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My Faith: How I learned to stop 'praying away the gay'
Don Lemon with his grandmother on his third birthday.
May 22nd, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Faith: How I learned to stop 'praying away the gay'

Editor's Note: Don Lemon is a CNN anchor and author of Transparent, a memoir .

By Don Lemon, CNN

"School day, time to get up, sleepy head. School day."

Although she's been gone since 1998, my grandmother's words ring in my head just about every morning of my life. That's how MaMe, as I called her, got me out of bed and off to my Catholic school when I was growing up and in her care.

But before I shuffled my way to the bathroom to begin my morning routine, I had to hit the floor on my knees to pray, just as I had the night before.

It was usually The Lord's Prayer ("Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...") followed by asking God to watch and guide me through my day until I returned to the safety of my home that evening.

But MaMe (pronounced MAH-me) didn't know that at a very early age her favorite grandson had begun to pray, silently, that God would change him from being different, from having crushes on boys, from being more curious about boys than girls.

By age four or five, I was too young to sexualize my infatuations but I knew that everyone else, including my family and friends, would think it was wrong.

Perhaps it was the conversations I overheard from adults around my hometown of Port Allen, Louisiana, who'd mimic gay people, calling them "funny" or "sissy" or "fagots."

Perhaps it was Sunday mornings at our Baptist church, where preachers taught that liking someone of the same sex was a direct and swift path to hell. And that if that person would just turn to the Lord and confess his sin, then God would change him back into the person He wanted him to be - a person who only had crushes on the opposite sex.

All of which meant that, from a very early age, I began to think I was dirty and that I was going to hell. Can you imagine what that feels like for a kid who was just learning to read and perform basic arithmetic? It was awful.

And talk about guilt - I was a Baptist attending Catholic school!

I prayed the silent prayer for God to change me every chance I got until I started attending college in New York. That's when common sense began to take hold and I realized that no amount of prayer would change me into something that wasn't natural to me.

With my religious upbringing, I'd had the opportunity to study religious doctrine. But I learned from different perspectives, from Catholic Mass on Fridays to Baptist services on Sundays to vacation Bible school in the summer to Bible study with a Jehovah's Witness as a teenager.

As I got older I began to realize that all these people and institutions interpreted the Bible somewhat differently. I had a sort of epiphany: the Bible was about the lessons you learned, not about the events or words.

When I became old enough, intelligent enough and logical enough to discern the difference between metaphor and reality, everything changed. I realized that Jonah living in the belly of a whale was a parable written in the same vein as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that he had "been to the mountaintop."

Neither Jonah nor King had actually been to those places. They were metaphors for lessons for those of us who cared to absorb them.

So many of us, especially in the black community and in churches, tend to think that religious teachings happened word for word as they were written in Scripture. I think that's naïve, even dangerous.

That type of thinking - or non-thinking - keeps many religious people enslaved to beliefs that they haven't truly stepped back from and examined.

That type of thinking causes people who are otherwise good to shun and ostracize young gay people.

It causes people to want to control and change people who aren't like them. And who wants to be like someone else?

Imagine if we had allowed Christian doctrines and teachings that supported slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women to pervade our society all the way up until the current moment. What kind of world would that be?

Instead, we got on our knees, just as I did as a little boy, and prayed that slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women would end. In the United States, at least, those prayers have largely been realized.

I'm no longer the member of any church but I do believe in a higher power.

It's time for us, especially black people, to stop trying to pray the gay away and to get on our knees and start praying that the discrimination of gay people ends.

What we're doing to our young gay people now is child abuse. It's plain old bigotry and hatred. And if African-Americans don't know what that feels like in America, I don't know who does.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Don Lemon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (4,733 Responses)
  1. Precious

    Well if praying the gay away didnt help, how is praying against gay racist gonna help? SERIOUSLY YOU NEED TO STOP PRAYING AND JUST TURN FROM YOUR EVIL GAY WAYS! Your prayers are not answered because God already commanded that you go and sin no more

    December 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Precious

      DO ALL CAPS MAKE YOU THINK YOUR ARGUMENT IS SOMEHOW MORE VALID?

