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In Troubled Times, Find Freedom Through Faith And Forgiveness


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for Faith Matters, that's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality in our lives. Today, we bring you an encore of Wisdom Watch conversation we've had with one of the most prominent religious leaders in America. Bishop TD Jakes leads a congregation of some 30,000 people at the Potter's House Church in Dallas. But his influence reaches far beyond his church. He's a prominent public speaker, a film producer and also the author of many best-selling books. We spoke with him about his book "Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven. This was right before Easter in April, 2012 when much of the nation was still gripped by sadness and anger over Trayvon Martin who'd been killed weeks before by George Zimmerman. Bishop Jakes and I spoke at length about Trayvon Martin's death but I began by asking him about the moment he felt called to the ministry.

BISHOP TD JAKES: I recognized my calling at about 17 years old. I didn't start ministering till I was 19, and I felt like I had found the thing that I was created to do, that's a real blessing, but regardless to what that thing is, to find your purpose and be so committed to it that 35 years later, you're still doing it and still finding fulfillment in it is a great gift.

MARTIN: Did you ever envision at that time that you would be leading such a large ministry, leading such a large church, in fact a media empire, if you don't mind my calling it that?

JAKES: Never would have thought it in a million years, and I think if I had, it would have scared me to death. I'm thankful that my life moved along in steps and stages, and I started very small, very meager. My first church had seven members in it, and I have to remember, the rent was $225 a month and I worked for Union Carbide and took the check I made from work to pay for the rent to keep the church open. Those kinds of meager beginnings were good for me. It might not be good for everybody, but it was certainly good for me.

MARTIN: What do you think is central to your gift, if you don't mind my asking you that? Obviously, it's an awkward thing for me to ask you, but what do you think it is?

JAKES: It's kind of awkward for me to answer because I think what causes anybody to be effective at what they do is this nebulous, indescript thing that I call the It's the it factor, but if I were to make a stab at it, I think I have never lost connectivity and relativity to the people with whom I seek to serve.

MARTIN: You know, to that end, you do talk a lot about your own experiences in your latest book. You've written quite a few. The latest is "Let It Go: Forgive So You May Be Forgiven." Why this book and why now?

JAKES: There are several things that led to it. One is I am very disturbed by the times in which we live. The death of civility in our generation is very disturbing. The conflicts in Washington - I know that they've always been, but they have reached a level whereby we have lost all sensibility and reason. The deterioration of families and marriages and community. There's so much hostility. I think that we need somebody to talk to us about forgiveness before we destroy everything that's important in the process of proving a point.

MARTIN: You mean that on a personal level, on an interpersonal level? A lot of the examples you give in the book are sort of interpersonal conflicts that many people have. Is that mainly what you mean or do you mean more broadly?

JAKES: I think it's everywhere. I think I describe the unforgiveness as a cancer and the reason I describe it as a cancer - because cancer never stays where you find it. It spreads and left unattended will spread throughout the body. And I think that it is a systemic, pandemic problem in our personal lives, in our public lives, our professional lives. We have lost reason. And so when I applied much of my book to the day-to-day person who finds themselves wounded emotionally by someone that you've invested in and failed to see a return, and now you find yourself unable to move forward in your life because of what they did or did not do, and yet you're victimized twice if you don't forgive that because it continues to perpetuate itself. And I really wanted to write "Let It Go," to build a bridge so people could see how to go forward with their life when they're standing at an embankment and see themselves at an impasse emotionally, spiritually or attitudinally.

MARTIN: How would you recommend someone start? What's the first step that someone should take?

JAKES: I think the first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It's a gift you give yourself. It has less to do with what somebody else did as much as it does with your decision to move on with your life and not be continually victimized by rehearsing that issue or incident over and over again. And once you begin to understand that forgiveness is not a white flag of defeat and you begin to understand that it is something to aspire to, I think that's the first step. And then to understand that most of us are aggrieved because our emotions have not moved forward. And the thing that disturbs me about that is the notion that you allow your emotions to drive the car and your intellect becomes the passenger. When you make a decision to forgive it's a decision that you have to make intellectually. It's not an emotional decision, and you make your emotions have to ride in the direction of your intellect rather than the other way around.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with the legendary Bishop T.D. Jakes. He is the founder and senior pastor of the Potter's House of Dallas. He is the author of many, many books. His latest is "Let It Go: Forgive So You May Be Forgiven." You know, to that end, you know, you talked about the fact that we are in a troubled time in this country on many levels. One of the things that many people are very troubled about right now is the whole situation around Trayvon Martin, the young man, a 17-year-old, unarmed, walking to a friend's house where he had been staying with a, you know, a can of iced tea and some Skittles and was shot by a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer. You've made some strong statements about this, and you've said that you don't think this is an isolated case, and that we have to bring a righteous legal and satisfactory moral conclusion to this atrocious miscarriage of justice in violation of all reasonable consciousness. This is from a piece you wrote in the Huffington Post.

