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.
To Don Lemon. Are you gay or bis3xual?
Your choice of language is interesting. 'Are you' not 'Do you have s3x with men or men and women'. I know that you will probably claim that it is natural idiom to say it that way but people who are as devoted to a cause as you generally go out of their way to use language that supports their argument. There is no time pressure on a discussion board. I would guess that the language suggests that you really don't believe that it is a choice. You actually think it is part of someone's core being even if you won't admit it.
I knew it. He's interested.
what difference does it really make.
I don't think you're his type. He seems like he's be interested in people with class.
I have gay friends who say they are gay but I know for a fact that they have s3x with women. That is not gay its bis3xual. Gay is a man who only likes men. I was just wondering Charles
"by age four or five" Baloney. Maybe if he'd at least said 10 or 11 this story would have some credibility. Otherwise it is just gay propaganda trying to convince themselves or others that they were born this way.
Somehow, I don't think it would have made any difference to you.
Sorry if you were a late bloomer. I knew when I was five.
It makes no difference to me whether it's born or choice. It's a dysfunction regardless. And that's how it should be viewed.
Aginor, being an idiot is a dysfunction, too. Why don't you stop being one?
I wonder why Don left out the fact that he was a victum of child abuse;and of his confusion after that.
It's in the book, but this article is not about that. You're inferring that being abused "turned him gay." Actually, he had a rather unique take on it. He thinks he was targeted BECAUSE his abuser suspected that he was gay, and therefore was already feeling confused and ashamed (because of the crap he heard growing up) and would be less likely to tell anyone about it. It worked.
Because it's easier to blame the Catholic church for your problems, rather than face the facts sometimes.
If you want to be with someone of your own gender, you are mentally ill.
Your right. Why shouldn't gay or lesbian people be subject to have a mental illness test?
Not according to psychiatric professionals. Believing in magic, gods, and resurrection, on the other hand...
You're a flipping idiot. Do you have PERSONAL knowledge of this?... Exactly...
Not according to the DSM, the European guide of mental illnesses, or the Chinese guide. In fact only North Korea agrees with your statement that being gay is a form of mental illness.
One of the things Jesus commanded those he showed compassion to was "Go and sin no more". He said it not me. He said it so that you would not have to go through the things that caused the problems you were having in the first place. It applies to all sin, Adultery, Lying, Same s3x relationships.....ALL OF IT. The key was to stop doing it. To continue in it is to forsake the grace and mercy that you have been afforded. That is where the condemnation comes in. It's like you steal,...give it back...say you are sorry.....are pardoned.....and then go and steal again...After a while no one believes you have a changed heart because you don't Especially God!
God is Santa Claus for adults. When you grow up, you're supposed to put away childish things. Why are you clinging to these infantile fantasies of virgin births, world-wide floods, and an invisible sky fairy?
Adam. Yeah. It just got put all together from a random explosion in space, a few billion years ago. And just so happened to work out perfectly to create you!
Is that really that much harder to accept than a magical being outside of time and space that is really three different beings (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit), with three separate minds (because the Father knows things the Son does not), but is actually the same person?
If for no other reason, the fact that there have been thousands of religions on this planet should give the average person a serious amount of apprehension towards the idea that the one religion they happen to be of just so happens to be the 1 true religion.
Or the fact the parts of the bible have been proven to have been inspired by events that precluded its writing (like the flood, for example). Its a work of fiction, translated numerous times by those in power to legitimize their power.
If you do not support gay rights please reply no below:
You need to be more specific than "Rights"
Ok sorry. If you do not suport Gay marriage reply no below:
And...I'm curious, on what grounds would you deprive gays the right to 'marry' with the equal rights afforded therein...?
Good for you, Don!
My story is similar, however remotely. I grew up in a religious home and prayed endlessly for a desire to be a good Christian. Never happened. I finally realized that I could admit to myself (and others) that I didn't believe in God. True, this doesn't carry the same weight as your situation, but living in the Bible Belt in southern USA sure didn't make it easy for me. You are SPOT ON about the guilt thing. Sheesh!
To say that a creator would sink down to our levels just goes to show how limited we are in our concepts of true enlightenment. We have no idea how to treat each other! The right path to take is one that leads to love and acceptance of others – no matter what!
love and acceptance of Bin Laden and Hitler and child molesters?
Just because people do a bad job at being civil has no reflection on god.