      December 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  2. Ab Arch

    The Bible teaches it is a sin, however it also teaches redemption, forgiveness, restoration and transformation for those who want it..key is WANT it...no one can force anyone to take God at His Word...no one can force anyone to repent and come to Christ for salvation, however God calls all those who have placed their faith in His Son for salvation to stand up for truth in love. But I will have to say a few things, the Bible does not condone slavery but rather mentions it and gives instructions to people who have them on how they need to treat them and make sure their wages are paid ("He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death." Exodus 21:16..for example...harsh warning against slave trades..the Mosaic law is not applicable anymore but the principles of the Law which Christ came to fulfill are still in place). Segregation is NOT condoned rather opposed, in the book of James he lays out that favoritism in sin, and in Romans Paul declares that there is neither Jew, Greek (Gentile), slave or free, but are all one in Christ Jesus. The topic of women then comes to mind, women are shown respect in the Bible and it instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (the worldwide body of true believers) and gave Himself for it, women are shown as having amazing heroic roles, it was a woman that God used to save the Hebrews from annihilation in the book of Esther, and women are mentioned in the geneology of Jesus, the reason why the Bible does teach that wives should submit to their husbands is really that Adam was made first and Eve was made from his rib second.

    October 28, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Ab Arch

      Sorry that verse about neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free is in Galatians not Romans....sweet picture by the way :)

      October 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Israel

    The world needs more Adam Lambert's in it His message of love & eutaliqy is one that today's youth need to hear Thank-You Adam for leading by example & staying true to yourself Love overcomes hate, Love has no color, Love has no orientation All is love ~ Adam Lambert

    October 7, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  4. Angelica

    Hansen is wrong about who ought to go on trial.This is the most blatant msieepresrntation that I have ever seen.The Weather Underground maps were the worse. 30-40F is represented by green. Now, I know that there are great variations in what people find comfortable, i.e. green, but I would assert that very few people think of 30F as a nice green temperature. Even fewer plants would think of it as green.What a crosk!

    October 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  5. Douglas

    Breakthrough!
    Gay and Lesbian teens sign celibacy pledges.
    Straight teens sign abstinence pledges.
    There is hope for tomorrow!.
    Best,
    Douglas

    April 22, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Breakthrough!
      Gay and Lesbian teens sign celibacy pledges.
      Straight teens sign abstinence pledges.
      There is hope for tomorrow!.

      You have no heart, you're just another brainwashed Christians spreading your prejudices. It's sick, the damage you are doing to those teens is unjustified and you'll be the one burning in hell. The experts around the world have proven you WRONG. There is no need for celibacy especially since so many thousands of churches and priest have shown that being gay is not a sin. You're a disgrace to our society.

      April 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  6. Douglas

    TEST

    April 20, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • BRUCE

      I PRAY THAT MY PARTNER WANTS IT BAD

      April 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  7. Rev. George

    God does not regard homosexuality as a sin any more than heterosexuality. Sin is lack of respect for God; it is a lack of love or respect for other persons. Whether gay or straight, therefore, one may sin against God or others. But God forgives us when we sin and strengthens us in resisting sin. We are led by God's forgiving love to become more respectful and loving toward God and towards others, even those we don't "like".

    The Scriptures are very important because they teach us God's love for all, gay or straight. But the Scriptures are old, thousands of years old, written even before the word "homosexual" existed. Same sex acts involving the genitals - we call these "homogenital" - seem in Scripture to be thought of as a result of idol worship. See, for example, Romans 1:18-27. Nor do the Scriptures seem to understand what we mean today by "sexual orientation". Sexual acts which are injurious, disrespectful, or unloving toward the other person are wrong. So I believe that the Scriptures approve of homosexuality and even homogenital acts that are kind, generous, loving, and respectful of the other person, just as in the case of heterosexuality or heterogenital acts.

    April 5, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  8. Douglas

    @Ok'y Dok'y,

    "The bible doesn't NOT condemn gays as we know and understand it today. That is your problem part of reading comprehension 101 is putting the scriptures into historical perspective and you are NOT doing that."

    Thanks for proving my point, Ok'y Dok'y. Your revisionist interpretation of the Bible is patently disingenuous.

    Best,
    Douglas

    April 4, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Thanks for proving my point, Ok'y Dok'y. Your revisionist interpretation of the Bible is patently disingenuous."

      No, you are making that excuse to justify your prejudice. There is NO way that Paul and others that you use to condemn gay as being sinful knew the science we do today. Paul and others were viewing their world through ignorant eyes not fully understanding the issue. Paul thought it was a punishment, not a natural condition like being straight. The other passages that people use to condemn gays are about hospitality and male prostitution that has nothing to do with a Christian loving gay relationship! Duh! Your heart is prejudice therefore you lack of knowledge of that time period that the scriptures were written blinds you from the REAL truth of today. That is why there are now gay churches, gay clergy and gays are allowed to be married before their god.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      P.S. Don't forget the experts around the world have proven you WRONG on about gays, another fact you keep leaving out.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  9. Jeannine

    God has created people with romantic and physical attractions to the same sex, as well as those with attractions to the opposite sex. Many, if not most, people, we are now discovering, have both kinds of attractions in varying degrees. All of these feelings are natural and are considered good and blessed by God. These feelings and attractions are not sinful. Most Catholic moral theologians now hold that homogenital behavior, as well as heterogenital behavior, is good and holy in God's sight when it is an expression of a special and unique love which one person has for another. Both homosexual and heterosexual genital expression can be sinful if they are manipulative, dishonest, or unloving actions.

