Bryon Widner was a racist. A skinhead since he was 14, wherever he went—store, bar, restaurant—frightened and intimidated people avoided him. Their fear made him feel “like Superman.”1 His face and body were covered with tattoos of hate. By the time he was 30, Widner had been accused of murder and had spent a total of four years in jail. Then Widner met and married Julie, a single mom and White supremacist, who “yearned for something simpler.”2 About a year later he became a father. Widner was now sure—he would “shield his son from a life of violence and hate.” Widner had changed, but his face was utterly marred by his past sins. He wanted a second chance.
Amid death threats for leaving the skinhead group and desperate thoughts of taking acid to his face, hope came in the form of civil rights organizations and donations. After enduring 25 surgeries on his face, neck, and hands within 16 months, Widner was clean. He and Julie moved, and currently live in an undisclosed location.
Widner has pigment damage and suffers with migraine headaches. Sunlight hurts. He also has constant nightmares about what he’s done.3 But there are moments of grace, such as when a crying African-American woman embraced him after a screening of “Erasing Hate,” a documentary about him.
We may think we’re nothing like Widner, but we are. Aren’t we all in need of grace, God’s grace? Don’t we all need our sin-soaked lives to be washed, inside and out? Consider the prayer in Psalm 51:7-10. n