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My Faith: How I learned to stop 'praying away the gay'
Don Lemon with his grandmother on his third birthday.
May 22nd, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Faith: How I learned to stop 'praying away the gay'

Editor's Note: Don Lemon is a CNN anchor and author of Transparent, a memoir .

By Don Lemon, CNN

"School day, time to get up, sleepy head. School day."

Although she's been gone since 1998, my grandmother's words ring in my head just about every morning of my life. That's how MaMe, as I called her, got me out of bed and off to my Catholic school when I was growing up and in her care.

But before I shuffled my way to the bathroom to begin my morning routine, I had to hit the floor on my knees to pray, just as I had the night before.

It was usually The Lord's Prayer ("Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...") followed by asking God to watch and guide me through my day until I returned to the safety of my home that evening.

But MaMe (pronounced MAH-me) didn't know that at a very early age her favorite grandson had begun to pray, silently, that God would change him from being different, from having crushes on boys, from being more curious about boys than girls.

By age four or five, I was too young to sexualize my infatuations but I knew that everyone else, including my family and friends, would think it was wrong.

Perhaps it was the conversations I overheard from adults around my hometown of Port Allen, Louisiana, who'd mimic gay people, calling them "funny" or "sissy" or "fagots."

Perhaps it was Sunday mornings at our Baptist church, where preachers taught that liking someone of the same sex was a direct and swift path to hell. And that if that person would just turn to the Lord and confess his sin, then God would change him back into the person He wanted him to be - a person who only had crushes on the opposite sex.

All of which meant that, from a very early age, I began to think I was dirty and that I was going to hell. Can you imagine what that feels like for a kid who was just learning to read and perform basic arithmetic? It was awful.

And talk about guilt - I was a Baptist attending Catholic school!

I prayed the silent prayer for God to change me every chance I got until I started attending college in New York. That's when common sense began to take hold and I realized that no amount of prayer would change me into something that wasn't natural to me.

With my religious upbringing, I'd had the opportunity to study religious doctrine. But I learned from different perspectives, from Catholic Mass on Fridays to Baptist services on Sundays to vacation Bible school in the summer to Bible study with a Jehovah's Witness as a teenager.

As I got older I began to realize that all these people and institutions interpreted the Bible somewhat differently. I had a sort of epiphany: the Bible was about the lessons you learned, not about the events or words.

When I became old enough, intelligent enough and logical enough to discern the difference between metaphor and reality, everything changed. I realized that Jonah living in the belly of a whale was a parable written in the same vein as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that he had "been to the mountaintop."

Neither Jonah nor King had actually been to those places. They were metaphors for lessons for those of us who cared to absorb them.

So many of us, especially in the black community and in churches, tend to think that religious teachings happened word for word as they were written in Scripture. I think that's naïve, even dangerous.

That type of thinking - or non-thinking - keeps many religious people enslaved to beliefs that they haven't truly stepped back from and examined.

That type of thinking causes people who are otherwise good to shun and ostracize young gay people.

It causes people to want to control and change people who aren't like them. And who wants to be like someone else?

Imagine if we had allowed Christian doctrines and teachings that supported slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women to pervade our society all the way up until the current moment. What kind of world would that be?

Instead, we got on our knees, just as I did as a little boy, and prayed that slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women would end. In the United States, at least, those prayers have largely been realized.

I'm no longer the member of any church but I do believe in a higher power.

It's time for us, especially black people, to stop trying to pray the gay away and to get on our knees and start praying that the discrimination of gay people ends.

What we're doing to our young gay people now is child abuse. It's plain old bigotry and hatred. And if African-Americans don't know what that feels like in America, I don't know who does.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Don Lemon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (4,733 Responses)
  1. Havewenocommonsense

    Now please pray away the stupid. Does God allow everything? What is next marriage to our pets?

    May 23, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • mountainmamajo

      Maybe you can take your own advise. Marriage to pets??? Seriously, clear your own conscious.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Really, marriage to pets? When your hamster is capable of signing a marriage license, do alert the media, Have. Let everyone know when those two lonely brain cells bump into each other inside that cavernous skull of yours.

      Moron.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • allfaith

      Natural guilt comes before we do something that we feel in our bones is wrong. There is no sin. Life is a series of events that we put together en masse to show us what our beliefs are creating. So the majority of us believe in separation, fear alienation, and think that they are more important than any other person or thing.
      The reality is that everything on the earth is a part of the earth, and like dust motes in an eddy in the water, we all come together in many different ways and form many different shapes and structures at any given time.

