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.
I always enjoy watching your broadcasts, Don. You're a brave man. Thanks for your story.
Speak for yourself, I want Don removed from CNN IMMEDIATELY!
Ahahhahahhaa! Gee, I'll be that'll make them sit up and take notice!
What a pooter.
I'm almost to the point of tears right now, because I too underwent this struggle of personal guilt growing up. I dove quite deep into religious doctrine during my teen years, because more than anything I wanted my "affliction" to disappear or at least be replaced by some other sin that didn't confine me to foretold damnation. I eventually separated from all of it, because I found myself becoming a hypocrite and judgemental towards others. Isn't that how the majority of religous people operate? 10 years later I am far more happy and confident in who I am. No more self-hatred or following the herd of people that would rather see me dead. I am an individual, a critical thinking person with the ability to love life for what it is and people for who they are. I don't know if Jesus was a real person or just a fictional character, but one thing I do know is that his teachings were not born from a place of hate.
If Jesus practiced what he preached, he wouldn't step foot in ANY of these flakes' churches. If he were really the son of gawd, he would probably ask gawd to save him from his own followers. Hang in there, stay out of churches (you don't need them) don't go down south (it's hillbilly land down there) and you'll be fine. Legalized gay marriage is just around the corner because fortunately, old people die.
This is good. Once we get being gay as ok with God, then we can work on getting pedophilia ok with God. Then we can get around to where there is no "right... or wrong..." – and we all become democrats and cnn watchers.
Disgusting article, this.
Oh dear god man, read a newspapaer. It is the Catholic church that promotes and protects pedophiles.
no, you are disgusting. as well as a few other things. but right is not among any of those descriptors i find applicable to you based upon your words here.
Yes and if we listen to you, we can keep stoning adulterers, killing divorcees, and owning slaves. Open your mind and get off your pedestal.
Just another person who can't tell the difference between being gay and being a pedophile. Get an education. Based on lawsuits, the average priest seems more likely to be a pedophile than a gay would.
Bill, God will punish USA before that happens.
Ummm gay does not equal pedophile. I'm pretty sure that your Jesus preached hate the sin, love the sinner. Also didn't he preach about not judging? I'm also sure that all sins are bad... And you are displaying a serious amount of pride... To think so highly of yourself to cast so much judgment. Maybe you should attend more bible studies
Sorry, but you're not smart enough to be a Democrat or a CNN watcher. But you have a real knack for making christians look evil.
Humans are social animals. There will always be a 'right' and 'wrong'. 'Right' is what promotes the well-being of the society, and 'wrong' is what damages it. Just like in the Bible. All those Commandments are rules for the good order of society and the survival of the social animal. All religions have the same rules in some form or other.
Christianity needs guilt.
The whole basis of christianity is that jesus died for your sins, and if you accept that, accept that you need to be saved, then you can go to heaven. The whole basis of christianity is that as you are, you are NOT OK and you NEED TO BE SAVED.
Christianity cannot accept philosophies that say "it's ok to be yourself" because you wouldn't need jesus to save you if you are already fine the way you are – and you wouldn't need christianity.
That's why they maintain that things like being gay, masturbating, or even having impure thoughts about someone are sins. They're things that are natural, and if they were ok, we wouldn't really need jesus to save us, and therefore we wouldn't need christianity.
As Dawkins says, Christians believe god has a magic wire-tap in your head that tells hm when you are having impure thoughts. Christians believe the silliest of supersti-tions.
Pedophiles say that loving 4 years old is natural as well. Haven't picked up the good book in a while, but I'm pretty sure masturbating was only bad in the old testament, not the new.
The Bible openly promotes pedophilia, ra-pe and father-daughter in-cest. Just read the story of Lot. He slept with his young daughters. Christians are sicker than any gay person I have ever met.
pretty sure the new testament doesnt say anything about it being ok, and also that the catholic church still teaches it's a sin.
and theres no question that having impure thoughts is a sin.
again, the point is... if these were not sins, not many people would need to be saved.
If I recall correctly people back then slept with their relatives, off spring due to a lack of peple on the planet as whole. Do you think Adam and Even had every child on the planet? Do you think cavemen had the sociological construct to not sleep with their offspring? In Monarchy's it was common for cousins to marry cousins to keep royal blood in the family. Has nothing to do with religion as much as you want to prove a point.
Has nothing to do with religion? as far as i can tell, your post has nothing to do with anything...
I'm saying christianity is based on the idea that all people are sinners – thats why it needs people to feel guilty. If you don't feel guilty, you wont accept that you are a sinner and you wont accept that you need to be saved.
and you're talking about cavemen and people in the middle ages sleeping with their cousins for some reason.
maybe im missing your point.
