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)


    May 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Ron

      Boy, conservative Christians sure do! They're all about judging.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      What ? They didn't have English class in the seminary ? (It's "supposed" to be).

      May 22, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  2. Pat Spellacy

    Rock solid truth...........great article.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Inez

      This is BS! This is a propaganda glorifying the GAY lifestyle.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  3. Dan

    I would like to comment on the assertion that Jonah and the great fish is a parable. Jesus affirmed the historical veracity of this event when he said, "Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights." Because it can't be explained naturally doesn't mean it didn't happen. If Jesus accepted it as fact I'll take his word for it. And his resurrection is proof that all his words were true.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Unfortunately, you are basing your argument on unverified speculation and rumor...i.e... what 'jesus allegedly said/did/meant...etc...'

      We 'really' don't know if there was a jesus... and if so... what he 'really' said, and what he 'really' *meant* assuming that there even was a jesus.

      Point being you are assuming your argument as fact, (based on a book) while it is 'not' necessarily so.


      May 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • johnnyb52

      Amen Dan!

      May 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Robert


      You were one of those people who paid to have your pet taken care of after the May 21 rapture, weren't you?

      May 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Free Thinker Seeking Reason


      You're basing your "argument" on a work of fiction. I don't base my beliefs on Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, or Indiana Jones, but I still find a positive message in such stories and parables. You can "enjoy" the bible all you want, but it presents no evidence in the way that you suggest. Please refer back to Don Lemon's use of the word "metaphor" in the article. Perhaps you glossed over that part?

      May 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Roger

      The fact that somebody (in this case, Jesus) related the story (about Jonah and the whale) does not at all mean that it was true. It may mean that Jesus (if indeed he even existed) thought it was true. But it provides no evidence of it.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Michael Power

      It is weird when people don't understand logic–as in the systematic study of thought represented with symbols and truth sequences. I say this because we cannot prove one myth based on the truthfulness of another unproven myth. Neither Jonah, nor any other human being ever survived after spending three days in the digestive system of another animal. And using the myth of resurrection to support your fact is EXACTLY what this article is trying to challenge people out of: stop using stories which are meant to inspire as empirical truths. This causes the brain to accept cognitive dissonance in increasingly simple ways and prevents the individual from ever truly understanding anything. Holy books are not from god, they are from men. And fables/myths were the de rigeur teaching device hundreds of years ago. As with most things, we can lament the loss of artistry that goes along with these outdated/quaint thought structures, but we should do our best to accept testable truth–not faith. After all, it is the same faith that drives millions of poor people to waste their hard-earned and limited incomes on lottery tickets–something must deliver me from this suffering. No less of a man than Albert Einstein said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

      May 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Michael Power, @Roger & @Free Thinker Seeking Reason

      Thank you all for backing up my assertions to -Dan's posting here.


      May 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  4. The Car God

    I wanted to fix my car.
    I went to the library and ripped pages out of hundreds of repair books, written by many different people
    over many years.
    I stuck them all together and i now have "The Car Bible".
    Please send $29.95 and dont forget to pray.
    Thank You
    The Car God.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • johnnyb52

      Childish and very off point.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Steen

      Dear "Car god", Go to hell...thanks!! Hey, and you can go for free!! Yeah!

      May 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      No, precisely ON point. Thank you.
      Some of the Pink Monkeys get agitated when you rattle their cages.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Yes... absolutely 'on point', as -Finger Puppet pointed out here.


      May 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  5. Brian

    Good for Mr. Lemon for having the courage and using his ability to reach many people to call for the end of bigotry and hatred towards gay people.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  6. txrbt

    "... especially black people." Yes, I knew I would find a victimization/accusation in there somewhere.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Simon

      Actually, you are taking the phrase out of context and assuming it is about victimization. He is actually calling on other black people to recognize that there is prejudice in the African-American community. It is a call for the elimination of the prejudice not what you assume it to be.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  7. Equality

    Despite what the critics may and do say, I believe Don Lemon, as not only a journalist but as a fellow human being, has decided to live his life as he was destined to live not as other human beings would like him to live. We all are born differently, as our God has created us. We do not have a choice as to how we are born, whether it be black, white, gay or straight, God in his or her infinite wisdom makes the decision as to our fate and how we will live our lives. For us to recognize and accept who we are and accept ourselves as a beautiful gift from the Almighty, then we have reached our paradise and our destinies and in the eyes of God, it is good!