But how would you, you know, as a nationally-known pastor, encourage people to move on with this case or to address this case right now in the absence of any resolution by the criminal justice system?

JAKES: I that think the public has done what it needed to do from the perspectives of drawing enough attention to it. Without the efforts of grassroots, tweets and Facebook postings and what have you, I'm not sure that Trayvon's case wouldn't have been swept up under the rug and been ignored. And I do think that he is a symptom of a much bigger problem in our society as it relates to our whole judicial system - some antiquated laws, some good-ole-boy systems that we have had been subjected to, atrocities that are unfair and unjust. And now with the scrutiny that has been drawn to this, I think that the judicial system is grappling with how do we resolve the complexities of this issue. And I think that what we need to do is to continue to apply pressure not only for the benefit of Trayvon - and my heart goes out to his family, as well as Zimmerman's family, quite frankly - because if you are the parent of either child you bleed today. But even beyond all of that, I think that we have to stand back and let due process work and see where it's going to take us. And what we are after is truth and we do not want the death of this young man, who appears to be innocent, to go without research. And I'm really proud of the fact that both clergy and rappers and hip-hop artists and news reporters and everybody jumped on the bandwagon to say no, something has to be done about this and I've not seen our community galvanized around an issue like this in quite some time. And I do think it is bigger than race. I think that there are certain things about race we certainly need to talk about, but I find many, many people of all colors concerned about the whole judicial system, because if it's my child today it could be your child tomorrow.

MARTIN: But to the question of race, there are some in the - and, you know, it's hard to find quite the right frame for this, but I'll just say for the sake of shorthand, you know, the conservative media who have insisted on the point that this is not about race. And their argument is that the fact that many African-Americans believe race is a factor is endemic of an inability to let go and forgive the past racism of this country. And this is where I'd like to ask you to comment on this as a person who's given the thought to this question.

JAKES: You know, Michel, that's just like husbands who have committed infidelity telling the wife to get over it. , so this is one of the areas where you don't get to be the teacher. I think the people who are experiencing discrimination should at least in this one area be able to say when they are discriminated against. This has to be a community effort. And there are many people, both black and white, who are concerned about how this is being handled. And for certain, news media outlets to play into their particular demographic, while it may drive up the ratings, it's not ratings we're after here. It's justice. And I can almost hear somebody saying you are a minister and you're out here with a book about forgiveness and yet you're wanting full disclosure. If you take the time to read the book you will find that no forgiveness can be complete where there is no truth. And I don't think that they are the conflict of ideas to say that you want justice and still talk about forgiveness. I mean right now I think America on both sides of this issue are confused. Nobody knows for sure exactly what happened. We can raise all the questions we want to on both sides, but until we have DNA, and evidence, and witnesses and all the things that make our judicial system what it is, we can't begin to heal of this process. So I just wanted to bring that final note to the family of Trayvon that my prayers are with them because they haven't had an opportunity to grieve. I pray that the time will come that they can normalize into the grief process and begin the healing process but right now they just need to have answers and any momma, any daddy would want to have answers as to what did happen to my child.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, as we mentioned for Christians, for those who observe, the notion of forgiveness is central to Easter and I wondered if you know what message you will be delivering this Sunday as you reflect upon Easter.

JAKES: Here is the amazing thing about Easter, the resurrection Sunday for Christians is this, that Christ in the dying moments on the cross gives us the greatest illustration of forgiveness possible. And the very people who crucified him are within his view while he is bleeding to death on a cross, he says: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. If he can pray that prayer in the throes and clutches of death, hemorrhaging, bleeding, suffering and dying, then surely it sets a benchmark for the rest of us as to what we will allow to remain unforgiven in our lives.

MARTIN: Well... (Laughing) You left me speechless. I did have a final...

JAKES: Something to think about. (Laughing)

MARTIN: Something to think about.

JAKES: Yeah.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, this is what we call a Wisdom Watch conversation. And, of course, all your work is about imparting wisdom is there any particular bit of wisdom you'd like to leave us with?

JAKES: In the spirit of the book "Let It Go," I would leave this morsel of wisdom behind, and it is simple. We are a mass of energy, And I would think that if you spend all your time energizing what has happened in your past it begs this question: If you energize your history, what will you have left for your destiny? If you continue to expend all of your fuel on where you've been you'll have no gas for where you're going. If you really want to move forward, it may be time to let it go.

MARTIN: Bishop T. D. Jakes is the founder and senior pastor of the Potter's House of Dallas. We spoke with him about his book, "Let It Go: Forgive So You May Be Forgiven." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.