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.
Don, i fully accept that you were born as a gay man. But i vehemently disagree with Chaz Bono, who doesn't accept who she was born as, and instead injects herself with hormones and then declares herself a straight man.
Is Chaz happier in a male role?
So... you're o.k. with Don being gay, but you're 'not' o.k. with Chaz...?
Hmmm... Let's see, so out of the (LBGT) acronym's you apparently aren't o.k. with the ( T) people, yes...?
I've got to hear your *reasoning*... this should be good !
Oh, and BTW... I believe @dalis asked a very valid question to consider. You may want to add that to the equation, before you come back and answer my question.
Oh my God, Don Lemon was such a cute baby!
I'm sorry he had to go through that kind of mental torture as a child, and I'm glad he learned to accept himself. I like how this story puts his experience in a persepective of when he was a little innocent child. If we saw the little child that everyone once was maybe we would be more hesitant to condemn them to hell and hate them.
Why are people that don't know Jesus Christ trying to tell those of us who do, what it is that He wants? It's because they are just plain stupid, really stupid and they talk and they think like their father, the devil.
Getting bang in your butt is gay lol duh every religion in the world knows this and it is frown upon by the most of people in the world.
Actually you have it the other way around.
It's because the Devil rules this world, when God has met his quota he will cast the prince of this world into the pit of fire with the rest of these heathens.
Amen. Isnt it wonderful though that many of us will get into heaven despite our "christian" beliefs. I am a gay Christain, and it is a good thing I wont be the judge of the narrow minded Christians who are haters. I'm not good enough to let them into heaven. Thank you jesus that you love us despite the way we treat each other. Thank you for judging for us so we can release that burden. I want to say I'm so sweet I would let a hater into heaven, but I just dont think I would be able to do it. I'm so glad the decision isnt mine, oh and by the way it isnt yours either,
So are people born murders or Pedophiles??
Nope they aren't. Not even a nice try.
No, but they are born lovers.
so pedophiles should be allowed to marry kids because they love kids??
You are either 13 or a sad person.
Another stupid comment. Look up the words "consenting" and "adult', you moron.
Some are born really dumb.
And some people are born with as much individual thought as a sheep. Being gay is not normal. kkthxbye.
I'm just a man, but I'm a lucky one because I've got Jesus, every lasting life and I kiss boys.
If you kiss them because you are a pedophile you have a problem and the devil has deceived you.
I am from Baton Rouge and a person who believes in God and the bible. You can call me a bigot,naive,ignorant,hateful person and Don Lemon is looking for someone to feel sorry for him for being a punk. The bible is a guide in life when things happen in your life and you don't know what to do so you need some advice from somewhere and God is the answer. For Don to write B.S. on CNN website was not called for. Almost everyone has gone through something in their lives,Don. Are you looking for a Pitty party? I refuse to drink the punch. Stop bringing down people for believing in God, stop bringing down the black community for having an opinion, stop bringing down you hometown. JUST STOP IT.
It's "pity". You are too stupid to matter to anyone.
I agree, it's ashame CNN is letting him do this. I will BOYCOTT CNN FOR THIS!
No you won't I have looked back at past comments. If you ere going to boycott CNN you would have done so a few hours ago.
Sir, you completely missed the point. He's not calling out the bible, he's not creating a pity party. He's pointing out the blatant truth. Lets stop the ignorance. He's not some punk, or jerk, or anything. Its that kind of hate and ignorance and lack of ability to open your eyes and step into someone elses shoes to see what their life is like that makes this world a worst place to live in. I think the most disgusting part of all is that you will read this response and instead of maybe opening up your mind a little and considering what I and Don Lemon have said, this will only enrage you more. I hope and pray you have a coming to Jesus moment and stop being so closed minded.
He is creating himself a pity party. Just say he's gay and move on. All this B.S. is just uncalled for
Really getting tired of people who think they understand gay people more than gay people do themselves. It's the ultimate of arrogance. And so many do it while hiding behind a "perfect" god.
I advise you try the unitarian universalist church, where all are accepted and loved, no matter who you are or who you love
As someone who desperately tried to 'pray away the Gay' growing up, I am glad that Don was able to break away from that self-destructive path – this article is excellent and joins an ever-growing chorus of folks saying 'I am Gay. Praying away the Gay didn't work. At. All.'
Don's point is especially true – "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?" People who want to throw Leviticus in our faces never respond to the very real bigotry and discrimination that has occurred in American history – supported by scripture, no less. Yet somehow using scripture to strip African-Americans of their rights is wrong, but using scripture to strip LGBT Americans of their rights is somehow 'right'.
You can't only pray and expect to be saved you must give your life to Christ. Don never said he did that, neither have you!
I was under the impression Jesus made a new covenant and made the Old Testament, well, old. If you believe 100% of the laws in Leviticus, you may argue for them, but if you a pick-and-choose believer you are just using the Bible to justify our own beliefs.
To believe conservative Christians about gay and being gay makes as much sense as believing that the world is going to end at 6 PM, May 21, 2011...oops, wrong again!
Has anyone thought to have some compassion about how these kids suffer when they're too young to understand what's going on? How about worrying less about literal interpretation of the Bible, and more about it's real message of love and understanding? God wants us to love, not to judge.
Suicide rates in gay youth are more than 4x higher than in straight youth. Attempted suicide rates are more than 8x higher. Rates of depression are 4-5x times higher.
Oddly enough when the statistics are controlled for those who have a supportive home environment as compared to those who don't the gap almost disappears.
I hate to break it to you but God is a religious extremist. He is completely serious about what he says, means what he says, says what he means, get the pictures. And as for judgement, he is the judge.
What I take from DJ's comment is that God is OK with youth suicide, attempted suicide, and depression as long as they are gay.
