Words of Wisdom from Mr. T
On his new show, the legendary actor uses his Christian faith to help motivate and inspire people.
BY: Interview by Dena Ross
When I was in high school, I wanted to be like this football player, his name was David Deacon Jones. He used to play with the Los Angeles Rams. They called him Deacon, because when he was in college he would pray before the games. I said, "Wow I like that," so I started wanting to do that. So I would do the prayers in high school. And then those things stuck with me. I would go and see people and they would say, “Oh Mr. T, could you pray for me?” And I’d say, "I’d be more than happy to."
I am a sinner who has been saved by grace. It’s by the grace of God that I’m here. We all have sinned and fallen short on God’s glory. I come home and I ask God to forgive me for my sins. Everyday I ask for a new cleansing. I say, "God, let me show kindness to someone, let me give someone hope. Let me be a light at the end of a tunnel for somebody." I tell people, they say I’m a farmer, I plant the seed of hope, plant the seed of inspiration, plant the seed so they can start praying and believing again.
And it’s hard for some people to get believing. They say, "But I’ve been hurt by so many people and by some churches, or whatever." I explain that preachers might try to hurt you, churches might try to do you wrong, but that wasn’t God. God didn’t do that to you. That's somebody else. Because God will still love you even if you give up on him.
Was there ever a time or was there ever a time when you felt your faith slipping a little?
I ain’t going to say I was 100% all the time, but I never really faltered. I cried, I ate, I got mad, I said, I wouldn’t do things. That was my Job test. Job said, "Still you slay me, and yet I trust you." As I’m going through things, if I didn’t read the book of Job I guess I would have fallen apart. I could have said, "What kind of God does this and that?" But no, I understood Job, I read it. I know what he went through. His friends and his wife came and said, "You’re a fool. You leave God alone." And he said, "No woman, you speak like a fool."
The story of Job gave me strength when I had cancer. I said, “T, if you just hang in there, God will give you double for your troubles.” That’s what I was taught in church and that’s what happened to Job. What he lost, he gained more in the end. Job said, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you.” God giveth and God taketh away. Blessed be his holy name." And that’s how I live. You know I came with nothing, I’m going to die with nothing. But in between them to points that’s what it’s all about.
People want to take [you] away from your faith. They say, "What kind of God is that?" It’s like talking to the devil himself when somebody comes up with the negative. They say, "Wow, Mr. T. Heard you got cancer, man. I figured you’d be the last one to get cancer [with] all the things you do." I knew this guy [who] was negative [about my cancer]. I told him, "Don’t worry about me, brother. I’m not crying about it, don’t you worry about it. I’m all right. Don’t let my cancer bother you." But he was so negative. He said, "Man, why? What kind of God [would] do this to you?
I said to myself, "Well thank goodness I know enough stuff about the Bible. Thank goodness I've read about people like him."
So how do you avoid getting pulled in to that negativity?
I used the 23rd Psalm. I went by what David said. "Yea, though I walk through—through—the valley of the shadow of death." David said through, that means there’s an opening on the other side. He didn’t say, "And yea I walk into this cave of no return." He said, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil." Why don’t you fear, David? "Thou are with me." Who is thou? Thou is God. So if God is for me, who in the world can be against me?
It sounds like if you weren’t a celebrity you’d be a preacher.
Exactly. I like what one of the executives [from "I Pity the Fool"] said: “Mr. T, this is your pulpit."
I speak to kids about being good and stuff like that. That lets me know I’m on the right path. So if I just keep planting, eventually they'll come around. See, not everybody is going to come around right away. Like all flowers don’t bloom in the spring. Some bloom in the fall. Some even bloom in the winter. So that’s what it’s about. If I’m a servant of God, that’s what I got to do, I got to wait. What does a servant do? A servant serves. He serves his master. I am a servant. My job is to serve the less fortunate.