      May 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  2. Randy White

    Don, great article. It is truly unfortunate that too many here choose to hate and not realize what scriptures, for any religion, are truly meant for.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  3. Malik

    Bayard Rustin ( who conceived and orchestrated the 1963 March on Washington and MLK's chief advisor) best summarized it for all the naysaying theist:

    "[T]he job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly manifest that hate. That's our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment."

    May 23, 2011 at 6:35 am |
    • 1word

      No one is saying to do away with all the GAYS, we're saying it's not good practice. I'm saying I'm tired of Gays LIKE DON saying it's ok to come out of the closet. What is done in the dark leave there, you think I want to know if you have a foot fettish or that you like to sleep with little boys? NO I don't!

      May 23, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • allfaith

      Shine the light on those shadows. Wisdom at its best.

      May 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  4. ken

    The more I look at the picture the more I forgive this guy. Don 'Lemon' (bless his soul) woke up every morning to be confronted by pictures of large roosters, sugary things and a frowning grand mother tickling him silly (see her fingers and his satisfaction).
    Sorry Don – all will be well.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:34 am |
    • ken

      NB: Masculine Grand mother.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:35 am |
  5. Scotty

    God loves but he also judges. sorry.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:33 am |
    • Randy White

      Then you quit judging and leave it to her.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:55 am |
    • Deb

      Good one Randy!

      May 23, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  6. Fonseka

    Thank God I feel how a human is supposed to feel!

    May 23, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  7. Scotty

    everyone has an illness of some kind. we should still hope for their recovery.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:28 am |
    • ken

      Word!!!

      May 23, 2011 at 6:29 am |
    • I appreciate your honesty.

      I appreciate your honesty. (I was also Baptist in a Catholic Church for a while and went through perpetual prayer for being born female.) anyway...I think you are doing a lot to get people past stupid ideas that never should have existed in the first place. Nice article.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:38 am |
    • Randy White

      Like the illness of bigotry and hatred...

      May 23, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  8. ken

    Come to think of it (and looking at the picture. He was born that way and the grandmother and ancestors helped him along. Lemon – get it 'Lemon'

    My heart goes out to him and his family at this time.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  9. ken

    I always knew this guy was 'different' watching him on CNN.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  10. Junior

    Don Lemon clearly wrote this article because of the backlash from the black community. But understand Don, you are who you are. I am a christian, but I also believe that people can be born gay and living that lifestyle will ultimately be your choice. I can say I was born to sleep with 5 women at the same time all the time, but its a different matter if I decide actually do what I want. I actually been in situations that I could of slept with 2 to 3 women at the same time, and I turned it down because it wasn't the right thing to do in God's sight. The same with you Don Lemon, its your choice to sleep with men or not.

    At the end of the day Don Lemon, our choices will be our choices and we will be made accountable for them–No matter how you spin it.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • Randy White

      Thanks for being clueless.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  11. 1word

    Don did you get your answer? Gays are still are excepted in the World, so stop with your articles! Live your life how you see fit and stop trying to make a martar out of yourself.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:33 am |
    • joe

      you're right. they are excepted from society. That's why he's trying to give some support to other young people who may be going with the same thing: being forced by their religion and family to either betray themselves or be ostracized.

      or did you mean accepted? in which case, i disagree. you try pretending you are gay for awhile. See how cushy it is.

      May 23, 2011 at 5:38 am |
    • Paul

      Explain how we are accepted tby Tennessee which just passed a law banning the discussion of "Gay" in schools.
      Explain how we are accepted by consistent legislation to limit our rights.
      Explain how we are accepted by religious self righteous groups that want to tell us we are going to hell.
      Explain how we are accepted while states still ban us from adoption.
      do I need to keep going?

      May 23, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • 1word

      Thanks Paul, Gays aren't accepted and the only way to get alone is to shut your mouth. Stay in the closet!

