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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. Some Physics

    The point about the bible being a metaophor vs. taking the bible literally is an interesting one.
    I agree that the story of Genesis and the story of the Exodus are stories that are not necessarily meant to be taken completely literally. They are lessons with morals that are meant to be derived personally.

    However, when the Bible says Do X or Don't do Y, there is no room for figurative interpretation. Either the Bible is correct and you do X and don't do Y or the bible is wrong and you don't. The Bible is very quite clear about gay relations. Read Leviticus. The anti-gay rules are not part of a story or a parable or optional. They are very clearly delineated.

    Therefore, you can either be a good Christian and be openly anti-gay, or you can not be a Christian. There are no other options.

    June 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Ghotistyx

      What about the part where you look for the beam in your own eye before looking for the mote in others'?

      June 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Big Evil

      There are still people in the world who preach that, in order to be a true Christian, you must be anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, etc. If you truly believe that God loves all of His children, if you believe that Jesus died and went to Hell to pay for all of our sins past present and future before ascending bodily to Heaven, there is no room for hatred in your world. Of you I believe Jesus would say, "He has already received his reward."

      June 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • jaki

      I find it interesting that everything in the Bible is literal fact, until proven otherwise. At one time it was believed that the book of Genesis was literal. Now it's a parable. Because no intelligent person believes the world was created in 7 days and man lived with the dinosaurs. But that would invalidate the word of God; therefore, it's merely a parable now. Like so many other things that Science has brought to light and proven faith wrong, this issue is and will be no different.

      June 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • LinCA

      Some Physics said:"Therefore, you can either be a good Christian and be openly anti-gay, or you can not be a Christian. There are no other options."

      In other words, if you are a "good christian" you must be a desp.icable human being. There are no other options.

      June 1, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • allfaith

      Isn't Leviticus from the Old Testament? You see, the old testament came out of the need for social organization whereas the New Testament is more about the individual. It has nothing to do with creating groups or labeling minorities.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • crucified

      @allfaith, since you brought up old testament I will bring up Jude 1:7, by the way Jude was Jesus brother think he might of know what Jesus agreed to and disagreed with.. also,romans chapter 1: 27-32, 1 timothy, 1 corithians, and if you include s-ex-ua-l immorali-ty Matthew straight from the mouth of Jesus, ans since Jesus was Jewish it would of referred to Leviticus. Bible definetly against gay. gay and christian incompatible.

      June 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • "Good"

      How can I be a good hermaphrodite? Where do I fit in? Was I damned to hell before I was born? I look like a girl now, but I think like a male. Please let me know when you have my biblical rules figured out. I believe I am a "good" christian.

      June 13, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  2. MIKE

    Im truly sorry to hear how much suffering you went through Don. As a catholic that has gay members in his family I can somewhat relate. You are right in the aspect that we should not have any prejudice against gays. What I cant agree with you on is the belief that being gay is ok. Its not. I was always thought to hate the sin not the sinner. God loves everything and everybody but just because he loves you doesnt mean you got a ticket to heaven and it certainly doesnt mean your right on all your decisions. I myself are a sinner and I probably dont deserve to get to heaven but at least I dont act as if my sins arent sins. You are in a constant state of sinning Don and youre lying to yourself if you think its acceptable. Im pretty sure you know this but its a lot easier for you to live with yourself if you tell yourself this everytime you wake up. Everyone of us has to carry a heavy cross on our backs our whole life, some of us accept it some of us dont.

    June 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      What is not acceptable is your misdirected belief that being gay is not acceptable. Your religion is a perversion and an abomination and must be purged from the human condition. The bible is a tool of the elite to subjugate the masses. Put it down and walk away forever. Ask God what is right and wrong and search your heart for the truth. You are being lied to by your bigoted church leaders and the writers of that outdated ancient text.

