Has T.D. Jakes ever had to forgive?

“Oh, yes,” answers the author of the new book Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven and pastor of The Potter’s House, a 30,000-member church in Dallas.

“I was born in West Virginia in the 1960s in an area that was about 5 percent African-American. So, growing up, I had plenty of opportunities to forgive,” he recalls. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”

T.D. Jakes and his new book

His congregation is used to hearing him share his own struggles with “letting go” of past hurts and disappointments. In fact, he has spoken on the issue so many times that he had plenty of material for a book that explores why people insist on hanging onto past heartaches, pain and grudges.

He also offers insights on how to forgive -- and says he was also moved to write on the subject as he watched the constant conflicts of politics. Not so long ago, he led an early morning prayer service for President Barack Obama at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. – not a new role for him as he has advised other presidents as well. In his book Decision Points, George W. Bush describes Jakes as “a kind of man who puts faith into action.”

T.D. Jakes and President Obama

Moving in such high circles, has Jakes ever had trouble forgiving? “Every relationship has its challenges,” he admits. “I look around and see people at each other’s throats, constantly blaming each other for what is wrong in our world. I am disturbed by the times in which we live. The death of civility in our generation is disturbing. The conflicts

in politics have reached a level whereby we have lost all sensibility and reason.”

But forgiveness is key to our society’s survival, he says. Inability to forgive is “a cancer that left unattended will spread.”

Jakes promoting "Jumping the Broom"

Jakes not only writes books and preaches, but was executive producer for the film Jumping the Broom last year as well as Woman Thou Art Loosed currently in theaters – and an upcoming movie featuring the late Whitney Houston. Does he ever wish he had said something that might have touched Houston – that might have saved her life?

"Yes, but I didn’t know her until she came to work on the set of the film,” he says. “I don’t think that people really accept therapy and counseling from people that they’ve just met. So, I don’t have that kind of struggle, but I certainly do with people I knew well. I’ve thought maybe if I had said something else or if I had done something else I could have really made a difference. But really making a difference in somebody’s life is a very strong investment of time and energy and closeness."

Jakes on the cover of Time magazine

“I don’t think many times people really respond well to people that they have no reason to open up to. A friend of mine one said ‘The kingdom of God advances amongst friends.’ That is so true.”

What about the rest of us, who kick ourselves, knowing we should have done something when we sat silent?

“In such situations, it’s very important to forgive yourself – because we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. People who cannot forgive themselves find it difficult to forgive other people. How we treat other people has a lot to do with how we treat ourselves.

“Most people find it difficult to forgive themselves. I notice that people who were well-nurtured and experienced forgiveness at an early age, they have an easier path to forgiving.”

But how can we forgive those who have done terrible things – such as the murdering of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda or Bosnia or Sudan? What about Hitler’s holocaust?

“You can only forgive those kinds of atrocities when you understand that the person who perpetrated them had to be sick. No normal person would commit such acts. If you are seeking a place of forgiveness, it begins with understanding. It’s difficult to hate and