      May 23, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  12. Scuds

    Religion gives people an excuse to hate what they already hate.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:57 am |
    • mountainmamajo

      It's not religion that is the problem, its the excuse for some people to nurture their bigoty and hatred. For some of us religion free's us of it. I'm proud to go to an "open and affirming church" we accept and celebrate everyone the way they are. Don't blame religion, people can and will twist the most beautiful and sacred into something ugly and mean. In my opinion and experience, the bottom line is what is in someone's heart-fear or love.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:20 am |
  13. allfaith

    Thanks to everyone for contributing. Goodnight.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:44 am |
  14. Geraldine Coleman

    allfaith

    I'm not feeling any judgment of Don Lemon in me, so maybe your church is illusory and the spirit in me and you, which is the light that we are all part of, will continue to accept and love all of humanity. For truly, we all share in the grace of God. Look for the light and you will surely find it. Look for the darkness and that's what you'll see.
    Whatever you find will be a reflection of your beliefs. Don't be afraid now

    Afraid of what?

    May 23, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  15. Geraldine Coleman

    allfaith

    You're making it seem like humans are more important than other life forms. We're not, we just think we are, cause we can create grand illusions like organized religion. It's pretty self-righteous if you ask me. It's like saying alcohol is a better drug than marijuana because it's legal.

    I could care less about organized religion. I myself do not like organized, traditional religion. What I do like and know that God's word is not part of man's organized religion. We organized churh denominations, clicks, groups and cults. Religion aside. animals are not on the same level as man, we have dominion over then, Do you have to care for your dog or does he bring a bowl of and set it down at your feet for you to eat ?... Don't bother to answer. It may be scary.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • allfaith

      The world is a gian Matrix Geraldine. Man can't survive without other animals. All have an important part to play. Have a good night's sleep.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:41 am |
  16. Love is my religion

    Don... Sorry to hear what you been through and I am sorry you were taught wrong in a long time... God is about love !

    May 23, 2011 at 4:33 am |
  17. Geraldine Coleman

    soysauce

    Again, you are not right and I will not say that you are 100% right and I am 100% wrong. To do so would be compromising the word of God and conforming to your ways and I absolutely will not do that. And anyway, Your beginning to sound a little bit weird. I am so sorry that I offended you, don, or anyone, but I will not apologize for the words that I gave tonight. Perhaps that will help somebody to see the TRUTH. Mabybe even you......Good Night....for now

    May 23, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  18. 1word

    See this is the reason I didn't like this article, now Don is a hero? He's a hero for saying prayer isn't going to help? We all will face Jesus Christ on Judgement Day, and I'm not talking about the day of Resurrection either. I'm talking about when you die, these nonbelievers will find out that God and Jesus is real and there is no saving their souls from Hells fire. Don never did say he was saved, he gave up before he could become one of Jesus Sheep. I really feel bad for the people who think this is a good thing and that it's good to come out of the closet.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:22 am |
    • Freshman College Student

      I feel bad for you :/

      May 23, 2011 at 4:31 am |
    • allfaith

      Wouldn't it be a good thing to understand and accept yourself? Why do we need to try to be good christians if we know and accept that we are equal, respectful human beings?

      May 23, 2011 at 4:31 am |
    • 1word

      Being proud of yourself for being Gay will only make your life harder. You might think people won't discriminate against you but it's going to happen, just like people are discriminated against because their black, white or brown. The difference here is you can hide who you really are to make your lifes better in this world. Don was fine while in the closet now people will look at him differently and all because he wants to be proud of being an Abomination?

      May 23, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • Freshman College Student

      1word:
      Firstly, I think you meant "they're" rather than "their".
      Secondly, can you explain to me what you get out of calling another human being an "abomination"?
      and thirdly, considering that you are a human being and not God himself, I am going to assume that you sin...would that make you an abomination?

      May 23, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • 1word

      Freshman, I've given my life to Jesus Christ and I try not to sin, there's a difference. I may fall short sometimes but through prayer and fasting I have become a better Christian. I don't condone sinning because all people sin, that's what Jesus proved that you can do without sin. This world is made to tempt men into sinning, but if you have it in your heart to stop you can stop! The Bible says it plainly being Gay is an Abomination to the Lord.

      May 23, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • Sassan

      I feel sorry that you live with such delusions as an afterlife rather than living with the realities of science and the world.

      May 23, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • Mark

      I feel bad you've chosen to not think and to hate voluntarily. Think about what you say.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • I Think You Missed the Point

      @1Word first of all, your name is a misnomer, because you have yet to use 1word... although your case would have been much more improved if you had.