      June 1, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  3. lulu

    Hi Ponder,
    This is in response to your comment that (to paraphrase), people who take their religious texts literal are masking their personal prejudice. I believe that this is true for some people – that they use God's words and feign acceptance but deep down hate people. And I think you and I have both seen when this happens, and their actions speak to what their heart truly feels. However, believe me (hard to do on a message board, I know), that I have met and been friends/acquaintances with people who were openly gay and I did not have hate for them. I enjoyed their company, and many I met were great, loving people. I realize that they may not have the same experience getting to know God the way I have, and if they had or were to, they struggle with how their gay identify fits into their faith and this makes me sad that they would have to go through this. Before I was a Christian as an adult, I was probably similar to you in many beliefs. I was also adamantly pro-gay marriage, and gay rights. Although now I understand the world differently, I still get very angry when I see people hurt or mocked because of their feelings or position on gay rights. Many of these people I consider my friends. I just shake my head when I see people like that so called Baptist church holding signs saying "God hates gays." He doesn't. And neither do I. Even when I realize many people may never accept these beliefs, I still don't hate them. Because that's not what relationships are about. And in the end, I believe the Christian faith is fundamentally about relationships.

    June 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  4. P.A. Toombs

    Nature vs Nurture is not a controversy. Somethings you will just have to "live through" if it is afforded to you. Whenever you decide to become truthful with your "self" you will realize freedom/

    June 1, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  5. ???

    I don't think Jonah (and the whale) was a parable.

    June 1, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Deborah

      It is not a parable. It is truth. The writer of this article has just found a way to justify his lifestyle. If you go through the bible and say everything is just a 'story', then there is no authority in scripture to say what the Lord has said.

      Unfortunately, so many have done that. When your lifestyle and the bible are in conflict, it is you who need to change and not the bible.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  6. TheTRUTH

    The heart desires,and the private parts confirms it or deny's it. its that simple...

    June 1, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Sister

      Isn't science a wonderful thing. Science will prove over and over again, that we humans are far from understanding the creator.

      June 2, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  7. Sister

    This article seems to have been written by an extremely literate person. I also believe in a higher power. So powerful that mankind can never fully understand. We are not capable. I have pondered this. Human beings are born with no gender, both genders and everything in between. We are all God's imperfect children.

    June 1, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  8. ray

    God bless you Don, for your openness and honesty. But it appears that you are confuse base on all the teachings that you sujected yourself to. The living Word or God is all that is authentic and true. Your first up bringing planted a seed in your heart that will one day bloosum into a true child of God. You are not who you are, but you are who you are in Him. You don't belong to yourself.
    Blessing to you!!!!

    May 31, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  9. Yo

    Don: God loves us, but hates sin. We can not justify our wrongdoing by analyzing, misinterpreting, and discrediting the truth of God's word. The devil would have us believe that God made people this way (Gay). But his word clearly states he created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. There are scriptures that talk about men lying with other men, and the consequences are clear for that sin. All sin brings dire consequences, unless we come back to our heavenly father by believing in Jesus. Remember no one can judge you for we have all sinned and come short of his glory. Now what are we all going to do about it? We love and pray for you.

    May 31, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Jill

      So Yo,
      The Bible says Adam and Eve so therefore Steve is not welcome in God's kingdom? And you are sure you are not wearing clothing of mixed fibers, and that you are slaying your neighbors who do not attend church or keep the Sabbath, and not allowing your wife to wear red, and and... or was it Christianity that we are speaking of? That would be the religion based upon the New Testament and the teaching of Jesus, who said exactly NOTHING about gays, and was in fact inclusive of all. Or did you miss that part? If you are going to compare gays to Old Testament rules, you had better be living them, to the letter. Go on- I dare you. Let me know how your local law enforcement likes the mass killing on Sundays when folks don't keep the Sabbath. Or maybe you could read the words of Jesus and see what He stood for... just saying.

      June 1, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Phillip

      1 Corinthians 6:9-10- a great "inclusive of all" passage. Of course, I guess you could say that this was Paul, not Jesus. So how about "The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-28). I love the fact that these verses are in the chapter that begins "Judge not." Whenever I see this verse quoted on blogs I think of that great movie line: "You keep using that word: I do not think it means what you think it means." Be either hot of cold, but not lukewarm: it is silly to believe in Jesus and modify/reject the Bible that He supported and quoted often. The athiests who attack us on blogs like this are doing so because they are blind: therefore their same old tired arguments don't bother me. I respect an athiest, who argues logically, much more than someone who mixes thier opinion with that which has been written.

      June 1, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  10. real

    The reality is, sin is something that we are all born with and not taught. We are born liers, theives, pedifiles, you name it. No question being born with gay inclinations may be natural as is all sin.The fact is, it's still sin . It's no different for a person like myself who had to pray for christ to deliver me from my obsession with women, drugs, alcohol, and other desires. You can have old desires and habits reversed, if you beleive and desire change. God is able...