    When read at face value, the Scriptures have nothing positive to say about homogenital behavior. However, most Christians do not interpret the Bible literally; they try to understand the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context and see what meaning the Scriptures have for us today.

    The Scriptures were written approximately 2000 or more years ago when there was no knowledge of constitutional homosexuality. The Scripture writers believed that all people were naturally heterosexual so that they viewed homosexuality activity as unnatural. Women today are pointing out that the inferiority of women expressed in the scriptures was a product of culture and the times in which the Bible was written; it should not be followed today, now that we are beginning to appreciate the natural and God-given equality of men and women.

    Similarly, as we know that homosexuality is just as natural and God-given as heterosexuality, we realize that the Biblical injunctions against homosexuality were conditioned by the attitudes and beliefs about this form of sexual expression which were held by people without benefit of centuries of scientific knowledge and understanding. It is unfair of us to expect or impose a twentieth century mentality and understanding about equality of genders, races and sexual orientations on the Biblical writers. We must be able to distinguish the eternal truths the Bible is meant to convey from the cultural forms and attitudes expressed there.

    April 4, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  10. Douglas

    @ John,

    John thanks for your efforts to clarify your position on the role of gay/lesbian behavior and the Christian faith. Unfortunately it is in conflict with the Bible. Gay and Lesbian activities are not supported by scripture, they are condemned. I don't condemn the person I just can't condone the sinful acts as "normal". I have noticed repeated efforts to explain away Sodom and Gomorrah as an episode of being "inhospitable to strangers", a weak argument at best. We all know what the men wanted when they came to Lot's door. Lot even offered his virgin daughters as a further enticement to get the gay men to back off, but they persisted. For those who are repulsed at the idea of a father offering his daughters as a sacrifice, bear in mind that this was done to prove that the gay men were after gay s@x, period.
    After that the city was destroyed.
    Christianity is not about trying not to offend sinners who continue to practice sinful behavior, it is about telling the truth about what is acceptable and what is not. John, you cannot justify what has been condemned in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
    In addition, it is a specious argument at best to claim that people in BIblical times didn't "understand gays" like we do today. Gay behavior was known, seen and understood in Biblical times.
    It was not acceptable then anymore than it is acceptable today. It can't be covered up or explained away.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Let's keep the discussion going.

    Best,
    Douglas

    April 3, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Gay and Lesbian activities are not supported by scripture, they are condemned. I don't condemn the person I just can't condone the sinful acts as "normal"."

      The experts around the world have proven you WRONG! The bible doesn't NOT condemn gays as we know and understand it today. That is your problem part of reading comprehension 101 is putting the scriptures into historical perspective and you are NOT doing that. You should be arrested for spreading hatted and bigotry in our society. Gays deserve normal loving lives like everyone else. People like you are disgrace to our society because you deny the REAL facts on this issue.

      April 4, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Lot even offered his virgin daughters as a further enticement to get the gay men to back off, but they persisted. For those who are repulsed at the idea of a father offering his daughters as a sacrifice, bear in mind that this was done to prove that the gay men were after gay s@x, period."

      It even stats in Ezekiel that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was because of hospitality. Plus when you factor in that the Hebrew word yadha does not mean 'to have sex with' and that is also the issue with that scripture. Only prejudice people use that scripture to try and condemn gays!

      April 5, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Daniel

      Faerie Fyre is a GLBTQ friendly guild on Grizzly Hills. We have a giworng membership but looking for more. We are a support guild which like to do groups (instances) and mini-raids. Feel free to check us out. PST Amanaknight or any officer for an invite.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  11. grace sette

    hi don,
    what a disaster that interview with piers and toure. in my opinion, toure was trying to bring down piers regarding the martin issue. piers was so right and toures so wrong. if i never see toure on any show, i will be very happy. so unprofessional of him.

