Ken Parker hated black people, Jews and gays, in fact he left the Klu Klux Klan in 2012 and joined the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi group, because "the Klan wasn't hateful enough" for him.
A year ago Ken was part of hundreds of white nationalists who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally. The demonstration turned violent and a woman was killed, which is incredibly sad but not all that surprising. What is amazing though is that Ken encountered a reporter of Indian descent at the rally, whose kindness put a big crack in his hard heart and eventually changed his life.
During the rally, Ken suffered from heat stroke and drank too much Red Bull. While he was feeling under the weather, he met filmmaker Deeyah Khan, who was there making a documentary film called "White Right: Meeting the Enemy," about hate groups in the United States.
"I pretty much had heat exhaustion after the rally because we like to wear our black uniforms ... I was hurting and she was trying to make sure I was OK," Ken said in regards to Deeyah.
Even though he was spouting hate speech, "she was completely respectful to me and my fiancée the whole time," Ken remembers. "And so that kind of got me thinking: She's a really nice lady. Just because she's got darker skin and believes in a different god than the god I believe in, why am I hating these people?"
So often we hate what we don't know or understand. Here Ken got kindness and a little look at an individual behind one of his racist labels and it changed his thinking. He began to consider whether he had been wrong about African-Americans too.
A few months later a group of African-Americans were holding a BBQ down the street and Ken and his girlfriend approached them to ask some questions.
One of the men, Pastor William McKinnon III, from All Saints Holiness Church, sat down with the neo-Nazi couple to chat, which led to several more meetings. Eventually Ken agreed to attend one of the church's services.
After six years of being an active member of the alt-right, Ken went to an Easter service at a predominantly black church.
One month later, he stood before his new predominately African-American fellow congregants, gave his testimony, confessed his previous hatred for them and asked for their forgiveness.
"I said I was a grand dragon of the KKK, and then the Klan wasn't hateful enough for me, so I decided to become a Nazi — and a lot of them, their jaws about hit the floor and their eyes got real big," Ken recalls.
"But after the service, not a single one of them had anything negative to say. They're all coming up and hugging me and shaking my hand, you know, building me up instead of tearing me down."
I want to say
I know I’ve
spread hate.Then on July 21, in a white robe, Ken was baptized by his African-American pastor as an outward sign of his death to his old life and resurrection to new life in Jesus. Afterwards the church members all waited to give him hugs.
Can there be any greater proof of the miraculous transforming power of the cross of Jesus than that picture – a white former Klansman submitting to be baptised by a man he previously despised?
Ken's inward change has overflowed into an outward transformation – he is under-going painful laser treatment to have three hateful tattoos removed from his body: a swastika, a Klan symbol, and a Confederate flag with "white pride" written underneath.
"I want to say I'm sorry. I do apologize," Ken says about his past. "I know I've spread hate and discontent through this city immensely — probably made little kids scared to sleep in their own beds in their own neighbou rhoods."
Ken has become a new radical in the Neo-Nazi movement, one who encourages people to leave it. He tells those who contact him now to let go of their old hate-filled ways and embrace the love, forgiveness, mercy and grace of true Christianity.
"You can definitely get out of this [the alt-right]. I mean, I was into that so much — it was my life, for six years. I never thought I would get out," Ken tells them. "Get out. You're throwing your life away."
Ken's story is like that of the apostle Paul in the Bible, who also came to love those he had previously hated and persecuted.
Praise God that His love is stronger than hate, that kindness is more powerful than revenge and that His forgiveness is available to all. His Good News is truly the answer to our fractured societies.•