Don, the Word of God is REAL, that story of Jonah and the whale is also real. Alas, NO amount of changing the Scriptures to pander to an alternative lifesyle will change God's Word. God LOVE you but he hates sin.
"There's a way that seem right, but the end there of is death." - Proverbs 16:25
Trustingawd you're a hypocrite unless you stand with gawd and do what the bible demands which is to stone to death any woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night. Your gawd is quite clear on this, You're a typical hypocrite bible banger who picks and chooses which versus to live by and which ones to explain away.
"But if ... evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones..." (Deuteronomy 22:20,21)
@Doug That would be the Old Testament, when Jesus came he changed the whole game. John 8: 3-11
Doug . . .you do know that after Christ the old laws found in the Old testament are not used anymore correct?
Are you saying that the Old Testament is NOT the word of gawd? Blasphemers!!!
Laws change based on many factors. By your logic black people are stil 3/5 of a man and women cannot vote. Let's forget new laws were passed later, only focus on the original.
Sorry, I'm using sarcasm. I don't believe in anything in the book of fairy tales known as the bible.
Beautiful words. When will we learn that hatred and greed are destroying us. We need to teach our children and show them by our actions that God loves all of us: black, white, gay, Islamic, Hindi, Jewish, Buddist, Christian, etc. Imagine how much better the world would be if we concentrated on knowing eachother rather than assuming that if you're not the same as me- you are no good and not to be trusted.. I am convinced that the religious zealots of all faiths are just terrified. Terrified that they might be wrong. Embrace life. We only enjoy this one...once.
Better yet, imagine no religion.
Religion is a disease that needs to be cured. It is by far the greatest source of evil, hatred, and violence in human history.
At first I just tried to avoid being in places where pathetic, brainless bigots talked trash about things their tiny minds couldn't grasp. I tried to blend in and avoid their notice. Nowadays? Some radical religious freak gets in my face and spouts their bigotry, I will break their teeth.
Passive resistance takes too damn long.
Religiion itself is not bad, it is the way it is used by those who proclaim to speak for God. True more evil has been committed in this world based on religion than for any other reason. But that doesn't mean the words are evil. If people trusted more in their own belief and less on those who speak the word they would be better off.
I'm gonna go with Slash on this one. Religion, gawd, and everything that goes with it sucks.
That could be true Doug . . . .but why is bad? Is it itself bad, or the people who twist it for their own benefit bad? Guess that is hard to discern since most people only know organized religion.
Couldn't have said it better myself!
Well Don Lemon I am glad that you figured out that religion in your own words, causes people to want to control and change people who aren’t like them. The bible and other religious text have caused so much pain and suffering to so many that it is truly man’s greatest torture device.
The bible has been verified by archeology… um you can believe that the places that are talked about in the bible exist…
No it hasn't. In fact, it has been completely undermined by biology, geology, astronomy, cosmology and linguistics...to name a few sciences that show it is 90% utter garbage.
No, it hasn't. That's a bald-faced lie. While many places mentioned in the bible actually exist, archaeology has in no way "verified" any of the stories contained therein. Quite the opposite, science has debunked much of it already.
the places exist but the rest is fairy stories
The places mentioned in the Book of Mormon exist. Do you believe that God and others appeared to Joseph Smith there? And the Temple Mount is not only there but revered: do you accept that Muhammad ascended into heaven from it?
This must be athiest night on CNN . . . .lol . . .a lot of people here to prove their points about a false religion. Let's say everything in the bible is real. You live a good life, believe, die and go to heaven. Let's say it is false, you live a good life, die, go in the ground. Seems like you don't lose anything by believing . . . .
Jon, you can prove that all the greek gods existed using the same logic (or lack thereof).
Isn't it funny that CNN won't print the stories of those who experienced the other 'turn'? They did in fact change, as a result of prayer, and are now happily and proudly living a straight life? All the gays mock us and say it's not real, but it is real-it just goes against the gay agenda and the liberal media agenda so of course it must not be true.
So true. You don't see STRAIGHT RIGHTS marches down main street.
That;s becuase "praying the gay away" is every bit a Christian fairy tale as the talking snake and the dead guy rising from the dead. No offense, but oh boy you Christians believ some silly superst-itions.
why would you see straight rights marching down the street? What more rights could we possibly need?
you're still gay
How about the right not to get called a racist or a bigot when we disagree with you. You can't pray away stuff but hit can help you get through things.
I agree with my Christian brothers and sisters. People who tend to believe that the bible is only allegorical are folks who have not truly studied the bible and often times want to continue in their life of sin.
Actually I have seen some of those 'conversion' stories on CNN. I know for a fact that a gay man will occasionally be attracted to the opposite s3x. But it's not due to prayer. It's just human s3xuality. Sometimes it lasts, and sometimes the wife gets dumped later on for another man. S3xuality isn't and 'either / or' situation. There are many shades of grey between the two extremes. Like it or not – many straight men have 'thoughts' about other men at some point in their lives. Most are secretly freaked out about it.
well... you DON'T have the right to not be called a racist or a bigot.
that's not a right for anyone because making that a right would infringe on the other person's right to free speech.
that goes doubly if you ARE a racist and a bigot.
