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. Shea

    Although I dont total agree with you, I have so much respect for your courageousness. It has given me strength

    May 22, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  2. natalio

    I can relate Don to your story. We all have our story about our journey. I went to a Catholic school as well, prayed and kissed several religious pictures holy cards every night. I married, hurt a women I loved very much--all because I could not accept the way GOD made me. At 35 I came out -- i am still learning to love myself. Thanks Don for being a positive model for many of us......

    May 22, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • gary

      Gay is OK. Don't make others' problem your problem. Peace to you.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • jamesthedog

      Natalio, Sin [to transgress God's law} is Satan's gift to the world, and you are using your free will to embrace his lies.God made you pure and clean, you have chosen this, and you can chose otherwise. Repent and return to the lord, he will meet you where you are. He loves you IF you love Him, it's your choice. If you believe there is a God, then obviously you accept that there is a Satan, right. He gave you a brain, don't be afraid to use it.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  3. GodisLove

    "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mt 12:40) To suggest that Jonah was a parable, is not consistent with scripture. Although I do not agree with the path you've chosen, you have a right to choose it without anyone discriminating against it. A truly free society should allow you to live according to your beliefs, however, you will always have individuals who would mandate their opinions upon others. True believers are not so, we love you Don without condition! Peace into you my brother in the Lord.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Davidyam

      Who cares if you love Don, the point is are you going to commit child abuse on young gay kids in your church.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:19 am |
  4. laredo

    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination. Lev 18:22. KJV. Your struggles are understood by Jesus only. Note however that Jesus died for our transgressions and was raised by God in victory is not a parable like M.L.King. God does not condemn any man. God is not a destroyer of his creation, the devil is. In the mind of God we are all His children however there is one (the devil) who goes about looking for whom to destroy. That explains the calamities you see all around today. The abnormalities in births etc... God is not to blame. Satan is angry because his time is short. I once asked myself that if Jesus were to live physically among us where would he choose to worship. My mind tells me He would go about doing what He does best, healing the sick, setting the captives free and raising the dead. I have the mind of Christ. The bible is the manual of life. Remember the apostles did not have the New Testament Gospel; they only acted in faith according to what they saw while they were with Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul was sent to the gentiles and in Acts 19:2 He asked the believers if they have received the Holy Ghost since they became believers. God understands your struggles and the light of Jesus will shine on you and guide you into all truth by His grace. But always remember what the devil stands for and what Jesus stands for. Thank you and be blessed.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • T3chsupport

      Leviticus also tells you to murder your children if they are unruly.
      Pick and choose much?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Doubtful1

      Lev also say you're an abomination for eating shellfish....when was the last time you had shrimp, crab, lobster?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Sally

      So, Satan has the ability to create birth defects? Or God is punishing innocent babies and letting them endure unspeakable suffering (think Harlequin babies) for the sins of fully grown people that have absolutely nothing to do with those babies?

      Any God who would torture innocent babies for the sins of others is a God I want nothing to do with. Loving God? Not so much.

      If YOU believe in God, then YOU believe God creates all human beings and doesn't make mistakes. Satan can't create people. Therefore, God is intentionally creating innocent beings just to suffer a horrific, very short life.

      I am tired of hearing people insist that "sin" "explains" things such as birth defects and all the horror in the world. It is patently ridiculous. You are no more correct in your belief in mythology than the Greeks were with their multiple gods that ruled over and caused everything, and needed sacrifices and rituals (accepting jesus into your heart) in order to make good things happen.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • JSinKC

      @laredo "The abnormalities in births etc... God is not to blame. Satan is angry because his time is short."

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you saying that Satan has more power than God on earth? If Satan causes birth defects, defects to what would be otherwise perfect creations of God, then either:

      A) God does not have the power to reverse the defect or prevent Satan from creating it
      B) God doesn't care enough to correct that defect which Satan created

      So which is it? Is God powerless to stop these defects, or does he/she/it just not care enough about his creations and would rather let them suffer in agony?

      May 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  5. Steve

    I know I am raining on your parade, but it looks like he is missing a father. I know a lot of gays me not being hateful at all, just not sure of being born gay and the choice to be or not to be. There are plenty of people that do not have as much problems with not having a father or mother, but as a professional counselor I have seen people who are missing a parent.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  6. Peter cinelli

    I could care less that you are gay, I just think you are a terrible news anchor. You always seem fake as can be. AC is Gay too but I love to watch his show because he has news worthy talent.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  7. April

    To Don Lemon –

    I just want you to know that there ARE churches that would be eager to accept you as you are. Your faith is clearly deep and vibrant and I would hate for the pain you experienced in your growing up years to keep you away from the church. Many people inside the church need you – and you need the healing that a healthy community can give – not a healing from who you are, but a healing from the wounds inflicted on Christians who didn't think about how their actions would affect you.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  8. STR

    I am a straight born again Christian man.
    I Love the Lord my God Almigty.
    I love his word, the Bible.

