldview matters. So what was it that ultimately kind of took you over the line into considerations of violence, violent activity, terrorism, and using real, if I could put it this way, real bullets?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, you know, when you take hatred into your mind and heart it has an effect. It’s like having a reversed transplant. I mean you get cancer transplanted into your body and it will metastasize throughout your whole system.
Bill Hendricks
Right.
Thomas Tarrants
And hatred is really the cancer of the soul. And so as I took that in it began to spread and I began to become more and more filled with hatred for black people, for Jews, for liberals, for socialists, communists, and on and on. Seeing them as the enemies of America and the enemies of Christianity.
Bill Hendricks
Wow.
Thomas Tarrants
And of course the white race.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and just to put a historical spin on this, many listeners will be familiar with the novelist, John Grisham, who I guess was a former lawyer if I recall. But at any rate, he said as a kid in Mississippi in the last ‘60s he remembered the men in his church discussing the Klan’s bombing campaign against the Jews. Those men, he said, did not disapprove.

He said, “Later I would use this fascinating chapter of civil rights history as the backdrop for my novel The Chamber.” And then he names you, “Now one of the bombers, Thomas Tarrants, tells the real story in this remarkable memoire. It is riveting, inspiring, at times hard to believe, but utterly true and it gives some measure of hope in these rancorous times.”

So yes, I grew up in that same era, and I do remember those bombings. And it’s – I must say, it’s quite an experience to, all these years later, talk to someone who was actively involved in some of that activity.

Thomas Tarrants
Well –
Bill Hendricks
And I know you regret it.
Thomas Tarrants
What can I say? Yeah, I deeply regret it. It was the biggest mistake of my life, and had tragic consequences.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah. I mean the book opens with this pretty dramatic story of your capture basically. I guess you had a bombing strategized out, and you and an accomplice. And you’re on the way to commit this thing when, as I understand it, you basically had been ratted out by a couple of terrorists who I guess out of jealousy that they weren’t involved, were wondering, “Okay, let’s get rid of this Tom Tarrants guy.”

And so the police had been alerted, and next thing you know your accomplice gets killed and you’re literally one bullet away from ending your life, a policeman’s bullet ending your life. I mean I guess your leg did get shot. But I don’t know how many times your life got saved in this book from death, but that was certainly one of the most dramatic.

Thomas Tarrants
It really was. We were completely surprised that the place was staked out and the shooting started. My accomplice was killed very quickly, and I was shot four times at close range with double ought buckshot. And it’s just an absolute miracle that I’m still alive. When I got to the hospital the doctors said it would be a miracle if I lived 45 minutes.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah. But you did live, and the next thing you know, I mean after your trial and so forth, you’re headed to a high security prison in southern – is it Mississippi?
Thomas Tarrants
It’s northern Mississippi.
Bill Hendricks
Northern Mississippi, yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And state penitentiary there.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And I of course had only one thing on my mind and that was to get out and go back to what I’d been doing. You might describe me as having been hardcore.
Bill Hendricks
And you actually did escape, you and an accomplice.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, two of us. Well, three of us escaped successfully.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, that’s right. And you easily could have gotten killed then, too.
Thomas Tarrants
Absolutely, but I survived that. And then a couple days later the FBI discovered where we were, and it was actually an abandoned farm in a heavily wooded area, an old farm, dirt farm road that went by and we took turns standing watch near the road concealed in some bushes. And I’d been standing watch and one of the other guys that escaped with me came and relieved me 30 minutes early.

