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.
About this blog
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.
What does being black have to do with anything ? I mean I get ythe whole gay thing but you just had to throw in that you're black? WHO CARES? It had no relevance to this article.
exactly what has being black got to do with this ariticle? sometimes i worry about the way people think. it is very sad.
why would you post this just because your name is aaron. I get your point but what does your name have to do with anything
i think he's saying two thing: that since blacks have a history of being discriminated against, they should know better than to discriminate themselves, yet blacks are particularly anti-gay, believing it can be "prayed away." As a gay black man, he speaks from experience having suffered black anti-gay discrimination.
Actually, the black community tends to turn a particularly negative eye on the gay black male (not unlike some other minority groups in the US) . If you take this into account alongside the tendency of the black community to cling to traditional forms of religious faith you begin to understand the relevance that ethnicity plays here. The author does not specify this but I imagine that's why he mentioned that he was black.
saying that blacks are particularly anti-gay is generalizing and not necessarily true.
It's about his experiences and he is black. There is extreme prejudice in the black culture when it come to being gay. Get over it
Duh- Jesus was black and gay silly!
Don said that he acknowledges a higher power. But that doesn't indicate a relationship with God. It's like me acknowledging that Obama is our nation's leader. But it doesn't mean I actually know him.
seems to me like he just got to know God a whole lot better.
If you would read the consti-tution, you would find out the America really does not have a leader but a head representative, someone who is supposed to follow the will of the people, not lead them.
So there is no American leader, and there is no God.
Unfortunately, most people are unable to deal with that level of freedom, so the presidency devolved into a leadership role. Just as most people are intelligent enough to deal with reality without a magical mystery enti-ty, so they believe in an obviously phony God.
Wow! I think you are the greatest Don Lemon. It must have been very hard to come out. I love watching your show. I can't even imagine how difficult it must have been praying all the time to change who you are. How conflicted you must have felt all the time. I wish the best for you and I hope the challenges of predjudice will be light.
Don Lemon is my new hero! What an amazing, articulate guy. Great article and interview.
i thought woman was created from dust. what i don't understand is that god didn't create woman until he saw man was lonely. so woman was not in god's original plan. so man was not supposed to reproduce. there was only supposed to be one man and god. and the angels, who have no gender.
Gen-esis 2 says he made Adam out of the cl-ay of the g-round, and then paraded an-imals past Adam, as p-ot-en-tial partners, (apparently he was given a chance at bestiality), but none proved "suitable". So Eve was formed from Adam's rib. In Genesis 1, it just says they were "created". If you read the other co-ntem-porary cr-ea-tion my-ths, they are "su-sp-ic-io-usly" si-mi-lar. Your point is well taken.
Hahahahahhahaa! That by far is the most far fetched attempt to come to a fallacious conclusion as I have ever seen. Wow!
This why I always say don't belong to one certain religion, isn't the golden rule is: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. So how many, does these who have gay neighbors, so-call christians follow it.
Why don't you go up against the real hatred against gay people – which is the hip hop and rap industry which consistently churns out messages of hate towards gay males. The Catholic church may not be 100% politically correct, but it is not hateful as you suggest, and the days of praying the gay away are long over.
The days of praying the gay away are long over? Try telling that to literally every religious gay person I've met who talked to a Catholic priest in the past 5 years.
I'm a practicing Catholic and gay, and I have had great confessors in the past. I could talk to them about both my s3xuality and my moral life without prejudice as one ought to be able to do with any priest worth his salt. But, I did have an encounter with a much older priest at a penance service. I should have known better, but when I tried to preface a confession by saying I am gay (won't say what I was actually confessing for confidentiality's sake), he tried to give me an absolution for it (even though it's not a sin)! You know, that might have sent some people for the door.
Exactly. There are as many opinions about this subject as there are confessors in the RC church. Publicly, they are oc-cupationally obligated to tow the line, but in the privacy of the confessional, they are loving and understanding, and totally different than their right wing bishop bosses. I understand there is a large foundation supported study under way, which sends couples, single people, and gay people, to various confessors in various dioceses around the country, and reports, anonymously, their replies to questions, in the confessional, on many controversial subjects, such as in vitro fertilization, birth control, divorce, same s-ex marriage, premarital s-ex etc., etc. When it is published in a few months, it will cause a furor, to say the least. Can't wait.
dalis said: "I'm a practicing Catholic and gay, and I have had great confessors in the past...Ibut when I tried to preface a confession by saying I am gay (won't say what I was actually confessing for confidentiality's sake), he tried to give me an absolution for it (even though it's not a sin)! You know, that might have sent some people for the door."
