Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Sermon Illustrations

Home > Sermon Illustrations

God’s Mercy to a Klansman

Thomas Tarrants shares his testimony of being a former hate-filled Klansman who was saved by God’s grace:

I came of age in the early 1960s in Mobile, Alabama, which had been segregated since its founding. In 1963, reacting to the federally mandated desegregation of Alabama’s public schools, Gov. George Wallace uttered his infamous pledge of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

I read some white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-Communist literature that was circulating within my high school. Then I met the people who were advocating these ideas. The civil rights movement, they said, was part of a Communist plot, and the US government had been infiltrated by Communist agents.

All these warnings made me anxious about America’s survival, and my fears soon turned into hatred—toward those I perceived as America’s enemies. So it was only a short step to getting involved with Mississippi’s dreaded White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the most violent right-wing terrorist organization in the United States at the time.

One summer night, as my accomplice and I attempted to plant a bomb at the home of a Jewish businessman, we were ambushed in a police stakeout. My partner was killed at the scene. Four blasts of shotgun fire at close range left me critically wounded. Doctors told me it would be a miracle if I lived another 45 minutes. Yet God spared my life—to the astonishment of the doctors and the dismay of the police. If anyone deserved to die, it was certainly me.

At the end of a two-day trial, I was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. About six months after arriving in prison, I escaped with two other inmates. But a couple of days later, we were apprehended after a blazing gun-battle with the authorities, during which one of the other inmates was killed. Had this man not relieved me from standing watch about half an hour early that day, I would have been the one killed. God had shown me mercy once more.

Back in prison, I was confined to a six-by-nine-foot cell in the maximum security unit. To keep from going crazy, I read continuously. This eventually led to the New Testament, specifically the Gospels. But as I read the Gospels in my prison cell, my eyes were opened in a way that went beyond simply understanding the words on the page.

My sins came to mind, one after another. Conviction grew, and with it tears of repentance. I needed God’s forgiveness. And I knew it came only through trusting Jesus, who had given his life to pay for my sins. One night I knelt on the concrete floor of my cell and prayed a simple prayer, confessing my sins and asking Jesus to forgive me, take over my life, and do whatever he wanted to with it.

As I read the Bible daily, a whole new world opened up to me, and I couldn’t get enough! Early on, God delivered me from hate, and I began to grow in love for others. Friendships developed with black inmates and others who were very di­fferent from me.

After serving eight years in prison, an extraordinary turn of events resulted in a parole grant to attend university. That set in motion a series of developments which, over the next 40 years, led me first into campus ministry, then pastoral ministry in a racially mixed church, and finally to a long ministry of teaching and writing at the C.S. Lewis Institute.

As I look back over the nearly 50 years since God saved me, I can only thank and praise him that he didn’t give me what I deserved. But because he is full of grace and mercy, he gave me exactly what I needed. He “is patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Related Sermon Illustrations

Jesus Gave Me What My Fists Couldn’t

In his testimony in CT magazine, Allen Langham describes hitting rock bottom in prison and finding Jesus reaching out to him:

As a child, there was violence everywhere I turned. My ...
[Read More]

Leaving Hate Behind

Tom Tarrants was serving a 35-year sentence in prison for attempting to bomb a Jewish businessman’s residence. Previously, Tarrants had avoided any literature that didn’t ...

[Read More]