    April 1, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  12. und losverdienen

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    April 1, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  13. Douglas

    kinchina

    Hope all is well where you are in Asia. Thanks for sharing your insight on this subject. I have been working with a youth group to help increase awareness of the value of Biblical instruction in personal development. It is encouraging to see gay and lesbian youth step up and follow through on the promises of God. They are all good kids facing many of the same challenges we faced as youngsters in a world that is in conflict as never before.
    Take care,
    Douglas in the USA

    March 30, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Thanks for sharing your insight on this subject. I have been working with a youth group to help increase awareness of the value of Biblical instruction in personal development. "

      You are terrible roll model for any children! Being gay as we know it today is NOT a sin only prejudice bigots think that way. The experts have shown that being gay is NOT a choice, it's not a mental illness and it CAN'T be voluntarily changed. Gays and lesbians deserve the same loving relationships that straights do! Even your Christ stated love is the key ingredient to life. The stupidity of people like you spreading your prejudice and bigotry is what is so WRONG with our society. It's great to know you'll be the one going to hell for it.

      April 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • John

      @Douglas I totally disagree with what you are doing and don't believe you understand the true nature of God's love. Christians need to recognize the abuse of Scripture in harming other human beings in body, soul, or spirit, and fight to bring right into the light.

      The duration of bad theology does not make it any less bad. Indeed, it only serves to indict the many generations of Christians who were too blinded by religiosity to apply the heart of God and critical thought to the passages they read. With so many examples having gone before us, we have no excuse for our continuing failure; and we, indeed, are made more guilty than they, for the preponderance of errors that we should have learned from by now.

      It's nothing more than horrible interpretations and/or applications of Scripture that are the culprits here, not the text itself. What has so often seemed obvious by a surface level reading of Scripture has proven untrue time and time again. Why is it so hard for Christians to accept the very possibility that their theological position against gays is only the latest symptom of the same disease?

      If you care enough to get this one right, you must at least expose yourself to the evidence that demonstrates that homosexuality is not the sin that we've been taught it was. Set yourself free from the lie that God condemns homosexuals, or that you somehow serve Him by treating gay people with anything less than completely open arms.

      Don't make the mistake of assuming that Scripture is so obviously clear on this issue. We've gotten it wrong too many times before to make that same mistake again. Love God enough to at least consider the evidence, if perchance it proves true; and always remember the wisdom of Proverbs 18:13 – "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him."

      God's love for us, our love for God, and love of neighbor are the standards by which everything must be judged. Biblical religion at its best authorizes principles that facilitate justice and the highest possible fulfillment of persons in community. The highest ideals we know come from the Bible, and they must be used to judge everything else in the Bible. Nevertheless, it is important to show the error or questionability of certain traditional interpretations of Scripture that are oppressive. Careful historical study and responsible translation and interpretation may be effective in showing how the prejudices of the past have themselves corrupted the meaning of the original texts. Devotion to the text can sometimes prevent misuse and lead to interpretations that are not only more accurate but more humane. One must, however, be completely honest with the actual texts in doing so. Above all, particular texts of Scripture must be evaluated in the light of the supreme themes of humanity created in the image of God for a life of love in a community in which we honor the image of God in each other and mutually promote the happiness and well-being of each and all.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  14. kinchina

    be black! be white....but don't be a Gay! if you accept then one day you will bring a DONKEY saying I love her, I want to get marry! WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
    WAKE UP WAKE UP!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Ok'y Dok'y

      "if you accept then one day you will bring a DONKEY saying I love her, "

      More ignorant stupidity, a donkey can't consent moron. All you are doing is showing the world you are clueless about the gay issue and are only here to spread your hate. Grow up.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  15. kinchina

    Damn it! in anyone wants His/Her OWN son to be a GAY? Damn it! WAKE UP STUPIDS! do not try to legalize the Gay rights just becuase of you being a GAY!!! you can suffer... you can enjoy,but do not promote it! this way the would will not exist. I know you gays do not care about it, but do not humiliate your abducted kids...
    REMEMBER EVEN GOD DO NOT ACCEPT IT, THAT'S WHY GAYS CANNOT GIVE BIRTH...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Ok'y Dok'y

      "REMEMBER EVEN GOD DO NOT ACCEPT IT, THAT'S WHY GAYS CANNOT GIVE BIRTH...'

      Wow are you one stupid person there are straights that can't give birth. Plus gays do have children, duh! All the major organizatios around the world have stated that being gay is not a choice, it can't be voluntarily changed and it's not a mental illness. There are thousands of gay churches, gay clergy and it's been shown that being gay as we know it today it is NOT a sin. Only a hateful, prejudice person takes the bible literally to justify their ignorant stupidity.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:22 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.