More power to you and who you are. The religious fanaticals posting on this sight are exactly that...fanatics. If they were really living a Christian existence they would embrace difference and choice. The road you walk is a difficult one, but I for one commend you for excepting who you are and wish you good thoughts.
Thank you Don.
Wow, this is well written. Not too long, to the point. Simple and powerful. Thank you.
P.S. Not gay myself. Not black.
Do you simple-minded thumpers really imagine you're going to make a man become attracted to women because you tell him he is perverted?
When was the last time anyone successfully persuaded you to change YOUR orientation? Moronic dolts.
But it worked for George W. Bush.
Man laying with another man is wrong and womwan with woman, in the eyes of God. However, God love everyone, but we choose to go atray. I love gay people as well. all people we should love and I do. But, I will never say that is right.......
Dude, you "love gay people"? Please re-examine your mental state. Perhaps you will find something more powerful there?
its ok, you dont have to say it is right, jesus told me so in romans.
"I love gay people as well." Yeah, I'm sure we all believe you. /eyeroll
Sorry, no mention of Lesbianism in the Bible. And fornicators are on the same evil plane as people who argue with their parents and backbiters.
Sorry! I love each and everyone. However, you were not born gay. This is something you choose to be. God did not make you gay. God is perfect!
Don't presume to know what I find to be perfect.
God is far from perfect and He has made thousands of mistakes...mankind being His biggest mistake of all.
I make no mistakes. I make many different versions of perfection.
So when did you decide to be straight?
I assure you, I was born G a y. In fact I chose daily to be straight...that didnt make me straight. then when I was grown, I chose to tell the truth. I didnt chose gay, I chose straight, I begged God for straightness, but in his wisdom, which is far beyond my understanding, he wants me to be a g a y Christian. Clearly he didnt make me g a y for my benefit....and it is looking more and more he did it for yours. Funny it takes a g a y Christian to show you that you havnt really paid attention to your bible.
I was born gay. I chose when I wanted to come out.
Clearly a troll. Pls ignore.
So what I'm guessing is that people choose to be gay, since they aren't born that way. Let me ask you this. Why would you choose a path which often lead to suicide, and loss of friends? Why would anyone choose that?
God intended to make man, with all our perfections. But in the midst of our perfections He wants us to call out to Him, b/c we all face hard times. This man was not born gay. He was right to ask God for help, but wrong to just give up. God said "since you did not think it worthwhile to keep the knowledge of God, I will give them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done." God doesn't make you gay, but He also doesn't force you to be straight; you have free will...
Is that you God?
So you're Gay, right? You know from personal experience that 'it's choice' and just just some mindless mantra you keep repeating to yourself so discrimination against LGBT Americans is all right?
You Said: "So what I'm guessing is that people choose to be gay, since they aren't born that way. Let me ask you this. Why would you choose a path which often lead to suicide, and loss of friends? Why would anyone choose that?"
Is your posting one of 'irony' or... Do you truly believe that it is really just a choice, and why would they choose something that would lead to a path of suicide, etc...?
God... I hope that you are speaking in terms of irony here.
So, I'll reserve my comments until when/if I hear back from you as to your 'true' meaning on your post.
You are absolutely right! God is perfect and wether you are gay or not is determined by your experiences as a child. We are not god's mistake god created us as perfect people we are the ones who chose to leave that. He did not want the world to be this way.
Sure, and there are no such thing as birth defects, no one is ever born blind, or deaf - unless they "chose" to be, right? Downs Syndrome is just a fantasy, right? All babies are born perfect to perfect parents under perfect conditions–in spite of everything the Bible seems to demonstrate to the contrary. Even though the Bible says none of us are perfect, only Christ. (And I don't remember Christ getting married and settling down...) So, just beware the leaven of the Pharisees, if you know what I mean.
Being gay is a dysfunction. Born or choice. Religion is irrelevant.
Come on people! Stop this childish belief of believing being gay is a choice. Even the majority of religious leaders in this country including the pope don't subscribe to this old fashioned belief that it is a choice. Can we all agree to move on pass this one and say it's not a choice. This argument is like saying a black person chooses the color of their skin. Really only crazy people believe that. Brown do you believe people choose the color of their skin too?
Well shawn, people born with depression get fed a pill to help them be "normal". Should this be the case for gay? It's a dysfunction all the same. Being born black is not a dysfunction. Think man.
The Old Testament of the Bible should be totally discarded in favor of the New Testament. I wish they would print a Bible that leaves out the entire old testament. Then I might consider being a Christian...
you can buy the New Testament by itself....
In other words, if you can be a Christian on your own terms, you would consider it. Well my friend, it does not work that way. All you really need to know and believe it that Christ died for you and was resurrected. Everything else is icing on the cake.
If everything else is icing then I think only looking at the New Testament works.
The old is necessary, you can't know where you're going without knowing where you come from!
Read Romans 1:21 to the end of the chapter, you will see what god thinks of gay people. You are right, praying will not take away the feelings that you have, you have to give some to. Do what the bible says and look intently at its contents and choose a religion that you believe to be the one that has the best 'fruits' and that mimics the bible (this is important because the bible says that we should meet together and Jesus spoke of a "good and faithful servant" that would "give the food at the proper time." I am not guaranteeing you that you will not have feelings for the rest of your life but if you keep telling yourself that what your flesh is telling you to do is bad and filthy you will bear through till the end of this world!!!
You can read what Paul said about gay people – he was the author of that letter.
Romans 1 has nothing to do with gay people. That's a completely gratuitous, self-serving understanding of that Scripture. If that's all you get out of Romans 1, then God have mercy on you. The Bible should NEVER be used to justify oppression.