You people are pathetic to act like the real X!! I will never be gay because the lord said it is wrong
Top 10 Signs You're a Puppet Who Thinks He's Clever:
10. You call Jesus a zombie.
9. You post millions of "witty" remarks in cnn.com Soundoff, wasting countless hours on the handful of random people who read them.
8. You think you have Christianity figured out.
7. You think the authority of human rational thought is self-evident.
6. You think that because science can prove natural laws, it is the authority for all existence.
5. You think that your rejection of divine laws isn't because you don't want to live by them.
4. You think your worldview does not require religious faith.
3. You think atheistic secularism is not a religion.
2. You pretend to be objective when your bitterness and resentment drives you to mock Christianity.
And the number one sign you're a puppet who thinks he's clever....
YOU DON'T KNOW THAT YOU'RE ACTUALLY A ~word that would be censored by cnn.com that is constructed by concatenating a crude word for male appendage with the word "head"~ !
yeh, I thought I was so smart using the bible to defend myself. That was pride, I forgot the turn the other cheek/know when to shut up thing. Thanks for setting me right. I'm gay, I'm christian, and sometimes I'm a loser like everyone else. I'm going to heaven though, and I'll see a lot of you there. Till then, peace. xoxoxxo I'm gonna stop bickering and go outside.
Good thing we have you to tell us these things. I'll start going back to church now. Thanks.
dang, you really busted all of us....thanks for opening my eyes.
Good answer, hotrod. And what I said is no more pompous than the rest of these clowns, so maybe you really should start going back to church.
You're welcome well_adjusted. 🙂
keefah, that isn't very Christian of you calling people names. Aren't you supposed to turn the other cheek? It might even be a sin. Don't worry, since god isn't real, all you have to contend with is a million "witty" remarks on CNN.
HAHAHAHAHAHA keefah, you are just too funny. And by funny, I mean absolutely brain dead.
Adam, did I say I was a Christian? Pretty sure it's ok to call someone a name if the name truly fits. Nick, I'm guessing you fit at least a few of my top ten? You two are fine examples of witty contributors! Thanks so much!
I've always enjoyed listening to Don Lemon deliver the news. I wish he hadn't told me about his private life, though. Too much information !!
I'm with you LG
Why does it make any difference if he posted this or not. Let him be himself and express himself. he is just as much of a human being as you or I, and has a right to personal expression. Your comment, I feel, is absolutely unnecessary and rude.
TMI, really? I guess that says where your mind immediately went. He's gay. And as such, he can be a beacon for other black gay men that it's OK. Sorry you can't deal with it.
I think Don Lemmon's admission to same gender interest is a great step toward his healing and a giant step as an adult. Bold and great move Don. Now that still does not change the fact that same gender intimacy is perversion. No life comes out of it two men and two woman in a relationship they can never naturally multiply meaning create children. Choices are everyones right. we all must make them. Just because Don Lemmon was tired of hiding still does not make it right just like when murders confess to murder. Naturally when a man connects with a woman our population grows. Maturity plays a great factor in all of this. If everyone who considers them self gay unites and announce what they have been up to doe's not change natural law it just exposes them for their past and if they continue their present. We all have our cross to bare we all have our vices to get over. We all are imperfect and we all have some things to fix within ourselves. I'm sure Don is a great guy and I'm glad he feels relieved I just hope he does not stop working on himself. Everyone has a choice.
seanX, funny, I didn't realize our sole purpose on this Earth was to procreate. How utterly boring.
"The sooner the world dumps all religions, the better off we will be."
That experiment turned out really well in the USSR and Albania didn't it?
Both ended up as absolutely corrupt and unbearable trash heaps.
It seems to be working very well in Scandanavia though.... BTW Albania and the USSR failed due to communism not atheism
That was because of failed economic policies and poor leadership. Nothing to do with religion.
OK I am just kidding. I just have been repressing my true self. That is where all this hatred comes from.
Lol someone hate observer x cause he speaks the truth. Someone copied my name and that wasn't my statement. GOOD IDEA TO BASH ME THOUGH
Christianity in its pure form is good for everyone. I didn't say easy btw. I said good.
Scandinavia teaches Christianity in their schools. Practically everyone there claims to be Christian.
That wasn't happening in the USSR or Albania that were based on atheism and ended as miserable trash heaps of corruption.
The collapse of the SU was not the result of atheism. It was the result of a redundant corrupt bureaucratic system that refused to adopt the most basic advance. Take it from someone with a history degree and focus on Russian/SU history. I wouldn't have mattered if they were Hindu, Christian, or followers of the FSM. They were pretty much doomed.
