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.
Good for you Don, I'm glad this was written.
I have no doubt that this is going to help a lot of kids
and no. You can't have Don fired for talking about this. Just leave.
Instead of trying to re-interpret the word of God to not say that gay activity is a sin and against Gods will, why not just admit that the word does specifically denounce it and say you just don't agree with it and choose to live your life in that liifestyle regardless of what the Bible says? Seems to me that too much time is spent trying to convince the world that the Bible does not say anything against it when it specifically does. Wrong battle....
Don't you have a rapture to attend?
@EJ...Yes, to Go be the Glory!
To God be the Glory!!!!
Uh, I just think you missed the entire point of the article. You need to go back and reread it but this time, actually pay attention to what he is saying. Are you that insecure in your "religious beliefs" that you can't accept someone challenging them? Obviously that must be the case because you continue to regurgitate the same old tired and worn out lines of rhetoric.
Straight to the point...best way to go.
@Thompson.. I quote from above... "the Bible was about the lessons you learned, not about the events or words." This is common practice when we try to rationalize something in ourselves. Devalue the source so that it no longer matters what it "actually says" Yes there are many parables in the Bible, but that is not all that is there.
@ Thompson; "you continue to regurgitate the same old tired and worn out lines of rhetoric."
Both sides (TO INCLUDE YOU) offer nothing new the of tired old lines of rhetoric to convince anybody their side is right!
YOU ARE A GEM!!!! YOUR POINT ABOUT BLACKS WORKING TO END ALL DISCRIMINATION, INCLUDING AGAINST GAYS, IS BRILLIANT. MAN, IF THEY DON'T, THEN THEY ARE JUSTIFYING THE VERY HATRED THAT KEPT BLACK FOLKS DOWN SO LONG. BRILLIANT, MR. LEMON. GOD CLEARLY BLESSES YOU WITH INSIGHT AND LOVE
Amen to that.
Thank you Don for your very insightful points of view. I find it so interesting and baffling (at the same time) that people who follow many mainstream religious doctrines follow that doctrine word – for – word. Like you said, they are simply metaphors for events.
Being gay is nothing to get all worked up about people – what's with all the drama? You could be doing so much more with your energy... Here's an idea for the Christians- turn that hate and intolerance into love and acceptance ! That's what your man Jesus would do.
Because Christians get off on pointing the finger and the "us" versus "them" mentality. They love the drama and they love feeling like they are bigger than other people, when it's actually the opposite.
soysauce – that is glaringly obvious especially here – unfortunately. All this petty bickering over nothing.
Satan is tricking you all! Come to Jesus!
or someone else is being tricked
Tricking us into doing what? Loving and accepting everyone regardless of their lifestyle, as Jesus would do?
I'm with Rob – look I'm not religious but it stands to reason that (based on the story about the man) Jesus would love and accept all as his brothers and sisters. What ever happend to that message anyway.......
It seems everyone is talking about a loving Jesus and he was. Yet even Jesus preached hell in the new testament. In revelations you find Jesus being revealed as the Lamb of God who was slain from eternity for the sins of humanity. Why, why did he die? out of love because he knew the penalty of etermal seperations was going to fall on all humanity and all of humanity was going to hell. His sacrifice allows us to be holy and perfected in Christ. Alone standing you will fall short of Gods holiness. In revelations you find the great white throne judgment of those that failed to accept Gods son and will judge the living and the dead by what they did apart from Jesus because sin is sin. Yes Jesus loves you this we know because the bible tells you so, but he also preached that rejection of him his message would culminate in judgement. There is a need to repent from sin and not walk in sin that would damn anyone even myself to seperation from God.
And you know this how? What would a Christian from 150 years ago have said about what you now believe?
Oh so now you want me to believe that ,deep down inside, Jesus was just a condemner like the rest of you. That's disappointing. The bible is so old and antequated. It is now 2011..can we make some progress.. PLEASE.
I have raised 3 children, a girl and two boys. One of the boys happens to be gay. I raised them all the same, but from the time he was about 3 or 4 I could tell he was not like his older (straight) brother. There is no way a toddler made some conscious decision to be a dev iant and rebel. When this child was a young teen and figuring it out for himself, it was awful to see how he struggled. He was teased. He was miserable, he hated it and still wishes it was different. Who would CHOOSE that? You don't know the first thing about it if you walk around standing in judgement. Those of us who have walked in those shoes know better.
Thanks for sharing, Voice of Experience. I hope everything is going better for your son.
"Pastor Gabe" as if you'd know.
thank you for your post – promoting tolerance is awesome. Teenage years are such a hard time, add to that the pain of being different. I am glad your son had parents like you.
Voice of Experience,
Fortunately, most people aren't like the "Pastor" and are more educated.
Voice if Experience are you religious? Have you given your life to Jesus Christ? I would like to know the makeup of your home, is the kids father involved? Did you baby him as a child?
1word – Perhaps you should answer all those questions for us and I'll add another – why are you such a bully?
1word That's quite an intrusive line of questioning. Perhaps step back and consider how your words sound when read by other people.
yes, voiceofexperience. oneword would like to know if there is anything... anything at all he can blame your gay child on, because he sure as hell wouldn't want to be admit that it was just the way your child was created.
Can we get Don fired for starting this Open Gay talk? Ya'll need to stay in the closet because you look silly trying to act like something you're not!