The idea that accepting h0mos3xuality will somehow cause more young people to 'choose' that lifestyle is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Every gay man or lesbian woman I have ever known has at some point in their life DESPERATELY wanted to be like everyone else. And the road to self-acceptance is long and hard.
So when Jesus said "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt 12:40), He was wrong?
You do know what a metaphor is – right?
Can you verify that quote with a witness (who was actually there)?
Christianity is the belief that an invisible, infinitely-old, all-knowing super-being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in my $ex life.
Atheism is the belief that the above belief is silly.
So it is the belief that another belief is silly . . .sounds like it's own religion.
Well, it's not a belief, any more than health is a disease.
I don't have to see the air that i breathe to know it is there and right
Yes Bob, but science can detect it. It is not based on Iron Age myths.
Atheism is the FAITH that something came from nothing....talk about silly illogical beliefs!
Really Jeremy, and where did your god come from?
Religion, it stops people from thinking because they think all the answers are in that one book; it impedes progress; it justifies crazy people. Flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. – Bill Maher
Yeah, where did your god come from? Nothing?
you forgot to talk about the part where God came down to earth in human form and died on a cross to forgive you of your sin because he loves you so much. "amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." the christ part of christianity is there for a reason. something amazing is that even though God can do all those things he still cares about you personally.
@Sarah. Religion did not stop Michael Angelo or Isaac Newton from thinking and changing our world in the process.
Case in point.
Perhaps, you haven't read the Bible, misinterpret, simply lack the skills to read, or you're simply ignorant.
First off, Sara is spelled without an "h."
Second, I am sure that you're referring to Michelangelo or *Sir* Issac Newton. If you had ... well, half a brain is perhaps too generous, then you would know the significance of "sir."
You can be pretty sure you made god in your image when he hates all the same people you do.
I never really understood the concept of peple who are gay going to church. There is no where in the bible where being gay is talked about in a positive light. Most peple bring up the fact that God said to love they neighbor. But loving does not mean you agreed, condone or accept. You love in spite of. LIke a lot 9f differnt groups and denominations people take things that prove their points, and ignore those things that are contrary to it. I was at one very anit gay, but as I got older I have opened my mind up more. I still have trouble believing that it is natural. I still can't rationalize how it can be natural when there is no way to reproduce. That being said, I do agreed that Gay and Lesbian people should be allowed to marry if they so choose. If you pay taxes like I do,you should be able to have the same choices as I do. While I may not agree with it, that is not the argument.
The concept of gay people going to church is easy to understand. It's because the religious folks think by going to church or this supposed GOd can cure everything just by showing up or asking to. You can't cure gay. Being gay is what you are like me being straight, I just am, they just are. I say more power to the gays & it's sad they have to hide or face ridicule & looked upon like they have some disease that can be cured just by going to church or reading the bible. People should be free to be who they are & if you don't like it you are the one with the problem. Get out of people business quit forcing your religious views on the rest of us. Leave these people alone & they should be able egt with whomever they want, get married or not, without the hate.
Hiawa23 . . . I didn't mean Gay people going to church to be cured. I mean gay people who are openly gay, but go to church and quote the bible and ignore what's in it. it is like a person claiming that a person who comitted suicide is going to heaven. It says in the bible that suicide is a sin you cannot repent from so you wouldn't. If you believe in the Bible, then you can't ignore parts of it. I just never understood the concept I guess. If that is your life, then live your life. But going to church just seems weird to me for some reason . . . .
"There is no where in the bible where being gay is talked about in a positive light."
There are great and profound same-s3x loves in the Bible: David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi. Gay Christians can find much to emulate in these.
And the bible specifically says they were gay or that they had a great love for one another? I love my best friend like a brother, does that mean I am gay?
I don't think people thousands of years ago in another culture conceptualized s3xuality like we do, so I don't know if they could be accurately described as gay or straight. Perhaps they didn't put everyone in a box. But I know that David said his love for Jonathan was greater than for any woman.
Hitman, there are several flaws in your arguments. First, the majority of people who commit suicide are not in their "right minds" at the time. Many are dealing with addiction, depression, or mental illness; the God that I worship and adore does not further punish people who are already ill. In addition, comparing suicides who are mentally ill to gays who are not makes no sense whatsoever. Second, your argument about why gay people should not go to church (since they are not obeying the scripture) can not hold any water because there is no Christian alive who does not disobey at least one biblical code. Example: America's favorite passtime is football, yet the Bible contains very strict censures about touching the dead skin of a pig.