So I went back to our camp, a little tent we had setup, and just a few minutes later, five minutes, ten minutes at the most, heard this barrage of gun fire up there where I had been, and it turned out to be the FBI. And their SWAT team saw this guy right where I had been just minutes before, and they knew we were armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades and things like that, so they weren’t taking any chances, and he was killed instantly. And I should have been there. That should have been me.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
But, you know, here’s another instance of God’s mercy.
Bill Hendricks
Well, it is, and particularly I would point out you’re still filled with hatred. And you’re not only a bad guy, but you’re a bad guy getting worse up to this point. And you go back, they take you back and put you back in solitary confinement. And, you know, how does God reach a man filled with hate in solitary confinement?
Thomas Tarrants
Great question.
Bill Hendricks
Humanly that just seems impossible.
Thomas Tarrants
Well, you’re exactly right. It is impossible, but that’s really the story of salvation for each one of us. Because each one of us is, as Paul said in Ephesians Two, chapter two verse one, we’re dead, spiritually dead in trespasses in sins.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And that was me. I was spiritually dead. So what did I do when I got back to prison? Well, to keep from going crazy I had to – you know, I was there 24 hours a day seven days a week in that cell. Didn’t get out except for a shower a couple times.
Bill Hendricks
Now as I understand it, solitary, particularly in many prisons, it’s almost setup this way, but it can be its own form of torture. Describe for our listeners what that setting looks like, feels like, smells like. I mean you’re in a – well, I’ll let you describe it.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, it’s – well, I was put in the maximum security unit and I was on one wing of the unit, and there’s a long corridor that goes down the wing. And then there are cells all the way down. I think there were 14 cells one right after another divided with thick concrete wall. And of course there were bars across the front of each one.

And so I was in one of those cells all by myself, and actually for three years.

Bill Hendricks
How big is that cell?
Thomas Tarrants
Six feet by nine feet.
Bill Hendricks
So basically the size of a parking space, a small space.
Thomas Tarrants
For a very small car, yes.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah, wow.
Thomas Tarrants
So it was either go crazy or read all the time, so I started reading. And I wish I could say that I immediately picked up the Bible and was convicted of my sins and repented and turned to the Lord, but what did I do? I began reading all the racist anti-Semitic far right books that I had not read up to that point.
Bill Hendricks
Now how were you able to get ahold of that material, or frankly, the Bible later? I mean is there like a prison library, or can you order these things by mail, or how does literature even make its way to a prisoner in maximum security?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, this was back in the – well, 1970, and the Mississippi prison system was very informal shall we say. It wasn’t a professional operation like it is now, and they would let me order anything I wanted to order. If I could pay for it that was fine. They really didn’t care, so I was able to do that.

So I read all of that and I was just, as I had mentioned in the book, I hadn’t learned the first law of holes, which is if you’re in one stop digging. I was digging myself ever more deeply into deception and –

Bill Hendricks
And hatred I guess.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, absolutely. But at a certain point I shifted my reading. I read most of what there was to read in that racist far right genre and began to read in classical philosophy; Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius and Stoics. And you might think, “Well, why that?” And I think it was really God prompting me, although I did not certainly realize it at the time.
Bill Hendricks
Well, it was certainly God prompting you. I guess I would point out that’s consistent with your narrative, your story. Tom, as early as high school you were thinking. You pointed out you weren’t necessarily critically thinking, but the fact is you were trying to make sense of the world and you bought into a false worldview. But the fact that you even thinking is significant.

And that’s still going on there 10 or 12 years later, whatever it was, five years later, only now you’re getting exposed by the providence of God to let’s say some higher more elevated thinking than you’ve been exposed to.

Thomas Tarrants
Right, definitely more elevated. And, you know, people think, “Well, philosophy, what in the world is that going to do for you? How would that help you find the Lord?” And certainly there’s a lot of philosophy out there that’ll keep you far from God, but not all of it is bad, and there are some good ideas that can be found in some writers.

And so Plato was helpful to me. One of the things that stood out for me was I came away with a conviction that there was such a thing as absolute truth, objective reality, and it was there to be discovered. And then from Socrates, the unexamined life he said is not worth living, so these two ideas really captured my thinking. And so I thought, “You know, I should pursue truth, and wherever that takes me is where I’ll go and I’ll examine my life.”

Now this had nothing – I had absolutely no idea that this would take me away from what I was believing, my ideology, previous ideology. There was what you might call a disinterested pursuit of truth.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And so I continued reading other things and I came to a point where I just felt drawn to read the gospels. So I began to read the gospels but I should underscore, it was not because I thought I needed to be saved because I thought I had already sorted that out and that I was fighting for God and country. I was the good guy, you know?
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And it wasn’t to try to get out of a bad situation I was in. It was just seeking for truth. Little did I know, though, that the Holy Spirit had been setting me up for an ambush and drawing me into this pursuit of truth. And then as I was reading the word my eyes began to be opened. I began to see, and I’m sure I heard these things in Sunday school and in church, they never registered, but now my eyes began to be opened and I began to understand the meaning of what I was reading, and its application to my life.