    May 31, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Eric

      So how can you be a pedophile and a baby at the same time? lol

      June 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  11. C

    Amazing. That was an amazing read

    May 31, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  12. Mojo

    Knew he was gay at four or five? damn! Some'n ain't right here.

    May 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Doubter2

      My brother knew at 7–and probably before that. Didn't you know you were straight around then? Bet you did...

      May 31, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Wink

      You're just as ignorant as you sound.

      June 1, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • stejo

      Yep, I knew, too. Maybe it's shocking to think maybe we actually WERE born that way. And yes, it's right. In fact, it's "alright".

      June 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  13. Jonny Ninja

    "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."

    What's "naive" and "dangerous" is sticking your **** into an ******* when the gay community has the largest incidents of HIV... That is a fact. Look it up.. It has spread faster through that community, especially when HIV first came about, than in any other.. But Jesus, oh man, HE is dangerous.... I'm sorry it has been tough for you being gay... Really, I don't care if you or anyone else is.. But don't start attacking religion just because you do things that are unhealthy and unnatural...

    May 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • C

      actually women of color have the highest rates of HIV.

      May 31, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Derek

      Black women have the highest rising rate of infection, they are not the group with the highest number of cases of HIV. It's believed to be caused by a large (large being relative) number of black males being gay "underground" while living "normal" lives the rest of the time. They then bring home the virus to their unknowing wives.

      May 31, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Deborah

      Thank you Derek for making that point.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • derp

      "when the gay community has the largest incidents of HIV... That is a fact. Look it up"

      The highest AIDS rates in the world by far are seen in subsaharan Africa's HET EROSE XUAL community. Nowhere else comes close. Cultural and religious beliefs have lead to an overwhelming rate of AIDS amoung the men/women of Africa

      But you knew that, because you looked it up.

      June 1, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  14. gerald

    Definitely won't be praying away his gay in hell.

    May 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • jrc

      Are you God to say that this man is actually going to hell. I wouldn't make that choice statement. Nobody knows anything about the afterlife on a physical level. You cannot be judging people unless you been there and done that and the only people who may know this is already dead, have you met anyone as of late?. Yes, I believe in God, in heaven and hell, but nothing in this world is perfect, mistakes are made all the time. Did you by any chance notice the recent miscalculation about the end of the world on May 21st..., so how you know this man is going to hell. Did God pernonally tell you?

      May 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  15. Agany Daddy

    Well said Lulu. I appreciate how you explained the Christian faith. Christianity unfortunately has been misrepresented as a religion. A religion is a system of beliefs and that was not what Jesus Christ was about. Jesus never set out to give us a system of beliefs. He set out to restore us to our Father after the sin had corrupted us. Sin means separation from God. God does not hate people, He hates sin.
    As always is the case, a race is judged by the worst men in it. Christians are judged by the fundamentalists who misrepresent Christ. Case in point the organization that disrupts funeral services of war heroes to make a point against war or the pastor in Florida, burning the Quran. You can say the same thing about Islam which is judged by what the Taliban has done.
    The bible is the truth, and Jesus said "the truth shall set you free". To deny the truth for a lie is "dangerous" . All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2Tim 3:16).
    This is reinforced also in the book of John which says in Chapter 1, verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In verse 14, referring to Jesus, it says "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us". Jesus is the Word, so cherry picking the bible for what is truth, and what is fiction is dangerous. Denying the word as truth is denying Jesus.
    Jesus is the only hope for this world. He is the "truth, the way and the life", the only way to come to the Father.

    Do not let your heart grow cold on account of the vitriol some people have directed towards you. The relationship with God is personal. God knows more about you than yourself and the people who try to put you down.

    May 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • gerald

      Jesus said to believe but he never said what to believe? Really?

      May 31, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Gerald

    The Greatest Story Ever Told – Religion. Please look at part 1 then part2 then part 3.

    Part1
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYQPIMz979w&w=640&h=360]

    May 30, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • gerald

      BS. Dionysis for instance was born January 6. Horus was born of Isis who was married to Osiris. Hardly a virgin. THe funny thing also is that Jesus according to most scholars wasn't born on Dec 25 either.

      May 31, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  17. Gerald

    Part III
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGMsxl7FEDg&w=640&h=360]

    May 30, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  18. Gerald

    Part II

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISkle1d45B0&w=640&h=360]

    May 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  19. Gerald

    Greates Story Ever Told. Must Watch Video
    Part1
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDWYEbsnWMg&w=640&h=360]

    May 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  20. lulu

    Don,
    I am sorry for all the suffering you have experienced because of the feelings that you have had since you were a child. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for you.

