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.
You believe anything you hear/read don't you?
Well, it is better to BELIEVE in the word of the Lord than what poeple discuss on scuh tv shows as Oprah!
It's obvious to me, there's a lot of Gays in the world! In a world ran by the Devil, what do you expect? The best way for the Devil to take souls away from God is to make them believe at a young age that they are Gay.
And why would your god allow the devil to do that to a defenseless 4 year old?
Read the bible and learn what God can control.
So now you've determined that if one is gay, one is soul-less! Nope, no judgment here folks, keep moving.
You obviously don't realize that the A.P.A has stated that it's not a mental illness, it's not a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed. The A.P.A is made up of over 154,000 science and psychology experts. The devil has nothing to do with this issue. It's about brain chemistry and what happens in the womb.
Alyssa, God does not control poeple–We have free will.
And, 1word, your screen name along with your religiousese mantra define you as something that is not Christian – at least non-Christ-like.
Ah, so Gay = soulless now? That's nice. /eyeroll
Wonderfully written. Thank you for your courage. I can only hope we can move forward as a society for all children in the future!
What next Gay marriage? LOL Some dumb states are already thinking about it if not allowing that already.
If you're Gay, there won't be any children of the future, RIIGGGHHTTT?
Sharon it's how you bring your kids up, if you baby a boy and have him hang with girls this will happen. If you don't allow your daughter to be a girl and hang with girls, this will happen.
@ 1word: I'm sorry, dude, but you are one of THE MOST ignorant, uninformed, judgmental and UN-CHRISTIAN-LIKE, christians it has never been my pleasure to encounter. You preach and prattle like you're some sort of expert, when if fact you don't even have the rudimentary knowledge on the subject of a high school freshman! My only wish for you would be to have a gay child one day, but then I would feel terribly for the child having you as a parent!
Sharon – "If you're Gay, there won't be any children of the future, RIIGGGHHTTT?"
Sure there will be – we'll just keep adopting all the cast-off children that 'traditional' relations seem to keep creating.
Speaking of self hatred. Has anyone seen Sammy Sosa? WTH is that all about. LOL
CNN has a story in it's video section about Chinese people trying to look Western. They are opening up their eyes because they believe their slanted eyes are ugly. SELF HATE is real.
ITS, you dumbazz.
It doesn't matter who you love, it matters THAT you love. Jesus preached about love and tolerance, forgiveness, and acceptance. True Christians accept that we are ALL God's children. God didn't make any mistakes, we make them. Being Gay isn't a mistake, discrimination and intolerance of it is. Gays were acknowledged in the Bible – read Psalms and Solomon and forget about Leviticus. King David was gay.
But, that didn't make King David right !!!!! Read the entire thing and don't leave out any words.
Sharon, that's just funny. The Biblical record is clear – David and Jonathan's relationship was not 'platonic' and they were certainly not 'just buddies', yet God calls David a man after His own Heart. Where did David fail? Bathsheeba and the census he took that displeased God... nothing at all about his relationship with Jonathan, of whom he wrote 'your love was greater than the love of many women.'
CW, I guess the rapture left you behind. Why is that?
Three guesses, and the first two don't count, you old buzzard.
Hey Jesus was gay- really he slept with a naked boy and got nabbed kissing a dude.
"the Bible was about the lessons you learned, not about the events or words."-Great passage.
Praying the gay away is like praying to re-grow an amputated limb: it just isn't going to happen. Why? Mumbling words to an imaginary god isn't going to do anything for anyone, except make you more stupid for believing in that stone age BS.
GO CELEBRATE YOUR BIRTHDAY!!!
I would like to be the fly on the wall when you die and are judged.
No need to pray away the gay –They can just change their mind and decide to be straight:
Thats what happened with the 9-years in a lesbian relationship friend of mine, who suddenly went straight and got into an affair with my husband!
Don't you believe that "born that way" BS for even one second!!!
If heaven is full of people like you- then I'll take my chances in hell.
"No need to pray away the gay –They can just change their mind and decide to be straight:
Thats what happened with the 9-years in a lesbian relationship friend of mine, who suddenly went straight and got into an affair with my husband!