    I do empathize with the gays and choose to love them – especially the ones who were born that way.

    My delemma is this.
    Do I continue to Love the Lord my God and the Bible which is his word or do I turn my back on God and choose to allow gays to think they are normal and justified in their lifestyle even though God's word says it is wrong.

    Read Romans 1 – it explains many sins as God turns them over to their own desires.
    God also judges men to the third and 4th generation.

    Do I understand all of this? Heck, no.

    I do choose to obey God who I believe is loving, gracious, merciful, and just.
    I cannot judge God who says being gay is wrong.
    The Bible says that being Gay is wrong in the OT and the NT.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Observer

      Everyone just picks what they like from the Bible and ignor the rest.
      Solve your dilemma by choosing the Golden Rule rather than hatred.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • The Word

      Romans describes God's wrath of abandonment; in other words, since man no longer listens to His Truth, He has let them go into unnatural behavior, etc...

      May 22, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Lee McLaurin

      What do you mean "allow" them to believe? You aren't God. You don't allow anything. Worry about your own sins, and let gays worry about themselves.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Sally

      The Bible is wrong. If being gay is wrong, and you yourself acknowledge that some are "born that way", that means that God just made a mistake when he created him. What's that, you say? God is perfect and doesn't make mistakes? Well, there you have it. What about hermaphrodites? Who are they supposed to love?

      I am not at all averse to the idea of a creator, but the God of the Bible is such a petty, hateful, vindictive and evil God that I cannot believe that "version" of him is correct. Going to tell me that I'm wrong and he's a loving god? The Bible says that God loves you more than your mother. Now, look at your own children and imagine just picking them up and throwing them in a fireplace and letting them burn to death (except death isn't a possibility according to the bible-the torture is forever) simply because they struggled to believe in something you told them. Love? HAH!

      No, the God I believe in loves all His/Her children, and will base any judgement, if it exists, on how one chooses to treat those around them. Common thread in all religions is "the golden rule". I do believe that is the only thing that matters in the end.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  9. POD

    Opiate of the masses

    May 22, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  10. Michael Guilford

    I prayed for the same until I was 29.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  11. T3chsupport

    Shouldn't the people who assume to know and understand the will of such a powerful being be praying about their own blasphemy? Because if you really believe in such a god, and yet you sit here and try to tell people what he/she/it thinks just based on a tiny book from 2000 years ago, that's what you're guilty of. Blasphemy and heresy. You aren't god, and you didn't write the bible. If you believe in the awesomeness of that god at all, you'd understand that one book could never contain that much wonder. If your god could be contained in that one book, it would be a pretty weak god. You're just as subject to the contents as anyone else, yet you're still looking for that bit of sawdust in your brother's eye, ignoring the plank in your own.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • GodisLove

      Wow, you make very nice points! First, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." John 21:25 Correct, the totality of God can not be contained in a book. Secondly, It's said, that you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into. You seem very reasonable so here goes, God is a righteous Judge, when "He" jjudges (not man), He judges with full knowledge, not partial. "for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" 1 Sam 16:7. So, yes, correct again, we should spend more time looking at our own plank. Finally, man can not begin to know the total mind of God, and "we" can not say who goes to Heaven or who goes to Hell. After men has finished all his conjecture, God steps in an says, "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves" Romans 2:14.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  12. JanetMermaid

    And people wonder why so many thinking, rational, intelligent people despise Christians. I've never in my life known a less tolerant, more judgmental, more hateful, less compassionate group as Christians. They want to condemn all those who are "not like them" (and each Christian sect feels that way about at least one other Christian sect, too, not just us "heathens"). They wan to force their personal religious beliefs onto the rest of us through legislation (gay marriage, abortion rights, stem cell research, women't equality, environmental protection, etc.). This entire planet would be so much better off, and humanity would be so much more advanced, if all the "good" Christians really HAD been sucked up into heaven yesterday.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • POD

      Go talk ton some Islamic Fundamentalists.......You are in for a very rude awakening

      May 22, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • SarahFalin


      May 22, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • SarahFalin

      Get rid of all religions! It is nothing more than adults worshiping a magic man in the sky.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Derrique

      You have a hate for religious denominations, not Christians, as a whole. There's a difference between the two, and you need to learn it.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  13. jamesthedog