    May 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  8. zz

    Great article, I wish they would teach this idea in bible school, otherwise many kids will quietly loose their faith when they learn the truth about Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Roger

      Losing faith is a good thing. Replacing it with reason, logic, common sense, evidence and science; that's even better.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  9. Vested

    Don, you are not alone in your thoughts as a child. I too tried to pray it away and was close to ending it all until I realized that God made me the way He meant to and that I was a child of God worthy of His love. I commend you for coming out and living your own truth!

    To all the ignorant folks out there, please remember that NO ONE would choose to be antagonized, ostracized fom their friends and family, and endure ridicule and violence if being gay were a CHOICE.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  10. Michael

    I find it ironic how Don Lemon tries to come off as a rational, intelligent theist merely because he doesn't take the Bible literally, when in fact he's only added hypocrisy onto the idiocy he had as a child. At least the literal interpretation is consistent, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. The metaphorical concept involves manipulating the meaning of the Bible to match one's own desires

    May 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Simon

      Do you take the bible 100% seriously? Have you ever worn clothing made out of two different types of thread? Have you ever shaved? If you answered yes to either question the lord tell me to put you to death.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Michael

      Simon, I'm an atheist. ;D You'll probably realize that if you read my post a little more closely,. Notice the words "idiocy" and "ridiculous".

      My point was that while a literal interpretation of the Bible is certainly illogical and utterly ridiculous (just read some of the Leviticus laws, like that picking up a stick for firewood on the Sabbath day is punishable by death!), believing that all of the stories are merely metaphors is something for which I have less respect. the metaphorical approach attempts to reconcile modern logic with an ancient, morally-disgusting, fallacious work, something that is (in my opinion) impossible to do in an affective manner. The major issue with that viewpoint is that it allows an individual to use the Bible as a weapon for promoting his or her personal agenda.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Simon

      Oh so when the author is doing it is promoting a personal agenda but when you do it you are adapting to modern times.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Frank


      Wait. Isn't one of the Leviticus laws the most often quoted reason that Christians use to point out that being gay is a sin? SO you are saying it is 'certainly illogical and utterly ridiculous'.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  11. Rob

    As a Christian pastor, it causes me pain to see people wielding the Bible as if it's a weapon to be used against those with whom you disagree, rather than a vessel for extending love. I applaud Mr. Lemon for the courage in his testimony, and would ask all Christians refrain from blasting another one of God's good creatures because he said something with which you disagree. Vitriolic words are much more a reflection on the person using them than anything else. God bless you, Mr. Lemon.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  12. Free Thinker Seeking Reason

    [The CNN automated censor is hyperactive again.]

    Wow, just WOW!!! This gives me a completely new perspective of Don Lemon as a news anchor, and an overwhelmingly positive one at that. Thank you so much, sir, for speaking your mind on the evils of hom-ophobia and religi-osity. You may not have made the final step to rationalism, but I will still gladly accept you as my brother in thought. I salute you and wish you all the very best in life!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  13. Sheryl Mexic

    Excellent opinion piece. Don Lemon should be commended.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  14. katiemac

    I am not gay, but I completely agree with what you are saying here. Amen.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  15. RDK


    May 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Simon

      And so spoke Jesus;

      'If type in all caps then it is the unassailable truth'

      May 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Babbage13

      Simon has a point. A quite humorous one, at that. ^_^

      May 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Michael

    "It's time for us...to get on our knees and start praying that the discrimination of gay people ends."

    Here's a novel alternative: Why not get OFF your knees and actually do something to change the situation! I find the statement below particularly infuriating and naive, as well:

    "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."

    Enslaved African and oppressed women prayed for CENTURIES for greater freedoms, but no improvements were achieved until people became activists for themselves, risking their lives by opposing the conventions of society to promote their own interests. To suggest that the accomplishments of the civil rights and gender-equality movements were a result of prayer is an insult to all who battled for unending decades (battles that continue into the present) for the oppressed.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • andyv5

      We got on our knees for strength and courage to do the task at hand.

      And no, it is not an insult. Without the strength that God gave them, many would have been scared and wouldn't have done much. God blessed us women in battle, and we won. Yes, there is still discrimination towards women today, but as Matthew 20:16 says, "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first." In Heaven, God will praise us for our efforts and hard work.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. dany

    i fell for you i understand your fustration .i want to make clear GOD loves you loves all sinner ...that why HE SEND JESUS
    but i want to make clear a sin its a sin.dont lie to yourself .....

    May 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Sheryl Mexic

      You are misusing Christianity. I am Jewish and I don't believe your bull. Christians frequently use their religion as a crutch. Glad my real Christian friends aren't like you.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  18. pazke

    Is that the best you've got, You vs. Bible?