How can your religion be so important to you when it causes so many internal contradictions and pain? Do yourself a favor. Drop the whole thing. The freedom you get from dropping religion will allow you to live a less complicated and fulfilling life. You can still be moral and dignified. You can develop new, interesting and fulfilling relationships, not just with other men, but also females. Your new freedom does not absolve you from engaging in unprotected s*x. You will still have that. But the excess baggage will disappear like magic.
You said it. If he doesn't want to just drop the whole blinkin mess, he should at least go check out a congregation, (and there are many), which embraces, and supports these people. It's like beating your head against a wall, it feels so great when you stop, you can't believe you ever did it. Great post. Hope he acts on your wise advice.
"The freedom you get from dropping religion will allow you to live a less complicated and fulfilling life. You can still be moral and dignified."
What is the basis then for morality? And why is it advantageous or desirable to live a moral life?
If there's no absolute, universal moral code, aren't articles like this pointless? If each person is allowed to define his own moral code, how can any person say another is wrong–in his beliefs or in the way he treats others? And if there _is_ an absolute moral code in the universe, how can it be based on something other than an authority that exists outside of the universe?
While I don't agree with the author, he at least acknowledges the existence of a supreme being, and hence still has a basis for a moral code (though I'm not sure why he then abandons the laws of that supreme being to define his own). But to suggest that all religious beliefs are pointless, then to go on to say that one should "be moral," seems flawed. But perhaps you can shed light on how that combination of beliefs works together.
"What is the basis then for morality? And why is it advantageous or desirable to live a moral life?
If there's no absolute, universal moral code, aren't articles like this pointless? If each person is allowed to define his own moral code, how can any person say another is wrong–in his beliefs or in the way he treats others?"
The basis for morality is the limitations set upon it through the society that you live in. Each person does not develop their own moral code. They are bound, through things like peer pressure and cultural moors, to what is beneficial to that society. For example, 2000 years ago a girl was married as soon as she was physically ready to bear children. That was culturally acceptable and made sense when she was likely to die before 40 and half of her children would die in infancy. Society was made stronger if she could give birth to and raise into adulthood the most people. Today, we'd be in an uproar if someone attempted to marry off an 11 year old girl, because the disadvantages to that girl and society now greatly outweigh the benefits since she'll now live to 80 and likely see all of her children grow into adulthood. An absolutely moral code implies that morality does not change over time. In fact it does. Moreover, it changes from one society to the next. It is extremely fluid.
So many confessing sins to a man in a wooden box rather than the only mediator between God and man which is Jesus Christ. The bible says that believer's can come boldly before His throne of Grace. The book of Hebrews 9:11-16 says that the sacrifices made by the earthly priest would not do and that Jesus Christ is the one and only sacrifice for sin. I see so many angry at religion, and rightfully so. However, Jesus Christ said in Mark 7:7 to not follow after Traditions of your father.....and He was speaking of the religious leaders of the day. Christianity is not the sum of ones poor lifes experiences in a man made religion. Be free from sin, and accept the gift of Jesus Christ alone as payment for your sins once for all, and follow after Him.
You only have to look to the GOP, to see how hate filled and just plain dumb religion makes you. Good luck on your journey.
So being gay then is a birth defect correct? Then if is a birth defect would it require treatment sutch as the other defects?
It's not a defect you jerk. What is wrong with people?
Your inability to form coherent sentences requires treatment.
OK, let's try this one more time.
It's a genetic variant. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of genetic variants. Science has observed same s-e-x behaviors in every specie, birds, insects, mammals, fish, etc., etc. on this planet, generally in the same proportions, statistically. Get over it. If it threatens you, it says more about your security than it does about anything objective outside the individual observer.
There also is no such thing as the infantile black/white concept of straight/g-ay in humans. Humans all exhibit a range of behaviors, from "all opposite" behaviors, to "all same s-ex" behaviors, in a Bell curve distribution, or continuum, with most lying towards the middle of the curve, just as you would expect.
This observed behavior was removed from the DSM's list of psychological maladaptations many years ago, by people much smarter than you,
Loved the psychological reference about the DSM! Maybe in a few decades and several civil rights leaders being killed later that it will ring in a new era of people. But I will not stick around this country to wait to marry the man I love and have grown with. unacceptable.
Julius Cesar was gay so was Caligula ........oh yeah Alexander the Great........yup.....now lets go back to being quiet
Don't forget King James. He was gay too.
Let's not forget King James of BIBLICAL FAME.
OK, you wanna play this game. Lets go. Actually I'm not that good it, but there are people here who have really long lists, I hope they see this, as they have pre-prepared lists, and it is a waste of my time to even try. Don't forget all the politicians, sports figures, actors, famous artists, lawyers, doctors and clergy people.
The guy who invented the computer was gay. If you don't like it, get off.