But Dalis, according to the bible God destroyed Sodom & Gomora in part due to gay acts going on and sin. So back then, there was an idea of what gay was. And love for your man over a woman does not necessarily mean you're gay. It could just mean that love of family will not be overshadowed for love of a woman. I love my wife, but my brother will always be my brother, a wife may not always be a wife.
DLK . . .you start your argument off saying my argument does not hold water. You then make the statement that the majority of people who committe suicide are not in their right minds . . .where is the study that shows that? What is "in your right mind". What percent of people who committe suicide have mental a mental illness? Depression I could see your point, but depression has levels, not everyone is a maniac depressive person driving their kids in a lake.
To a real MAN, I say "BRAVO" Don Lemon !
and I do not and will never understand the blacks for their complete hypocrisy in this matter and many many other matters .... Shame on you (most of you) sorry kind of people ... you are not real men ... real people ... you only wish.
Don is a real person and above all a real man !
So you say bravo for Don's point, then go on a racist rant about "the blacks". Like every black person thinks or acts the same. It is always funny how those who neither hang around, or talk to a great extent know how "all blacks' think.
I completely agree with you and commend Don for having the courage to speak his truth. That's what we should all strive for: being true to ourselves. However, too many chose to hide behind "man-made religions" which cultivate ignorance, fear and hatred. HUGE THANK YOU TO DON LEMON!
You would think some people on here have a direct line to the "creator" the way they assume to know what God wants/thinks/desires/hopes. Why we think that a being of such magnitude would be concerned with the goings on here, what we eat and what we do. Just goes to show how full of ourselves we are to create a concept of a highly evolved being who can create galaxies at will and yet.... who's main concernn seems to be... us. We're just soooooooo important.
Valid point, but doesn't for all intents and purposes doesn't the bible itself state how important man is to God? The part about "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son . . .". I didn't read about him doing that in a galaxy far, far away . . .
I do not have a comment about this mans beliefs. Patricia, We are important to God and yes we are His main concern. That is very unbelievable but it just goes to show us the love that God has toward us. The creator of everything that exist loves us,(wicked, sinful) man/woman although we do the things we do and have done the things we have done. Nothing can seperate us from the Love that God has for us and that includes you. God bless you dear.
.. My post was about how narcissistic mankind is and your replies just proved it.
Its about time someone came forward to dispell the religious shinanigans about "praying away the gay". I think people with even a GED diploma should realize that you cannot pray away gay. Anyone who adheres to the notion you can pray away gay is simply a moron not deserving of food, water, and oxygen to afford them life's sustainence. That's my honest opinion.
just wanted to point out that religious do not believe in ones own ability to cure things with prayer. they believe in the almighty gods ability to cure things.
If god is almighty, then surely he could "cure gay" if he wanted to.
Any religious person who believes that god is all-powerful should believe that theoretically god can "cure" gay.
Just another example of old religions trying to find ways to excuse and re-interpret their worldviews so they don't become wholly disdained in the modern era.
I used to feel ashamed of being gay, not anymore..... The people who ridicule gays are the same people who gave birth to us gay people. I want to thank my father, at the age of 13 opened up the door and told me to leave, threw me out like I was the garbage, you showed me how horrible people could actually be, you were taken at an early age...I wonder why.
So Mr. Don Lemon is pretty much saying that being gay is not conflicting with any religious beliefs. Well, I have some good news for you! You cannot customize your religious belief and call it a "higher power" so it would fit your life style. How about child molesters? Can we cure them? I guess they were just born attracted to children and I guess, based on your religion customization approach, we need to accept them for who they are instead of punishing and rejecting them! How about perverts? Can we find an excuse for them as well? Wake up and see around you! So you see anything lasting? Where is your Grandma btw? Some day we will all join her and God will remind us all of what we were wasting our time customizing in this short voyage, called, life!
I am a gay male from Austin Texas, you go Don. BTW, I love those rooster curtains.
don lemon im don cote from maine i love cnn and your show i always though you was gay it dont make you a bad person to and we aren't going to hell god loves all his children not matter what the color of our skin or who we sleep with its the people that use the pulpit to spew the hate the world would be a better place and peacefull and loving people if the gay hating people would let us alone iv became verry spiritual in my 50 years god never preached hat and never became a millionair of his folowers he never turned anyone away its the gay haters that are gonna be juged for all that hate don much love we all love you and need you with us thanks sorry for mispelling and no puncuation
don, Your message is important, not the grammar. I got it loud and clear and thank you for it .
It's obvious you havent 1) ever gone to a ortodoox church a single day in your life. 2) havent read a single page of the Bible in your life.
I'm thinking that it's a good thing, at this point, from reading some of the postings here on the blogs and (knowing quite a few and actually talking with them) from the fervent fundamentalist believers.