Christian nations don't have much of a track record when it comes to being Christian. Religion is simply a tool to control people. Poor people who might otherwise revolt against the rich people are convinced that if they do so, they will spend eternity in hell. If you can actually get people to believe that, you can get them to do just about anything to avoid it.
I respect your POV as an expert in history.
I speak from the experience I had by living in an ex-Soviet bloc country from 1991-2007, almost 17 years.
The rubble left by the Soviet system, based in humanism and outlawing religious belief, especially Christianity was astounding to see.
The absolute trash heap of ideas and policies and the misery and hopelessness it left the people with was shocking to see up close.
So many talented and beautiful peoples lives knocked back to the stone age because of a small group of controllers imposing their bad ideas on the population. Devastating.
I don't think many of the new-atheists know what they are asking for when they campaign for the abolishment of all things GOD thinking it will bring in a utopia and everyone will just get along. No so. Life can get colder and more unbearable than you and I can imagine as we live our lives out here in the USA, our beloved nation clearly established on Judeo-Christian ideas... that has brought about the greatest and most widespread freedoms that man has known in human history. peace, grego
I hope their is not a misunderstanding. I never claimed the USA is a Christian nation.
But the USA's founding was clearly influenced heavily by Judeo-Christian Ideas and has worked better for the freedom of more people for a longer period of time than any other nation in history.
Some of those ideas include tolerance for all people and freedom of speech.
The USSR was built on an atheistic/humanistic idea and the jailing of Judeo-Christian ideas and led to life becoming an unbearable trash heap of misery and corruption.
There you are you dodged my question. I didn't say you lied welladjusted I said since the Mosiac law doesn't matter to you anymore is it ok to lie? Since its ok to be gay now since we live under a new coveant.
I suppose it would be ok to lie if it was for a greater good, like killing a terrorist to save many and you asked to be forgiven just in case you were wrong.
Wrong again. It is not ok to lie. There is no exception to God's word. If you are a true Christian you will pray about and God will reveal the truth to you. Don't lie or fool yourself just to take up for gays
or, even if you lied for personal gain, but after the fact realized your mistake, asked for forgiveness in jesus's name ......the lie wasnt ok...but jesus will in fact forgive the lie. The heart had to be sincere when the forgiveness was asked. I dont claim I'm not a sinner, I fall short of the glory of God every single day, some days more than others. I dont go out actively looking to mess up knowing I can pray about it later. Jesus in me causes me to sin less and less because he takes my sinful desires away one by one. But it is also clear in Romans, it is impossible to follow the law, and the law was only made to show us how evil we are. He fulfilled the law, and now he has mercy on me when I fail. I prayed jesus would take the gay away, he didnt, but he did take the lust away, showed me the truth in his word, and showed me that because he satisfied the law for me, I dont have to. does that help? its an honest answer bud, I've enjoyed the chat.
the gays? You mean fellow human beings. Jeez, your god hasn't taught you anything.
oh you havnt read the bible, there are tons of exceptions to gods word. Jesus pretty much did away with all but two laws, love the lord your god with all your heart your mind and soul, and love your neighbor, which included jesus.
The sooner the world dumps all religions, the better off we will be.
Could not agree with you more!!
Great story. There are so many of us with similar stories. I'm glad you shared it with us. Thanks!
Slavery in the bible was nothing like slavery was in the USA, back in the day.
To insinuate that is ignor-ance!
The bi-b-le does not condone subjugation of women.
"Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church and laid his life down for her"
If a man doesn't treat his wife with honor, Go-d says He won't listen to the mans prayers!
Doesn't sound like "the good old boys club" to me
Segregation? In Christ all nations, tribes, tongues (languages) and people are brought together as equals and brothers.
Ho-mo-se-xuality is clearly condemned as per-ver -ted ..AS IS... doing the deed with animals, children, your own family members, and your neighbors wife... all of which are ways people claim to be se- x-ually oriented.
I'm all for people living as they choose... (excluding those who want to do the deed with children) If you do that I hope someone kicks you as-s all over the planet... but to mis-re-present the bib-le... so blatantly, come on now!
1 Timothy 2:12 "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
I suppose the silence was meant as a sign of respect.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and r a pes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives."
In case you were wondering a woman's 'innocence' taken by force is worth about $975 in today's money.
Let us not forget that the part of the bible that talks about gays was written by the levites, the ruling class. The verses before and after talk about working on the sabbath, crapping in your own home, etc etc. If you actually read the whole chapter, I guarantee that 99% of the people that read this have committed offenses that are just as bad as being gay according to the bible.