    May 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  19. Adulterous Men Stand Up!

    I have had adulterous tendancies since I was as young as 4 or 5 years of age...so many girls. I am married now, but why should I fight it any longer. I an adulterer and proud. Why can't I be happy too? God made me this way. I'm on a mission to sleep with every woman that I see. I want the laws changed to where a man can marry several women at the same time. I want Christians to change their beliefs so I can be without guilt. Why can't adulterous men be happy too? I'm not hurting anyone. This article has inspired me. Who is with me?

    May 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • 1word

      Good comparison! I'm not with you but I see where you're coming from!

      May 22, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • _Believer

      Careful... a lot of our legislators ARE with you on that.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Frank

      Dear former Congressman Chris Lee,

      Nice Try

      May 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Sheryl Mexic

      Maybe one day you'll embrace better morals. This has nothing to do with religion as I'm Jewish and your behavior disgusts me.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • yalie

      You are free to be adulterous. The law does not discriinate against you for that. Some people are polyamorous, its not for the state or me to cast judgment, just as it should not do so with respect to gays.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Vicky

      Good point.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Josh

      Yeah... that's more about backstabbing people. I laugh at religion, and I get your comparison, but if you really feel this way, you should talk about it with your wife. Maybe she'll find a way to help you with your fantasies.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Adulterous Men Stand Up!

      If... you and your wife, and these other women you are sleeping with are 'all o.k.. with it... understand it... and.. are of legal age and consenting adults, and you are taking proper contraceptive precautions, and...no one is being harmed' then... what's the problem...? I hope that you are all happy, and enjoying yourselves.

      It may not be my way... or others...but apparently it's yours.

      Good try at trying to make what you do analogous to gay/lesbians... as being something that somehow is some sort of an absolute as being wrong.

      You (failed)...


      May 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Adulterous Men Stand Up!

      To those who don't get it, my original post is simply a metaphor. Interesting that one person found it discusting.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Adulterous Men Stand Up !

      I think it is an 'analogy' not 'metaphor... but I could be wrong on that.

      However, do you think I missed the message of what you were attempting to infer by your 'metaphor/analogy'...?


      May 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Molly Winston

      I'll tell you who's with you. Certain branches of the Latter Day Saints. Have you ever watched Big Love? Go ahead if you want and try to create a movement for the legal recognition of polygamy. The practice is supported throughout the Old Testament. The bottom line is that we should all just live and let live. If no one is being taken advantage of, then consenting adults should be able to enter into whatever relationships work for them. It's not fair for the government to legislate in favor of some adults and not others. Really, marriage should be a personal, religious or ethical choice, and government should stay out of it. We should end the handouts married people and people with children get with respect to taxes and other benefits. Everyone should get the same. Then no one can feel morally superior for living a conventional life.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Hey Peace2all
      If one wanted to learn how to form emoticons as fantastic as yours, where would they go ? (Especially the animated ones).

      May 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bucky Ball

      Hey -Bucky...

      Hmmm..... Actually, I learned from @Sum Dude how to do one with the 'surprised eyes.' 😯 (which is done by doing the #8 key first, then hit the 'capital' letter O ). However, the 'animated' ones... I believe, that also @Sum Dude, and now especially, @BG know how to do those (animated ones).

      If you can find some of @BG's postings, I believe he mentioned where he went online to get those.

      Sorry... not much help there.


      May 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Bucky Ball


      Thanks ! 🙂

      BTW, I was talking to a friend of mine last night and convinced him to stop by here now and then. he is a serious GENIUS. His name is "Quantum-Gravitational-Fluctuation", from the techy board. He knows EVERYTHING about everything mathematical and chemical and "physical". We can ask him anything. He has a PHD in Cosmology and Mathematics from Stanford I think, which he got when he was about 19 or 20. He is scary smart.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Bucky Ball

      Very cool !!! Would love to have your 'scary genius' friend come on and play. We need more of those geniuses here to help guide us 'mere mortals.' 🙂

      Looking forward to seeing when your friend, "Q-G-F" is on the boards. I will pay 'special attention' to his postings.

      Also, again... glad we grokked on the 'spo-oky action' and 'quantum entanglement' concepts on the other article.

      Peace brother...

      May 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  20. Dave

    God would never hate his own creation. And if we did do any "sin" in our life, God would probably forgive us all on death. It's human error which makes us hate our fellow beings just because they are different than the rest of us.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
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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.