Don't you believe that "born that way" BS for even one second!!!"
Maybe your friend was actually Bi and not lesbian there is a difference.
"I would like to be the fly on the wall when you die and are judged."
That's the Christian thing to do right? Enjoy the torment of another for your personal satisfaction?, how Christ like.
Sorry, I get passionate when these Atheist talk about my God as if he's not real. I didn't say I would laugh, I just said I would like to be there when this clown is shunned and cast into the pit of fire!
@ heidi – so i guess you choose to be straight?
Heidi you right, that's what a lot of these FULL BLOWN GAY PEOPLE don't understand, they come out of the closet for their partner and shortly after their partner end up turning straight and disowning them. I really feel for the men who think their females and walk and talk that way.
@1word: You sure sound like someone with a lot of knowledge and experience in this arena. Would you care to post your credentials so everyone knows what an expert in the field that we're dealing with?
pure agenda. Will CNN have opposing opinions about someone who did "pray the gay away"? pure agenda.
Being gay is pro Jesus silly- Jesus himself was gay! Read the book he was into dudes.
If you can produce someone who can truly say that they changed what God had intended, why not have them post. I will tell you that you will find the majority of those who have been changed only fall further into depression and sadness because they are still gay. Even the ones who lead the programs are found in seedy places seeking a connection, while trying to heal others.....seriously?? I can't believe this conversation still exists.
Yes, I also thought it was interesting that Mr. Lemon had so much confidence in praying about changing our prayers to stop discrimination of gays yet failed to hear God's response when he prayed as a young child about his state. Unfortunately as much as many would like to erroneously create metaphors of scripture than to take the Word of God at face value, they decieve themselves. Evidence that when we hate the truth (of the Word) we will conveniently change what passage we desire into a lie or a myth. Many who prayed in earnest and have diligently sought God, He has rewarded with a new life.
There is still hope in Jesus– to Mr. Lemon and others –you don't have to continue to live in controversy with your old life, don't stop short and pull away the shoulder from God, be diligent and He will reward you with a new life.
"Will CNN have opposing opinions about someone who did "pray the gay away"?"
If CNN decides to run such a piece, then rest assured we will respond with LOTS of testimonies of men and women who either:
1) Tried and tried and tried to 'pray away the Gay' – even going to 'ex-gay ministries' only to realize that being Gay wasn't going to change.
2) Show testimonies of men and women who once claimed to 'pray away the Gay' only to renounce their earlier statements, and show how much pressure was put on them to proclaim their 'ex-gayness'.
Trust me, there would be a LOT of counter-testimonies that would be a lot more convincing.
without ever promoting both sides, it will be a CNN agenda. pure agenda. I did not say what I believe, just CNN's propensity to tell just one side of a story. I imagine there are a lot of people who believe they have overcome what they believe is a sin through a religious experience. But if you don't report it, then it isn't mainstream and people assume it doesn't happen. Until you give equal time it's just an agenda and should be treated as such.
and by the way Mark, perhaps that is the essence of your problem...you can't believe.
Jesus saves? You can "pray way the gay'? For all those who believe this – try this little game. Try praying TO be gay. What? You don't think that would work? That's what you are asking of gay people. People are born with an orientation. And that orientation runs the gamut from straight to gay to everything in between. Does any hetro person think they could change their orientation by praying???
You may be able to pray and convince yourself to curb and ignore your desires. But that's cheating.
JJ why in the world would we want to be gay? No sain person would pray to be GAY! lol
"JJ why in the world would we want to be gay? No sain person would pray to be GAY! lol"
Exactly why would anyone choose to be gay knowing full well society has nothing but hate, intolerance, causing loneliness, isolation, and injustice from people like you?
it's no choice.
@1word, I think you missed the point.
JJ those people MAKE THE CHOICE TO DO THE ACT OVER AND OVER AGAIN. You have a choice NOT TO DO THE CRIME! Just because you feel a certain way it does not make it right to do.
being gay isn't a choice. just like being straight isn't. my opinion is that it's natural and a normal aspect of human se-xu-ality. the American Psychological As-sociation in 1975 removed it from it's list of mental diseases. s-ex is a more greater subject with not just reproductive characteristics, but psychological and social too. When your in love the se-xual organs don't matter. Ho-mose-xual behavior occurs very frequently in nature, so it is by definition natural. Humans ARE animals.