I began to come to a place of conviction of sin and repentance, which was all together missing from my profession of faith. I was just trying to make sure I didn’t go to hell at age 13, but this was very different. So this went on for a number of days, probably a couple of weeks where God brought to my mind all kinds of sins that I had committed, and conviction, repentance, tears, seeking forgiveness.

And so even though it might sound like church never did me any good, it certainly did me this wonderful amount of good. It taught me exactly what I needed to know at that moment.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” So I didn’t have to scratch my head and say, “Well, where is the Quran? Let’s see if I can find some light there, or how about Buddha or whatever?” I knew to go straight to Jesus.

So what I did one night on my knees and I said on this Jesus to forgive me of my sins and take over my life, and something changed inside. I could tell it, and I haven’t been the same since. That was 50 years ago.

Bill Hendricks
Amazing.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, it’s amazing. And it’s just all God’s grace.
Bill Hendricks
It is his grace.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
You began to meet other Christians at first like, what, prison chaplains or people in the system, or guards, or different people that sort of find out that you’re now got a whole new allegiance in your life, a whole new way of thinking, and they begin to minister to you.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, it was great that – I didn’t have any Christians right around me.
Bill Hendricks
Okay. How did people begin to find out that a change had happened?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, I didn’t – I just went about my business reading the Bible six or eight hours a day, and ordering books and stuff like that. And the people working in the prison there who knew me before, they saw changes in my life. And the chaplain, one of the – well, a couple of the chaplains they would come through and they could tell something was going on. One of them gave me some books and excellent stuff to read, and so that was helpful.

And the time came I suppose after maybe a year or so that I was given an opportunity to get out of the cell and work there in the maximum security unit as a clerk. And then that went well, and from there I was released from maximum security unit into the prison population. But there were lots and lots of skeptics I can tell you.

Bill Hendricks
Yes, there were many skeptics, and why not. There’s certainly more than once has a prisoner done the conversion thing and started talking a new line in just in hopes that it’ll give them some favor, and often times, you know, it’ll somehow go well with the parole board.
Thomas Tarrants
Right, certainly is that thing of jailhouse religion.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
It lasts as long as you’re in the jailhouse, but –
Bill Hendricks
But you had some people vouch for you.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, what happened over time was that – well, J Edgar Hoover sent this FBI agent, who had originally setup the ambush in Meridian, Mississippi where I first ran into this trouble, and his name was Frank Watts, and he sent him up to the prison when Hoover heard that I had gotten religion because he thought it was just a scam. And Frank said – when he saw me he said, “My countenance was different,” and he knew something had changed.

He asked me what it was and I just I was a very new Christian. I didn’t know what to do. I just told him my story, told him my testimony and he went away scratching his head. Now he was a good man. He was a really good man. A pretty moral man and a member of a southern – well, First Baptist Church there in Meridian, and he was even concerned about me when he came to interview me there in jail in Meridian.

He thought I was really messed up and mixed up, and he got his pastor to come talk to me. But what Frank discovered after that interview, he saw the change that God had made in my life, and he realized that he had never been born again himself.

Bill Hendricks
Wow.
Thomas Tarrants
He was a good official Southern Baptist but he wasn’t born again.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
And the Lord changed his life and my goodness, he was a different guy. There’s a story behind this story, and that is that his wife had a prayer group. These women were praying, and I don’t – only the Holy Spirit could have led them to do this. They thought, “Well, God can do miracles. He can save this guy. Nothing is impossible with God.” So they started praying for my conversion. They prayed for two years. Once a week they would get together and pay for my conversion.
Bill Hendricks
Wow.
Thomas Tarrants
So that’s the story behind the story of my odyssey there in the maximum security unit, and God gave them a bonus by saving –
Bill Hendricks
The FBI agent.
Thomas Tarrants
Yeah, the agent as well. So –
Bill Hendricks
Well, Tom, you know, you may know the name Henrietta Mears. She was at Hollywood Presbyterian Church for many years and a mentor to many, many Christian leaders. And she had a saying that she quoted ceaselessly, which was, “Prayer does not prepare us for the battle. Prayer is the battle.” Jesus made enormous, almost audacious, outrageous promises to us about prayer. And it’s all through the scriptures that when we pray God listens and he answers, and prayer unleashes his power, and you’re a perfect example of a group of women who took that seriously.

