A Modern-Day Saul Story

Author: Thomas A. Tarrants

I first discovered Tom Tarrants’ story through a C.S. Lewis Institute event. I’ve recently been accepted into the Fellows Program, which is a yearlong intensive course of reading, studying, and working in groups to fully commit to and live for Jesus Christ. To get ready for the program, I’ve been exploring the events in addition to looking for more reading material. Tarrants’ shocking story, which starts with intensive hate and extremism, is a radical account of miracles and the patience of God to lead one man away from hate and into a life dedicated to love, forgiveness, and truth.

Tarrants starts his book by describing his childhood in the 60s, living in the Deep South where segregation was the norm. As Tarrants got older, the Civil Rights Movement came into play as well as desegregation and integration of Black students into Tarrants’ school. That’s when the rage begins. It starts as a general white southern movement, but soon Tarrants moves beyond the parameters of a racist into a terrorist. He finds extreme literature and becomes convinced that Jewish people are behind a world conspiracy to destroy the United States and white Christian society. He is dedicated to the “cause” and eventually finds and forces his way into the Klu Klux Klan so that he can fight Jewish and Black people alike. He does not seem like the sort of man who can or will ever be redeemed.

This is just the start. Tarrants isn’t afraid of violence. Indeed, he touts it as the only way. What starts as randomly firing guns into Jewish leader’s houses at night escalates into bombs and finally a shoot-out with the FBI that Tarrants miraculously survives. This is the first of many near misses in his story, many times where God was at work in his life. Tarrants, however, takes the long way around to realizations and eventually repentance. This then, is the story of that gradual realization and what Tarrants does to make things right – or, at least, as right as possible.

National Photo Company Collection., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In many ways, this is a Saul story. Tarrants couldn’t possibly have been a more hateful, more violent human being. How can we empathize with such a man, much less believe his conversion? He – and his fellow Klansmen – called themselves devout Christians after all. Part of the violence was to protect their so-called Christianity. This, of course, is the point of Tarrants’ sharing his story, slowly walking us through his own questions, doubts, and realizations. Tarrants explains how easy it is to become corrupted by a false message and how hard it is to confront opposing viewpoints and the idea that you might be very, very wrong. That you might, in effect, be the bad guy.

It’s a moving story, and Tarrants takes us all the way from the beginning until the end; he doesn’t shy away from what he was, from what he did, from the repellant nature of his beliefs and his actions. In the end, we see that he has come full circle. Tarrants eventually made friends with the very men who jailed him, with Black Civil Rights activists, and took over leading a diverse congregation. It’s a story of miracles, one that highlight’s God’s patience, His continual work with us, and the way that even in the darkest, most evil times of our lives, He doesn’t give up on us.

Ultimately, Consumed by Hate, Redeemed By Love is a story of redemption and compassion. There are lessons here about forgiving the very villain who has harmed society, of second changes and the innate capability that lives in us for change, of loving one another as Christ has loved and accepted us, and of listening to and abiding in the Lord’s word. A highly moving and incredible story. Recommended.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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