Does God exist and if so does this being have an opinion on this? The God of the bible is clear that this is against his creative order. Look how a man and a woman are created. Hello?
If being gay is so wrong, why does God create gay people?
Well if its a birth defect....
Yeah, but is procreation the only thing to life?
i dont think procreation will ever be in danger. in fact, i think adoption agencies could use a little help.
I would compare it more to a genetic defect. But again, this would be a "God created" defect...in the end, if God really is God, he has a hand in everything. Including gays.
God created everything but man created gay. That was what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah when God destroyed the world. Too bad God said he would not destroy the world with water again. But at least hurricane is already doing it for you guys anyway.
@Chuku: "God created everything, but man created gay" Doesn't the contradiction in that sentence seem just a little strange to you?
Don, please know that the bible and religion are man-made. No amount of praying will every change who you are. Jesus did NOT preach hatred. He did not preach woman being a second class citizen and certainly did not say gay is wrong. Thank you for sharing your story and to hell with anyone else who hates you for being who you are! This white guy accepts you exactly the way you are. I hope your story softens at least one person enough to prevent them from expressing their bigotry upon another.
Jesus hated religion with a PASSION...
Absolutely right. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" 23:25-28 NKJV, I am not a Christian by choice but any who choose to be should be welcome in open arms by Jesus. Modern religion are no different than the Pharisees who say the word of god but manipulate it for their own purposes. God doesn't hate but loves you exactly the way he made you!
Your comment about the Bible being manmade seems to suggest that it cannot be trusted as truth. If you believe that scripture is not without error then how do you know what Christ’s opinion is on any subject? There is no way for you to know what he taught or believes unless you had a personal chat with Him. Did you have a person one on one chat with Jesus, Aaron?
This was beautifully put, Don 🙂 I am straight but I fully support the gay community and hope that someday, everyone can uunderstand that gay is never something you decide to be, it's just something you are.
Ya I do not like his reporting style but I like him more that he has came out.Good for you Mr.Lemon best of luck to you...
Did you know that just for your " support of the gay community" you will burn in hell with them according to scripture? Sry.
King James Version (KJV)
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32.Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
You Megan can be found in VERSE THIRTY TWO. Someone who is not Gay but has pleasure in those that are. Careful about what you AGREE with. For instance, I feel Don't pain, I am a man who is attracted to LESBIANS, seriously. I have to repent for this lust, OFTEN. While my personal lust for multiple women is one thing, I COULD NEVER speak against the WORD OF GOD and say that it was OKAY. Nor should you my dear. Being saved or Christian is not having GOD conform to your point of view, nor is it YOU conforming to the WORLD'S point of view, rather it is US conforming to GOD'S point of view. Which is why people who have standards, meaning that they are trying to uphold the standards of God, and fall short, are viewed by the unlearned as "hypocrites". I would BE a hypocrite if it were MY STANDARDS that I was violating or struggling with, but they aren't, THEY ARE GOD'S STANDARDS which are really HIGH and that is why he allows us to REPENT. Get it?
with all due respect arbiter you conveniently left out the punchline: the commandment that this whole pre-amble was leading up to. Romans 2: 1-8. "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2 You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." 3 Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 For he will repay according to each one's deeds: 7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury." or as Jesus said in John "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." From the textual "stone" that you've lobbed at Megan are we to assume that you fit the bill? cheers, God-fearing atheist
I"m sorry that you've had such negative experiences in the church. You're right that you can't just "pray the gay away". But you do need to acknowledge that God made you a unique person and that you can't live according to the labels that other people put on you. Your feelings and behavior do not define you as a person. (Gay or straight) I hope that you would reconsider your relationship with God and not let the past hold you back.
he still has a relationship with God
Why do you feel the need to tell people to reconsider a relationship with something that doesn't exist? I can't believe that in this day and age, adults still believe in fairy tales! I used to be an apologist and let these things go, but I cannot and will not tolerate willful ignorance any longer.
I wish for you to reconsider your relationship with the ghost in the sky and pick up a book not of antiquity, but something which may open your eyes to a whole new world of reality.
Thanks Don Lemon for sharing your story! You hit the nail on the head, everything you said rings
TRUE. Always have enjoyed you on CNN, looking forward to more great stories from you! Oh,
love the pic - you're just as cute now as you were back then!
There not "like" button here. I appreciate positive comments. Those who have gone through this feel so alone any support is appreciated. Please continue doing so. 🙂 This goes to anyone posting positively on this. Thought your comments aren't replied to, they are the most impactful.
@ Blythe the fact that people that make up the religious community are some of the most hate filled and ignorant in society, when they should be fighting these things, I think that's news that should be posted here.
thats not a fair thing to say. ive seen many agnostoc charities. ive seen the jewish neighborhood do fundraisers for the needy and even heard of wicans involved in earth preservation activities. none of that is hateful
@ Yeah we wouldn't won't any one to get the wrong idea......right.