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 easy to hate, bash, and be ignorant to the people you know nothing about.
Why is it okay to pick and choose what to follow and what to ignore as the word in God? The Old Testament Book of Leviticus, we're told it is wrong for a man to be with another man, In the very next chapter we are told to stone to death are disobedient children. Why is okay to condemn people for who they are but ignore other words of God that affect you and your family? Refuse to acknowledge it? Picking and choose what you agree and what you don't is inconsistent or fair
@1word: Exactly to which "CRIME" are you referring? Being gay is not a crime! And you make the choice of having
heterose xual s ex (if anyone will have you) OVER AND OVER AGAIN, because that's WHO YOU ARE! The hypocrisy of so many 'good christians' never ceases to amaze me!
"JJ those people MAKE THE CHOICE TO DO THE ACT OVER AND OVER AGAIN. You have a choice NOT TO DO THE CRIME! "
Wow are you one ignorant person. If you actually knew anything about this subject you would know the experts both in psychology and science has shown that it's NOT a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed. Plus there are over 1500 other species on this planet that have shown to have gay relationships.
It's disgusting to realize there are so many ignorant hateful people out there.
I wonder when CW, HS, and their demented ilk are going to actually do something substantive to help other people in this world, instead of spending their time castigating everyone they hate here. Why is it you are not doing Christ's work on this earth, CW? There are teenage mothers who are struggling to feed their kids. Why aren't you babysitting for them so they can go back to school and get the education you couldn't manage to get for yourself? There are sick, lonely people in nursing homes. Why aren't you there talking to them and praying with them?
You are far more sickening than any story about someone's love life. You don't have a love life. You don't have love. You don't have life. All you have is hatred and you use your religion to excuse it.
Ever stop to realize that are part of the Christian mission field is to work where the lies are being spread and to bring Truth to them? Just following Christ here...
Don, thnak you for sharing this with us. Watching you on CNN I never knew you were gay, but I just gained tons of respect for you as a person. I grew up in Comunist country where being gay was the biggest sin. I came out late, too late. I also had strong fate, my country was Catholic. Now I am like you – I believe in Higher Power and I know we gay people are equally created by this power to live in this world like everyone else. I come from Europe where I thouhgt we do not have anough rights and freedom. I immigrated to US thinking this is a free country and being gay is OK. Well only to the point because I fouind out there is more closeminded people here then in Europe. Just by looking at some of the comments. It amazes me how uneducated those people are, how ignorant and resistant from knowledge they are. In modern 21st century world everyone who goes to school knows that being gay is not a choice. We, gay people, know it because we lived throe the period of denial. For someone to say that this is our choice, like you chose the color of your coat you are going to wear – it is so wrong. Those people always say – there is no prove that it is not your choice – I would say to them that there is no prove that your GOD exists neither, and no prove that he is the gratest. We are walking and living prove that people are born like that and it is not our choice, I guess it should be anough if you open your mind a bit. You have a choice to believe in Jesus, Buddah or Allah – I can not change who I am, this is who I am and how I was made. So to those who say that it is wrong to be gay – let me tell you, it is a bigger sin to think like you are thinking than to be gay. Just read your Bible, God loves everyone and you should too. To Don – I am proud to watch you on CNN every day, you are very talented, humbvled and brave individual. To share with us such a personal information means a lot. Now every time I will see you on the screen I will think – this is not just an anchor, he is a person with feelings, someone like many of us. He has more guts to be proud of who he is, than those who condemn him claiming they live life withought sin. Way to go Don. Wish you all the best, you are my favorite
tl;dr LOL 😀
God never said he didn't love you, but, it surely does say you can't live in his house . Read the Bible and don't leave out any words.
Don't get mad at me cuz you can't stand the truth in your little mind...