    As a Christian who believes that God's word is literal, except in parables and prophetic/symbolic language, I hope my response might be heard from those trying to understand and I hope that in my own imperfect understanding the Lord still might bless someone through this response.

    Please understand, that God loves you. God loves you for who you are, and he suffered enormously for you. He suffered every time you dealt with the shame or hatred placed on you by hateful people.

    A recent poster asked 'why would a loving God create his children to be gay knowing that this would cause them to suffer?' My response is that, according to the Bible, the world we live in now, and the state of animals, humans and the earth is not how he created it. The Bible says that one act of sin had a massive ripple effect that permeated all life and was made worse throughout generations. Life spans became shorter. Our proclivity to sin became innate in all humans as we are born. Only by accepting that Jesus gave his life for us can we begin to experience the hopeful change that only he can give us. To answer this question, I believe that people are born with gay inclinations, and I believe that this is one result of the change humankind experienced after sin came into our world.

    Does this mean gay people are more evil than straight people? NO! Does this give Christians the right to mock or ostracize gay people? NO! That is not Christian behavior.

    If anyone is coming to Christianity who is gay, please remember that God wants us all to come as we are. Just as I come to him every day with the realization that I'm doing something that is against God's plan for me. As you may have experienced, he has so much love and understanding to unfold to all of us. He is patient, and he is merciful.

    However, I would make a strong caution against one thing: discrediting what is stated in the Bible as fact to be allegory or parable. If you do this, sadly, what happens is what you suggested: People draw their own interpretation of the Bible. If anyone gets to pick and choose what is truth and what is fiction, then you are discrediting Christ himself who frequently used the authority of scripture to answer spiritual questions. When you discredit scripture, you discredit Christ.

    I do not believe your intention is to dishonor God, but please rely on His word and you will hear his voice, his mercy and his love and respect for you. We all have parts in the Bible that we don't quite understand, want to understand or presently struggle with. Let us all hold fast to what God tells us is truth (2 Timothy 3:16) and be set free with his truth. You as a man born with gay feelings, and I as a woman, need especially to cling to God in this world filled with deception intent on leading us astray from the reward God has for you and for me.

    I do not believe that anyone has to deny to themselves or others that they were born with the feelings they have. To all gay Christians, remember that God does not judge you on what you cannot control, but he helps you make the right decision when he has given you the conviction about what that is. Search the scriptures to find God's love for you.

    May 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Reason*

      lulu, that you take the Bible as literal is dangerous just as Mr. Lemons mentioned. All other religions are mythology, I mean no one could possibly believe they're real. Except for extremists like yourself, the Taliban, Fred Phelps and others.

      Religious fundamentalism is the seed of world destruction that's as detrimental at home as it is abroad.

      May 31, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • ponder

      Reason, I agree. Lulu is blind to the fact that people who are as literal at these are mask their personal prejudice behind what they claim is s a mythical loving god. Hate even masked on the pretense of a loving religion – is still hate. Time to wake up lulu!

      May 31, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • mike

      Lulu, you are 100% right. Thank you for PROPERLY representing our faith, as many fail to do this these days. To 'Reason' and 'Ponder' Christianity is not a religion, its a relationship with Christ. Call it a mythology if you like, but doing so is as 'dangerous' (as you put it) as you thinking the Bible isn't literal (where meant be).

      May 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • fir812ee

      lulu, and mike, you absolutely protrayed the Truth! amen and amen. Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but by me. That's faith, believing in Jesus, and what the Word says is true and living by it.

      May 31, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • His

      Thank you, Lulu, for your words!

      June 1, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • gerald

      Well said Lulu. Ponder and Reason, only the smallness of a human mind that refuses to grasp the power of the infinite loving God could be so foolish as to say "how could you possibly believe". You comprehend less than 1/10 of 1% of all that is in the earth, let alone the universe and yet you say "how is this possible". You can't see the forest through the trees because of pride in your own thinking.

      June 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • ponder

      "You can't see the forest through the trees because of pride in your own thinking."

      Actually gerald you are the one that is blinded and it's your ego in believing in what is not there that is warping your mind. You need serious mental help.

      June 2, 2011 at 2:31 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.