And in a very quiet but believing way they just faithfully prayed, and you were able to come to faith. How does God reach a hate filled man in maximum security prison? Well, he does it through payer. Yeah, there’s effective means that he uses along the way, but the real instrumental means it seems to me started with prayer. It unleashed his power.

Thomas Tarrants
Absolutely. I agree 100 percent, and that’s why one of the reasons prayer has been such a really important thing in my own life.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah. Well you – I mean it’s a fascinating story that I certainly encourage our listeners to get hold of and read word for word because I, honestly, was turning the pages. I couldn’t put the book down. And so another miracle in here is that you eventually get out of prison, like that probably never – you thought that might not never happen, but it does.

And there again, you got some sponsors who say, “Well, we’ll sort of take responsibility to look after this man,” and you go right out of prison into college. I mean that’s an amazing thing.

Thomas Tarrants
It was. It was really amazing. I had been studying while I was there in prison. I took some courses in New Testament Greek from Moody Bible Institute. And I think I may have taken a course in John’s Gospel too. But I wanted to get out and to study more, and so going to school was a big priority for me. And God just opened the door for that to happen in a really remarkable way.

We don’t have time I’m sure to go into all the details of that, but it almost boarders on the miraculous because the warden who approved my release was only on the job for about two weeks, a new guy. And he didn’t know anything about me except he had a folder on his desk that was about six inches thick of what a mess I was.

And he interviewed me for about half an hour, like a cross examination on a witness stand, and then at the end of it he stopped and he said, “Well -” and all I did was just tell him my story. He said, “Why should I let you out of here,” and I just told him what God had done. And he said, “Well, I don’t – I wouldn’t let you out on the strength of your religion because I don’t think it’s worth a nickel.”

And he said, “I’m an atheist and I’ve only seen one person in all my years that got religion in prison and kept it when they got out, but it’s obvious your life has changed and I want to give you a chance to make something out of yourself, and so you can go next -” I think he said next Monday if that’s soon enough. And of course he didn’t know that that group of ladies was praying.

Bill Hendricks
Right.
Thomas Tarrants
And some other people that had come into the picture, too. And so anyway, God just did an amazing thing. I went to Old Miss and got in the classics program. I actually left before I graduated. I’m a kind of odd duck. I didn’t complete my studies there, but I somehow managed to get into a master’s program and then do a doctoral program. But –
Bill Hendricks
Well, you clearly love to learn, Tom. That’s pretty evident. You got a lifelong pattern of loving to learn.
Thomas Tarrants
I love it.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
I do. But, you know, God worked in amazing ways and gave me relationships with African American people all along the way. It wasn’t something I was out trying to make happen. God just brought these brothers and sisters into my life.
Bill Hendricks
Was that hard when you – I mean obviously in prison I’m sure you had met many African Americans, and for all I know some Jews too. But was it hard knowing that you – first of all, you’ve got this regrets of past sins that you committed against people of color, but just, you know, all that you didn’t know about African Americans at that point. These are distant people that you have had very little interaction with. Was it hard to even get to know them?
Thomas Tarrants
Well, God delivered me from all that racism and hatred when I was converted. Actually, before I was converted I saw the fallacies of racism and anti-Semitism. But after I came to the Lord he put love in my heart for people, and so it was really interesting.

I didn’t have problems relating to African Americans and developed some really good friendships, and began to understand a little bit about what life was like in that community, and saw the problems and issues that even we’re dealing with today.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah.
Thomas Tarrants
So that was good but it was not the focus of my ministry or anything. It was just a normal part of life. Basically what I tell people is, “Look, you don’t need to get on some crusade about this issue. Just love your neighbor regardless of the color. You know, the ethnicity, the political views or whatever. Jesus said love your neighbor.” And say, “Well, you don’t know some of my neighbors. They’re enemies.” I says, “Well, okay. Jesus said love your enemies too.
Bill Hendricks
That’s right.
Thomas Tarrants
There’s no way out of this.
Bill Hendricks
There’s no way out. Well, you used to –
Thomas Tarrants
And that’s what we need today.
Bill Hendricks
You used the word friendships, and I love that word. In the time we have left I want to talk a little bit, or have you talk to us about so how do you – this may sound like an absurd question, but how do you build friendships? Like what – that’s not brain surgery as I understand it. But in your book you have some practical suggestions about finding people that are different from you and beginning to form relationships with them.
Thomas Tarrants
Yes, I’m glad you asked that. We don’t want to over think this thing, my goodness. Pray, that’s step number one, pray. And well I guess – no, step number one is confronting your own heart. Praying and asking the Holy Spirit to show you if you’ve got any of these racist attitudes, or hatred or anything like that, and deal with that.