Don, you don't have to choose between being gay and being Christian. There are groups of committed Christians who realize that the Bible contains parables and metaphors. The Episcopal Church welcomes you!
the Episopal Church welcomes most, but probably not Jesus if He were physically present today. What, with all his pesky 'rules' and 'guidance' on what His followers are supposed to do. Give it time, and you will have Jesus pigeon holed into a man, who may or may not have been here, but may or may not have said some good things, that may or may not be applicable, depending on how you feel or if it makes you happy.
Susan follow this link and you will learn what your church teaches – ignorance is bliss so they say – http://www.episcopalchurch.org/visitors_11767_ENG_HTM.htm
“I would rather have eyes that cannot see; ears that cannot hear; lips that cannot speak, than a heart that cannot love” (Robert Tizon) people of who they are. God love s everybody, and he loves you. Keep on doing the good work. I am a straight man, but that does not make special or more loved by God that anyone else.
Food for thought...If you believe that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, descended into hell and rose from the dead on the third day then you can't believe that Jonah in the belly of the whale was a metaphor. For if Jesus, who was without sin, said to the people, " 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." Mt 12:40
Logically, Jesus' burial and resurrection would be a metaphor as well.
David! It's so great to see that you finally understand!!
Why, yes, that would mean that it was a metaphor. All of it. It really doesn't matter if any of it actually happened if the message is transmitted. Unfortunately, that message has twisted for the purpose of control and manipulation. It's so much easier to concentrate on what other people are doing, condemn them, and then feel self-righteously smug, rather than working toward ending true problems, such as poverty, hate, hunger, violence, ignorance,and suffering. If fundamentalist Christians want to follow a literal interpretation of the Bible, then in the U.S., they have that right. The rest of us all have the right to live as we choose.
do I know u Sue? how presumptuous of u
It's sad, really, the unmitigated gall of so many folks, on here condemning that which they are totally clueless about. All of you SO-CALLED Christians that are judging this man are among the biggest hypocrites alive. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. Otherwise all you judgemental, hypocritical, bigoted, "christians" just need to STFU!
I think the true hypocrisy is in expressing one's view so strongly and with violent force/cursing, while expecting anyone who is a Christian to have no opinion at all. Christians are allowed to have opinions and to take moral stands like everyone else. Having a moral opinion does not make a person judgmental. Too many criticize Christians for not being "open minded" when what they really want is for Christians to be "empty minded." I think your heart desires (1st) to express your point of view without opposition, (2nd) to avoid having to hear a Christian point of view, and (3rd) to generally demean and ridicule persons of who adhere to a BIblical worldview.
There's a lot more than opinionating in many of those posts and you know! The judgment from so many of you so-called christians is palpable in many of those comments. And believe me, I was raised surrounded by the "christian point-of-view". Facts, the condemnation from so many of you 'christians' is hypocrisy in the strictest sense of the word as it is not for anyone of you to to condemn nor condone ANYONE ELSE'S actions, according to your very own belief system!
Don Lemon is HOT
My dear Cousin prayed and prayed his gay away. When he finally came out to his mother, instead of accepting him, she forced him down to his knees and knelt with him to pray his gay away. God and your mother are the two beings in your life that are supposed to forgive and love no matter what. Sadly at 40 years old, he took his life as he was never able to be himself, be comfortable in his own skin because he was not accepted by the two that mattered the most to him. My Auntie, now understands his hurt and now accepts him for who he was. God accepted him all along.
Thank you Don Lemon. Your article brought tears to my eyes. Love and tolerance is in embedded into us. Some of us just have a lot of bullsh!t to dig through to find it.
She prayed with him because she did care for him and his soul. If you really care and love someone you try and help them by pointing them in the right the direction and not by what the world thinks. God is love but he will not tolerate sin. Jesus was brutally beaten and died for all our sins and not to many people will accept him. In the end it doesn't matter what people think of you it's what God thinks of you.
@ Jimi, there is no god. In the end it matters what you think of yourself.
Jimi, now you're moralizing suicide? Truly, your posts will only make LGBT folks turn away from God even faster. You might want to read up on Matthew 7 – Jesus takes a dim view of people who turn people away from Him.
Angel, your story is tragic – and my sincere condolences for your loss (since there seems to be a lack of 'Christians' offering any sort of sympathy here).