    Have a nice trip to hell instead.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  14. terry wrist

    its funny how people bash the Christians,when we are just trying to tell our side of the story,but too all the Christians ,the Bible tells us not to cast our pearls to the swine,deep down these people know there wrong but are not willing to see the error of there way,so we did our part,we know how this story ends.life is like a vapor,but death and judgment are for eternity.but for those out there you still have time,the world didn't end yet.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Larry

      Actually, you are incorrect on so many levels. You assume that you are right and that everyone deep down thinks the same as you. Deep down, I know I am right. You actually believe the events of this life give one some eternal reward or punishment. How pathetic. What kind of dopey god would set up such a system? There are hundreds of christian churches based on the bible, and they all preach different things. There is no way to know the truth. My mother says it best. She is amazed (and appalled) by the way so-called "christians" (and muslims, etc) think of their god as such a small-minded, petty, jealous, self-centered jerk. If there is a "god", he/she/it certainly doesn't even remotely resemble the petty tyrant you picture him/her/it to be.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Sally

      "Deep down these people know they're wrong".... Now why on earth would you believe such a thing? You *do* realize that most athiests/agnostics are just as familiar with the Bible and Christianity as most Christians, don't you? I have Christian friends that I adore. I adore them because they respect me and my spirituality and do not attempt to judge me. People like YOU, on the other hand, refuse to believe that somebody can INTELLIGENTLY come to the conclusion that the Bible is untrue and nothing but mythology. I do not "know that I am wrong" deep down. I "know that YOU are wrong" with every core of my being, but I tend not to say that to people unless they smugly assert that I either don't know what I'm talking about, or that some part of me actually believes as they do. The God of the Bible is not a loving God, but a cruel, evil, vindictive one (what sort of loving God would burn and torture one of his children that he "loved" for all of eternity simply because they struggled to believe? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. God doesn't make mistakes, right? Now that it's been proven to be biological, then if there is a God it means He/She deliberately created them that way, and a gay person who lives their life in a noble manner and treats those around them with love and respect will probably have it better in the afterlife than someone like you who spends your time judging others.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Evan

      It's amusing to see both sides claim to be wiser, not foolish, ect. Throwing insults only makes you look immature and hateful.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  15. Desmond

    Don, religion has taught us how to love. Though I can't quote the Bible word for word, and I'm pretty sure a bunch of God-nazis will get on my case for it, but the quote does correctly sum up this, "God loves all..." Live life, the way you see fit and find happiness within yourself. Life on Earth will be Heaven then.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Larry

      "Religion has taught us how to love". Wow! Really? You apparently missed the centuries of wars, bigotry, dominance, murders, greed, etc. brought to us by religion. But on a more level note, it's not actually the fault of religion. Religions are just organizations. The people involved with some religions are the culprits. 'Only we have the truth and we are going to force you to follow our rules.' That's the real evil of religion.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Sally

      All I learned from religion was how to be afraid. Afraid that if I didn't obey I would be tossed in a lake of fire by a God who says he "loves" me. That's an awful lot like the abusive husband who says "why did you make me do this" while he beats his wife.

      I learned to love from the people around me who nurtured, raised, and loved ME in spite of my flaws and the things that I have done wrong.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    I found the story interesting. As a little kid, I was in a Baptist church, I remember having hideous nightmares of the Earth opening up and swallowing me in in fire. As an older kid, and young man, I bounced from several churches, and I too saw differences in their beliefs. I am a very spiritual man and most certainly believe in the Trinity. What I don't believe though is how various religions tweak the word into what they want it to be. It seems to me that to expose the masses to His grace that hellfire and damnation are not the answer. God doesn't make mistakes..... I'm often confused by religious zealots, who are perfect examples on Sunday, yet Monday-Thursday, they don't practice what they preach..... Thank you for your story Don, and I'm sure you beautiful mom is on your side, wherever she may be. As for you 'haters,' God bless you and have a wonderful week.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  17. Edward

    In the end, organized religion is just out to perpetuate itself and cares little about the problems of the average member. They are just country clubs that the elite pull money and power from. Do you really think following the lessons of Jesus are high on the list of the Baptist Council or the Pope's "to do" list. Glad you finally found some closure with this ball of crap they've been feeding you Don.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  18. dobykitt

    Thanks Don for sharing your story. Like you, I'm a 44 yr old black guy who has always knew I liked guys instead of girls. There will always be ignorant folks who "hate" everyone.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  19. Jacqueline

    My brother tried to pray the gay away also. He died 5 years ago and things have changed alot since then !! I love you Don and love watching you on CNN

    May 22, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  20. Observer


    Your Bible quote says that being gay is like bragging or being a disobedient child. So why is it such a big deal to you? Why should being a disobedient child or bragging send one to Hell?

    May 22, 2011 at 10:06 am |
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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.