A retired pastor and respected evangelical Christian leader, Tom Tarrants, 72, has earned the solace and quiet many envision when considering retirement.
For Tarrants, however, it’s hardly a time to slow down.
Lately, he has been fielding interview requests and writing articles about his new book, Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love, released in August.
It’s an autobiographical account that documents a dramatic turnaround – a life journey whose present course is worlds away from where his story begins.
Hate Brews Below the Surface
“I heard lots of sermons. I went to Sunday school regularly,” Tarrants told CBN News, recalling his Alabama upbringing. “I even made a profession of faith when I was 13 years old.”
His calm demeanor and his deliberate, soft-spoken voice obscure a violent past marked by racism and rage that would eventually land him in prison.
“I hated black people. I hated Jews. I hated liberals and on and on,” he explained.
Tarrants’ racist ideology developed during the turbulent 1960s when the US was wrestling with fundamental questions about equality and the right to vote for black Americans.
“The governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was very strongly opposing federal court orders to desegregate,” Tarrants recalled. “My school had been selected for desegregation, and I became very angry about it.”
His anger erupted into hatred and eventually drew him to the Ku Klux Klan – an association that placed him on a collision course with the law.
Lethal Clash with the Law
In 1968, Tarrants survived four near-fatal gunshot wounds in a SWAT team shootout during an attempt to plant a bomb at the home of a Jewish civil rights leader in Meridian, Mississippi. His accomplice, Kathy Ainsworth – an elementary school teacher, died getting caught in the crossfire with a bullet in her neck.
He received a 30-year sentence at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm) and picked up an additional five years after an attempt to escape.
In prison, Tarrants was forced into close quarters with blacks and other groups he hated. But his physical confinement also caused him to expand his critical thinking. That initiated an intellectual search for truth and deeper meaning.
He started with classical philosophy, poring over the works of Plato and Aristotle. Then he turned to the Bible and encountered what he describes as true Christianity – a theology based on God’s love and redemption plan for all. It’s a theme he addresses in his book.
“One day I read, ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.’ (1 John 4:20-21) . . . I had seen the errors of racist thinking and realized my hatred was ultimately based on lies and distortions.” —From “Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love” by Thomas A. Tarrants. (Published by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson both registered trademarks of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc.)
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SOURCE: CBN News, John Jessup