      Secondly, with ever post, you prove yourself ignorant of many things, grammar rules, the Word of God, the Spirit of Christ, and most of all, you reveal the inner workings of a heart that is truly filled with hate and therefore unconverted. Those who are followers of Christ have been given a new heart and a new mind. They don't spew forth such bigotry as you have and equate someone who is gay with someone who is a pedophile. They don't tell someone who has a major life change that they need to just "stay in the closet." You claim to have a heart that has been regenerated by the love of Christ, but your posts indicate the opposite of that, and in such you do not represent your faith well.

      My suggestion to you is to spend less time on these boards and spend more time in the Word of God. Your behavior is more like that of the pharisees, who were so busy focusing on the faults of others that they couldn't see the faults in themselves (and you know what Jesus had to say about them!)

      The best response from you now is a fairly swift apology to Mr. Lemon and a cessation from continued diatribe.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  19. stubbycat

    As long as we believe ourselves to be merely physical, sensual, consuming mortals, we are not being our real selves.

    May 23, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  20. Geraldine Coleman

    allfaith

    Do you belong to a church that preaches that being gay is a sin? Do you feel a need to prove that you belong by attacking Don Lemon? Could you please be an individual for a moment. Do you think Don Lemon is hurting someone by being himself? If you said yes, then why?

    It doesn't matter what church building I go to, the Word of God is the same. No matter what denomination I visit, the Bible says the same thing. If you take it in a grocery store. It says the same thing. So I am not speaking on behalf of an organized church denomination. We, the children of God is the Church. It is not a physical building. It is within us. So we take it wherever we gol

    May 23, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • allfaith

      I'm not feeling any judgment of Don Lemon in me, so maybe your church is illusory and the spirit in me and you, which is the light that we are all part of, will continue to accept and love all of humanity. For truly, we all share in the grace of God. Look for the light and you will surely find it. Look for the darkness and that's what you'll see.
      Whatever you find will be a reflection of your beliefs. Don't be afraid now!

      May 23, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • Freshman College Student

      Geraldine Coleman:
      "Do you think Don Lemon is hurting someone by being himself?"

      FINALLY, someone gets it. Everyone is so caught up on judging one another. Isn't there a verse in the Bible that talks about not pointing out the stick in your brother's eye when you have a log in your own eye? I've never understood how people can take pleasure in condemning another human being as if he or she has the authority to do so.
      Thank you for being an actual light.

      May 23, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • joe

      actually it does matter what denomination you visit, the bible changes – just ask my massage therapist mr. maccabees.

      Changes even more if you dare to consider that there are other religions with wildly different books..... but im sure the other guys are all wrong.

      May 23, 2011 at 5:31 am |
    • The Light

      I don't understand why people cannot call a spade a spade. It is very clear in the bible "a man shall not lay by a man"............ period. It is wrong, it is a sin, it distort the fundamentals of a normal family and it is hurting our country. Believe it or not, being gay is a psychological/psychiatric issue that can be corrected with expert medical help. Otherwise, how would you explain a bi that makes a complete u turn and decide to be straight. This tells me very clearly that we choose to be who we are.

      I also respectfully take issues with those that try to distort the holy Bible in anyway................. some issues you have when things don't seem to be going your way. I say go check yourself for depression!!!

      May 23, 2011 at 5:42 am |
    • Concerned

      If a man bases his beliefs on his own logic then what is the point of God? If you believe in God and believe that He is Holy, Perfect, All powerful and All knowing then shouldnt we fit our logic to fit his instead of make up our own? Either way I think that the gospel message was missed. The basis of Christianity and the whole Bible is to show people that we are sinful, that is imperfect and we need a Savior. Everyone is sinful, no one is exempt and weather you are gay, straight, sideways you have offended a Holy (perfect) God and deserve death and Hell. But God, loving people and wanting desperately to be in relationship with them sent His perfect son to die on the cross for all sin so that we might be in relationship with Him. The problem is that we as people have come up with this concept that works (doing good things and being moral) will get us in right standing with God or give us a fighting chance to get into heaven when the reality is that you couldnt do right if you tried, which is why Jesus came. We need a Savior. Sin exists to show us that we need a Savior, not to make us guilty. The law exists to show us that no one can be perfect and we need a Savior. Unfortunately we live in the most Bible illiterate generation in the history of mankind so I can see how one would miss this, but if anyone took time to study the New Testament this is actually pretty clear. So I am sorry Mr. Lemon that you have been burned by false teachings and people not being very understanding. The truth is that we all struggle with some form of sin and God is not happy about it, the other truth is that God allows you to struggle with sin because He wants you to see your need for Savior. Its not about praying the sin away, its about confessing the sin to God and letting Him know where you are, He will take care of the rest.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:14 am |
    • Info