But then pray for God to lead you to someone that you can develop a friendship with. And then just be friends for the sake of being friends, and let the relationship develop along natural lines and don’t try to make it happen. Just let it happen. Be honest, open. And at some point the subject of race will come up and you can learn from your friend what life has been like for them.

Really a part of this is a manner of learning to see from the other person’s point of view. Learning how to walk in their moccasins as the saying goes. And most of us don’t do that. Most of us white people we’re pretty much concerned with the circles we move in and we don’t think much about doing this, and we really don’t understand African American community or others. That or Hispanic or whatnot.

But relationship is the key in this whole thing of reconciliation. Just really getting to know, understand, love people who are different, and see the world through their eyes. And if you develop a relationship of trust you can come to a point where they will begin to open the door and let you know what things really are like from their point of view. It doesn’t happen otherwise.

Bill Hendricks
Yeah. It sounds like one strategy that you’re sort of – I hate to use the word strategy. One thing that you were suggesting here when you say get to know someone, is inviting them to tell their story. The best way to know people is by listening to their story. If you hear their story you now understand what they came from, and therefore what’s probably led them to have the thoughts and views that they do.
Thomas Tarrants
Exactly. Exactly right. Just listening to their story, sharing your story in a gracious way of humility, and God works through that. God works through relationships. You see it all through the Bible.
Bill Hendricks
He absolutely does. Tom, in Ephesians six Paul talks about the warfare that Christians are in, but he makes a very important statement, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” People are not the enemy. People are in a sense the victims of the enemy. The people are in the grip of an enemy, and the dastardly nature of it is they’re unaware of that predicament.

And it seems like you were up until God began to get ahold of you in prison. And what you’re asking us in a sense is, “Hey, we need to release people from that grip by being Christ to them.”

Thomas Tarrants
Absolutely. The aroma of Christ and realizing exactly what you’re saying, that the devil blinds the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And he uses all kinds of things to blind people’s minds and ideologies, racism. Those are just two. One of the old puritans said, “The devil is a master fisherman. He bates his hook according to the appetite of the fish.” And so he’ll hook you any way he can.
Bill Hendricks
He will.
Thomas Tarrants
It is a spiritual battle ultimately.
Bill Hendricks
Tom Tarrants, praise God that he delivered you and brought peace and love into your heart in the grace of Christ. Again, Tom Tarrants consumed by hate, redeemed by love. For the Table, I am Bill Hendricks. If you have a topic you’d like us to consider for a future episode please e-mail us at thetable@dts.edu. We’ll look for you next time.
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Bill Hendricks
Bill Hendricks is Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Center and President of The Giftedness Center, where he serves individuals making key life and career decisions. A graduate of Harvard, Boston University, and DTS, Bill has authored or co-authored twenty-two books, including “The Person Called YOU: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life.” He sits on the Steering Committee for The Theology of Work Project.
Thomas Tarrants
Tom Tarrants was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. As a high school student in the mid-sixties he opposed the desegregation of the public schools and eventually joined the Ku Klux Klan by the age of 21. After a bloody shoot-out with the police and FBI, in which his partner was killed and he nearly died, he was arrested. Tom was eventually sentenced to thirty years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. While reading the Gospels in prison, Tom experienced a life-changing conversion to Jesus Christ. He subsequently renounced the Klan, with its racism and hatred, and devoted himself to serving Christ and promoting the love and peace that Christ alone can give. After his release from prison, Tom attended the University of Mississippi, and later attended seminary. After serving twelve years as president and nine years as Vice President for the C.S. Lewis Institute, he retired in June 2019. Tom holds a Master of Divinity Degree, as well as a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Christian Spirituality. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Church Alliance and a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.
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