And what does that justify brad?
What's with all the hypens?
I guess forcing a woman to live with her ra-pist for the rest of her life is a sign of respect and honor.
You are right slavery was different in the time of the Bible and now. Slavery in the time of the Bible was often based on social class or prisoner status. The justification was that people were born into poverty or a social class. Prisoners, both criminal and war, were slaves due to perceived crimes. In the U.S. slavery was justified through religion. Owning slaves was actually believed to be a Christian thing to do. It didn't start this way. Initially it was just economic exploitation but as slavery became less and less obviously moral from a human rights issue. Slavery was defended more and more through religion.
Sam it is true that the bible calls for men to lead in the church and in the home. God is for order.
I personally wish God had called women to lead in the home and the church, then the responsibility would fall on my wife and not me for the condition of out family.
But to insinuate that this means the bible teaches the subjugation of women is an outrageous mis-representation.
Oh the rationale for segregation in the U.S. also had a religious undertone.
Slavery in the USA South sense, came from the blindness of greedy and lost men.
All I am saying is that the bible doesn't condone that kind of inhumane and outrageous arrogance and bigotry.
To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.
The verse you quoted from Genesis was what God told Eve after the fall of mankind into sin.
God is saying to the woman, you are going to struggle with wanting to control your husband... but he is called to lead.
That is what the sense is in the original Hebrew text.
God has called men to lead in the church and in the family.
It is a kind of leadership that Christ modeled where he laid his life down for his bride (the church) and serves her.
To insinuate that God condones tyrannical leadership is just a mis-representation of the bible
I guess one is allow to interpret a bit then. In that case why is there no leeway to interpret other issues?
I agree, there should be leeway to discuss and interpret in all issues.
To find out the true and intended meaning.
What issue are you thinking of specifically?
Glad he was able to work through the BS he was brainwashed with as a child. Religion is a tool used to subjugate the masses. Once upon a time it worked when only those in power and the clergy were literate. We've evolved. The story about Eve being punished for eating from the Tree of Knowledge tells you everything you need to know: they don't want you to have knowledge. Knowledge is power. Without it, you are a sheep.
To people who say they have Jesus and are gay. True you do have Jesus because he loves all of us,but he will still judge you for the sins you've commited here on earth.
I am fairly sure Jesus isn't going to overlook pride either.
yes he will, and guess what, he's gonna let me into heaven. he's gonna show me how bad Ive been, he's gonna make me cry, he's gonna bust me on jealousy, adultry, lieing, cheating, gossip, pride, and a whole bunch more, then he's gonna hug me and say "thanks for loving me, believing in me, confessing when you were wrong, and keeping as close to me as you could till the end. Good fight! now come on in and join the party!"
No he want
there is no such thing as sin, and even if there were, Jesus would be just a *little* bit more tolerant and holy than you – with your limited human concepts that do not allow you to see beyond your own veil.
And your sins, too.
ObserverX: So what ever happened to sins being washed away by the blood of the lamb, everyone being sinners, but all believers being forgiven their sins, etc, etc? I don't buy it, but YOU apparently do – except in the case of gays and what you consider sinful in THEIR lives. Gee, looks like you've been caught red-handed in an act of gross hypocrisy! Is Jesus gonna forgive that, too? Then I guess he'll forgive the gays as well, eh, assuming he even thinks that the anti-gay stuff in the old testament was, unlike a lot of the rest, still part of god's deal.
"No he want" ?
The "a" and the "o" are nowhere near each other on the keyboard, so we can assume ..... oh what's the use.
Glad you have the courage to be who you really are. The Catholic Church still discriminates against women. You ever seen a female Catholic priest? At least gay men can be priests. If the Pope got rid of all the gay priests in the church there would be no more church.
Please don't confuse pedophiles with people who are gay.
There are lots of women Catholic priests. They keep their "heads down" so they don't get the bishops in their locales excited, but I know of a few in my major city, and I know their ordinations are done frequently, sometimes even on ships, off shore, so as not to antagonize the church authorities they may get into trouble with.
Pam the bible says for a women not to speak in church
Not true pam. Do you have any idea how many priests there are? Just because you hear a few headliners doesn't mean they are all gay. . . .
The Bible says for you to STFU.
Yeah it's me. He told me about you, the master of the "f-a-r-t" emoticon, as well as a sm-art good guy. Hope we can learn from you.
Sorry my entrance was so in-aus-pic-ious, but sometimes they make it so easy I can't help myself.