      @The Light
      "I don't understand why people cannot call a spade a spade. It is very clear in the bible "a man shall not lay by a man"............ period. It is wrong, it is a sin, it distort the fundamentals of a normal family and it is hurting our country"

      Because our laws are not within the bible, The consti-tution is the law of the land not the bible, and being gay does not distort the fundamentals of a normal family nor does it hurt our country in shape or form, there is no such thing as normal family, family is diverse always evolving.

      Do you think every family has a father and mother? Some children have both parents, others only have a parent, some are raised by uncles and aunts, or just aunts oruncles, some are raised with grand parents or a grand parent, sometimes a mother and an aunt has to raise the child or a father an uncle, maybe a grandpa and uncle or a grandma and aunt. Family is diverse. If a child can be raised all these ways and turn out alright how could they not turn out just as fine with gay parents? Just cause their gay? Not even logical.

      "how would you explain a bi that makes a complete u turn and decide to be straight. This tells me very clearly that we choose to be who we are."

      You need to look up the definition of Bi and how a person can shift either way. a Bi person can fall in love with one s-ex and still be attracted to the other, they don't simply suddenly become strait just because they choose the opposite s-ex, the feeling for same s-ex is still there, it's no choice.

      Why would anyone willfully choose to be gay? Knowing the only thing that awaits them in our society is discrimination, hate, loneliness, isolation, and injustice from people like you.

      "Believe it or not, being gay is a psychological/psychiatric issue that can be corrected with expert medical help"

      another incorrect and ignorant statement.

      Scientific researchers specializing in human se-xuality have repeatedly shown that ho-mose-xuality is genetic, and have shown genetic research using family and twin methodologies has produced consistent evidence that genes influence se-xual orientation and The survival of a human predisposition for ho-mose-xuality can be explained by se-xual orientation being a polygenetic trait that is influenced by a number of genes.

      It's a natural and it's not a choice.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:16 am |
    • joe

      concerned:
      fundamentally speaking, you are right. if there is a god who we accept is benevolent and all-powerful, then we have no business judging his morality with our logic.
      the problem is that there are actually a plethora of gods, or at least, different people believe in different gods. How is one person ever to decide which god, if any, is the real one? with logic? Logic cannot narrow it down much..... Just have faith in the christian god? if your argument is "have faith, not logic", then i have to ask why not have faith in the hindu gods instead?

      I contend we are both agnostic. I simply know of one less god than you. When you understand why you doubt all other gods, you will understand why I doubt your god.

      May 23, 2011 at 6:23 am |
    • Concerned

      @ Joe "I contend we are both agnostic. I simply know of one less god than you. When you understand why you doubt all other gods, you will understand why I doubt your god." Wow, I have never heard anything like that. I also do not understand waht u are trying to say. So you doubt Christ because He is the only God that doesnt require works? Thats why I doubt other gods... I have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I have served as a missionary and seen miracles daily. I have seen things go unexplained time and time again. I have seen atheist come to faith. i have seen my hindu roommate from college come to faith in Christ. I have seen muslims come to faith in Christ through visions and dreams. I have seen the Bible come to life and hold true. My faith has been proven time and time again. The other gods dont have nothing on Jesus. The other gods tell me to be a good person, Jesus says I know you cant be good put ur faith in me and take on my goodness. My life changed when I made a decision for Christ and I havent been the same since. Now you can contend that we are both agnostic and you can write whole dissertations on why there are dozens of gods and why its foolish to believe in just one and so on and so forth but at the end of the day my faith has proven true and I have seen miracle after miracle. I aint changing my mind. I contend that there is one God. I place my whole life and faith on it and if Im wrong, which I know Im not, I know for a fact that I lived the most amazing life (full of tons of hardships and suffering) I could imagine.

      I apologize for the passion behind this, I am zealous about my faith. But please know, I am not knocking your beliefs by any means. You can believe what you want, I just have a really great understanding why I believe what I believe. I think we can live and peace and agree to disagree.

      May 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
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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.