If God has touched me, I’ve got to touch somebody else. God has forgiven me, so I’ve got to forgive the people who did me wrong. If Jesus can forgive all things—with the crown of thorns upon his head on the cross… I say with all the things people done, nobody [has] crucified me, nobody put nails in my hands, in my palm, or a spear in my side, or a crown [of thorns] on my head. If Jesus forgives, then I’ve got to forgive. If I don’t forgive, I’m not a follower. If I’m not kind, if I don’t share, I’m not a follower, I’m a liar. I can’t be greedy.
Tell me a little more about how you handle helping the people on your show.
My show is basically what I do in real life. Before the show, I'd go to a school to speak and give the teacher my home phone number so they can call and I can check and ask how the kids are doing. Are they doing their homework? Are they fighting and arguing and stuff like that? Do they talk about some of the things I talked about while I was there? I have to follow up [on] stuff. With the people on the show, whether it [involved] a family or a car dealership, I give all of them my number. Then I follow up [and ask] what changes have they made? Are they working on stuff?
If I were to [help people] on the show, and just get the ratings and leave and not have personal relationship with you or contact you after that meeting, it would be like me raping you. And I’m not that type of guy.
What do you think is the most surprising thing you’ve learned while you’ve traveled around helping people for the show?
People just need a little push sometimes—sometimes it’s just a pat on the back. Everybody needs that, and that’s what I try to bring. I bring the love. I say, "You’re going to be alright, just don’t quit." Little things like that make the difference. It’s just like my mother said, "A little kindness goes a long way."
Why do you think it’s better to pity the fool instead of chastise him?
I’m glad you brought it up. If I pity someone, actually I’m showing them mercy. Job asked for pity. If you pity someone you’re not going to feel sorry for them, but you’re going to cut them some slack. If you chastise someone you can do it by kind words, encouraging words, lifting them up instead of tearing them down. Getting positive with them, letting them know we got time, we’re not going to rush it, we’re going to take our time with it. People can’t turn around overnight. I try to get them to believe in themselves. That’s the key. If they don’t believe in themselves, then they’re going to quit. I try to give them a reason to keep on going.
Who inspires you the most in life?
My mother and the God I serve. As a matter of fact I’m always quoting my mother talking about all the little things that she told me. If I were to call my mother today we’d be talking and I’d be telling her, "Okay mom, I love you. I’ll be seeing you soon." Then the phone will get quiet for a few seconds and she’ll say, "Don’t forget to pray." And I tell people it’s important that she told me that, because I can forget, I can slip and get so busy with everybody around calling me and making me think I’m so great that I miss my time and I can forget to pray.
I remember there was a poem, I forgot how it goes, but the guy said his day started bad, and [he] got to work and it got worse and what not, and he said, "I forgot to pray." He said when I’m praying, everything is going good, but when I stop praying, all hell breaks loose.
It’s like a television set. If you unplug it, it’s not going to come on. But when you plug it in, you connect it to the power source—the electricity. It's not that the TV is not working—you got to plug it up, you’ve got to be reconnected. That's what we all got to do, reconnect. We, as sinners, get disconnected from God. Every morning when you get up there’s a tug of war going on, the devil wants your soul and God wants your soul.
When a child of God comes home, the devil is sad, but God rejoices. So when the child of God gives his life to the devil, God is mad. We have got to keep our eyes on the prize, every day.
You might not have the things you want, but if you check carefully, you got all you need.
What's something each of us can do to make the world a little better?
We can be kind to our neighbor. We can be kind to our family members. [But] first we got to love ourselves and ask for forgiveness--because you can’t love nobody if you don’t love yourself. You can’t forgive nobody for nothing if you’re not cleansed inside. Forgive the loved ones and the ones we’re arguing with. We’ve got to make good things contagious. Because we got sexual disease [that] is contagious, we got Ebola and other stuff [that's] contagious. So we got to make God contagious, Jesus contagious. Make saying "thank you" contagious. A little thing like that will make the world better.