MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 10th. Thanks for starting your day with WORLD Radio. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: seeing life through a completely different lens.
Americans hear the words “racist” and “white supremacist” so often they can lose meaning. Yet these wrong beliefs can take root and result in evil actions by people who believe in them.
REICHARD: What can be done to stop that? And what if those ideas take root? Can people change their twisted way of thinking?
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg spoke with a man who was once committed to hate, until he met Jesus. This story originally appeared in our sister publication WORLD Magazine.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Tom Tarrants wasn’t raised to hate. His parents lived in a middle-class neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. They made sure Tarrants and his brother and sister attended church each Sunday.
TARRANTS: That was a, a regular part of our lives. At about age 13, I was baptized but not born again, but I didn’t know it.
Tarrants began thinking about race when he was 17-years-old in 1963. That year, the federal government began forcibly desegregating schools in the South.
NEWSREEL: Kennedy federalizes the Alabama National Guard, and they move to the campus….
TARRANTS: One morning, I found my campus of about 2000 students was surrounded by federalized national guard troops there to ensure the peaceful admission of two African American girls. And that just really angered me.
Tarrants discovered White Supremacy. It told him the Civil Rights movement was being pushed by conspiring African-Americans and other non-whites, as well as Communists and Jews.
TARRANTS: I became obsessed with all of this and eventually moved to Mississippi in order to be involved with the white Knights of the Ku Klux Klan…
Tarrants time with the group came to a tragic ending in 1967. He co-conspired to bomb the home of a Jewish businessman in Meridian, Mississippi.
TARRANTS: It was not successful because the place was staked out by a SWAT team. There was a shootout and a person with me was killed. I was shot four times at close range.
Miraculously, Tarrants survived. A judge sentenced him to 30 years in the state penitentiary. But soon after arriving in prison, Tarrants successfully escaped and was recaptured. The judge gave him five more years.
TARRANTS: I was taken back to prison… and put into a little six by nine cell by myself. I spent the next three years there.
Tom Tarrants spent his time reading racist and anti-semitic books. After a while, he wanted something new, so he also started to study philosophy and political commentaries.
These books taught Tarrants that truth existed outside of personal preferences. He noticed some authors referenced the Bible, so he thought maybe he should read it.
TARRANTS: That pursuit of truth moved on to reading the gospels. And then what began to happen as I was reading is that I began to see in a way I had never seen before.
Tarrants began to see his hate for what it was.
TARRANTS: I began to realize the things I’ve been doing really are sins in the sight of God. And so one night I got on my knees there in the cell.
After that, Tarrants began reading his Bible for up to eight hours a day. He also read books on theology and the Christian life. Eventually, guards released Tarrants from solitary confinement, and he began interacting with non-whites.
TARRANTS: One of the first guys I talked with about the Lord was an African American guy…
Tarrants says what changed was he decided to love God and love for everyone God created followed.
Tom Tarrant’s change was so drastic, prison guards started taking note…with suspicion. One day the FBI agent that had stopped Tarrant’s attempted bombing met with him.
TARRANTS: And he said, well, what’s happened to you? And I told him and this got his attention in a pretty dramatic way. And a couple of months later, the same thing happened to him that happened to me. And so he came to know Jesus in a personal way.
Tarrants wanted to make things right with those he hurt. He asked to meet with the Jewish businessman to ask forgiveness. Tarrants says understandably, the man said no.
Tom Tarrants was released in 1976 after serving 8 years of his sentence. He was released early because of prison overcrowding and good behavior. He went on to attend the University of Mississippi and joined a local church that discipled him.
Tarrants is now 72. He recently retired from serving at the C.S. Lewis Institute in Virginia. That’s a discipleship organization. Over the years, he co-pastored multiracial churches, and participated in racial reconciliation events. His mission is to teach Christians that hate of any kind, to any degree, has no place.
TARRANTS: If we are serious about following Jesus, we’re going to be serious about loving our brothers and sisters no matter what their race or ethnicity or politics or anything else.
Tom Tarrants says in times of social and political upheaval like today, young people are especially vulnerable to hateful ideologies.
TARRANTS: People are feeling unsettled and they’re feeling…well, they’re certainly open to hearing from people that can explain the current situation.
So what’s the ultimate solution? Can people change without Jesus? Well, yes. But Tarrants says that change is often incomplete.
TARRANTS: When you get down to really the core of it I mean this is rooted in sin, and it’s an expression of the fallen nature, this kind of hatred, the pride and arrogance that’s a part of racism. So the, the deepest and most complete change I think comes through the Gospel. Jesus said, the most important thing is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.