Socialist much? Maybe you should move to China where they jail or fire or persecute anyone for starting a conversation that the Chinese government would see as controversial. You'd love it there.
soysauce I'm going to pray for your soul!
Oh, brother. YOU'RE going to call someone ELSE silly, 1word? The one word for you is 'troll'.
Nah, I don't need your prayers. And you're probably not praying anyway...so you just sinned by lying.
If straight people would stop having gay babies this wouldn't be a problem 😛
LOL I had to laugh at that, but Gay isn't Ok!
No, 1braincell, gay is fine. Stupidity is wrong. Tag, you're it.
M asturbating alone in an empty room in a corner also does not make babies. Is that also unnatural?
the only thing unnatural is the choosing of the corner in which to do ones self pleasuring
I was a masturbator and guess who stopped me from doing that? It sure wasn't the same person who keeps telling you being Gay is ok!
well i would hope don lemon did not personally stop you from masturbating.....
Those who are whimpering about gays being 'unnatural' should ask themselves if the internet is 'natural'. How about that chair you're sitting in? Bet it's not 'natural'. I've never seen one growing out of the ground. Have you?
tom tom: to question whether something is NATURAL goes back to NATURE. Nature "happens".... mating "happens" and "procreation" happens... life goes on. To compare NATURAL to a chair or the internet is kind of silly, doncha thank?
by the way: do you Pipe too?
Don't forget those glasses. If a person has bad eyesight, it's obviously God's will, so to fight God's will using man-made technology such as glasses to correct poor eyesight is evil and unnatural and hated by God.
We do and use things that are unnatural every day, you moron. Being gay isn't unnatural in the slightest. It occurs in many species in nature.
People once believed umbrellas were a sin against God. After all, if God made it rain, he must have intended that you get wet. How stupid can some people be?
Arguing that procreation is natural implies that s3x is for that purpose alone. So I take it you've only had s#x when you've been attempting to get knocked up, right, Teresa?
Tom – the reason why your metaphor was lost here on the Christians is because they don't get metaphors. The bible is full of metaphor and rhetoric and they take it all literally.... they're not very creative thinkers and not real quick with the metaphors.
You're too generous. Most of them don't comprehend how to tie their own shoes. They're almost all uneducated, narrow-minded, nasty, ugly, horrible specimens of what's wrong with religion.
Some of them can be .. yes.. especially those here on CNN. Where are all the "nice" Christians, you know the ones that love everybody like their own brothers and sisters...?..... I thought Jesus started that and somehow it was that left back in the 60's.
hmmmm, odd how often that RELIGION gets pulled into a conversation about being gay. I wonder, if there were no religion, would people still have reservations and the right/wrong feelings that come with being gay? ; )
Yes, I think that people have these aversions and hate anyway. Religion simply becomes the excuse or the rationalization.
–Gay and Christian
Nope. Religion and intolerance go hand in hand.
Religion is unnatural.
Human history and anthopology would argue otherwise.
Human history and anthropology would argue otherwise.
They're not natural, either, azzwipe.
Common sense and science would agree.
Language, Tom. If you can't make a cogent argument without insulting people, get out.
Bite me. You don't like what I write, YOU get out.
Don, I'm so proud of you for writing this. You are brave and courageous for both coming out and letting everyone know the struggles you've experienced. Thank you for confronting the issue head on!
All religions are man-made and wrong. :)) have fun with that one religious fascists!
Should we really continue to have a disagreement on something as idiomatic as morality. I can guarantee that everyone has sinned and that no one mans sins and perversions or no better that another mans. The use of this as a diversion from a discussion about from far more serious problems in the world is sicking to me
The day gay people no longer have to live in fear of discrimination because of who they are is the day we stop having this discussion.
..agreed... Kelly I love your post also 🙂
adelina- are you a member of the WBC?
Amatuer mistake Courtney. She's actually barking mad. Any seasoned commentor knows to ignore her
True of every religion. I'm a Hindu, and believe me, it's the same. Many people from my religion tend to follow religious text (plenty, given how ancient the religion itself is) to the letter. That has resulted in conflicts between "Gods", where I interpret Hinduism to be monotheistic, just like Christianity or Islam. I wish all the educated people best of luck to spread proper awareness.
While I appreciate Don's work as an excellent anchor, I disagree with his beliefs. And that should be okay to do. No belief should be forced upon anyone, it's up to each person on whom they will believe. I choose to trust and believe in Jesus' teachings. He does not teach hate of the sinner, but the sin. He loved us so much, that he died, that we might live. He rose from the dead and now sits in heaven. We now await on his return. We won't know when he comes back, but know for sure he is coming; he says that in his word, Matt:25, read it for yourself.
Lance thanks for you comment. It is right on.
... and Matthew knows this how?
Don, we still love watching your show, & Anderson Cooper if you are gay, , we love you too & will continue watching you every night. You should not have hide who you are. Don being gay doesn't affect your life. I like how many try to assume that being gay makes you more likely to be a pedophile. Ridiculous. No one here knows God if there is one, Seems like alot of folks out there are just plain brainwashed. You believe cause someone told you too. You have no proof at all of anything.
Do you have to be gay to work at CNN? Just wondering. . .
You don't have to be gay to work at CNN, but you sure have to love gayness