I really do not see anyone saying they HATE the writer. Poeple of the faith are just disclosing the Truth and teachings of the church. I do see hate from the anti-christ and atheist posts–accuring poeple being stupid or morons. Seems that when discussing the Lord with them, they get so angry that they become insulting and act immaturely with the name calling. If that is not ignorance or hate, then I don't know what is then....
I don't hate the writer, actually, I pity him. For everyone, poeple will need to live and learn through their choices and consquences.
@Teddy: I'm glad you say you do not hate. Pity is at least a less violent emotion. But whether you hate or pity the author, if you are expressing an anti-gay stance, that's not ok.
@Teddy: I'm glad you say you do not hate. Pity is at least a less violent emotion. But whether you hate or pity the author, if you are expressing an anti-gay stance, that's not ok.
My response: Actually, I don't hate him or anyone that is gay, what I do not like about the article is he basicaly bashes religion, creats his own personal Jesus and cannot admit to himself that he following in the gay life is a sin.
@teddy: Again: gay = sin IS an anti-gay stance, which is not ok. Claiming that it's just what your religion says does not make it any different.
@Teddy, is it any more different than the rest of you, who create your own personal god who just so happens to hate the same things you do?
You go Don Lemon. I'm so proud of you for writing your book and coming out so publicly. I do so wish more people in the public I would do so.
When I came out in the mid '70's, there were so few, if any, role models.
My partner of 33 yrs and I exclusively watch CNN. Now we have even more reason to do so.
"Neither Jonah nor King had actually been to those places. They were metaphors for lessons for those of us who cared to absorb them".................................... I respectfully disagree with this statement. Johah and the King actually was in these places. I am a firm believer and have some gay friends, but the Almighty also clearly states that "a man shall not lay by a man".....Period!! It is clearly against the word of God and it is clearly a SIN, so get it straight.
I don't know why people have not reasoned that being gay is actually a Psychological & psychiatric issue and these people need expert medical help. No one is born gay, the home they are raised make them gay............ father in jail, no mother figure, keeping wrong friends................. the list goes on and individual case needs to be carefully analyzed so they can be treated. So, if you are gay, go get expert medical help. From ever lasting to ever lasting, a marriage is between a "Natural born man and a Natural born woman". Anything short of that is wrong, it is distortion of christian faith and it is a sin!!
'No one is born gay, the home they are raised make them gay............ father in jail, no mother figure, keeping wrong friends................. the list goes on and individual case needs to be carefully analyzed so they can be treated'
Nonsense, absolute and total nonsense. I am friends with one couple that have a couple of daughters. One daughter is straight, the other is gay. There was no difference in the upbringing of the daughters.
@ THE LIGHT, YOU ARE TRULY THE LIGHT. GOD BLESS YOU . AMEN
@The Light: The reason why gay people are not treated for their gayness by psychiatrists and psychologists is because being gay was declared not a psychiatric or psychological disorder back in the 70s. You are behind the times by something like 40 yrs. The rest of your post is just blatant discrimination which you justify thru your religion.
And that goes double for you, hrhobi7.
@The Light... "I respectfully disagree with this statement. Johah and the King actually was in these places."
"The King" he was referring to was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and no, Dr. King was not telling a story about mountain climbing. It is laughable that you think anyone should even listen to your opinions when your reading comprehension is this bad.
its a shame so many millions of people throughout thousands of years have turned their eyes from God and onto religion. it has caused wars and misunderstanding and hatred. God made man in his image, which is love. that is all
evidence of what
Really – this is headline news – this is the most prominent story – Really – are you serious – Really........... ? Come on CNN
At CNN, they make themselves the news. That is one of the many pieces of evidence that CNN has no journalistic integrity.
ALBO, "no journalistic integrity" is what brought you to the CNN site, correct? If you don't LIKE this site, WHY in the HELL are you HERE?
Albo – didn't you read the footnote, you can only leave positive, non challenging comments that have to agree with the general population because its almost illegal to say anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable. You certainly cannot leave your real thoughts here, unless it syncs with what is perceived to be popular opinion. In closing, I am reminded of the phrase that ends with .... the dog that barks was the one that got hit 🙂
Get up off your knees and walk out that church door forever. They will always hate you; they will never accept you.
It's all just indoctrination pushed on you repeatedly when you were young. You conformed because everyone else seemed to accept it as true. You have become the guard of your own prison – you can walk away from it easily at any time, but don't because you internalized the indoctrination.
Accept yourself/ Shed the received ideas and discover your own. Be free.