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. Cathie

    thanks to the author. Isn't it time we quit confusing religion and God?

    May 22, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  2. Rich

    Religion is delusion.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  3. Jimbo

    God bless you Don, and God bless the folks who reared you.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  4. terry wrist

    so you make a story and everyone goes oh,thats sad, first of all dont care your gay,and second it seems like your the one with problem not the rest of us, if people dont want accept that this is wrong than theres nothing any one can tell them. its a sickness and you cant make it good when its not, you can put frosting on a pile of carp, its still a pile of crap.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      Some Bible thumpers are out showing their love this morning, just before they go to their church-of-hate.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Chicken Little

      When you decide to go back to school and learn some correct English spelling and usage, maybe take a course or two in .... oh forget it. YOU'RE, (get it), a waste of time.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • terry wrist

      your absolutely right, iam going too church this morning and iam full of hate, i hate the sin not the Pearson,i hate the fact that everyone wants to embrace something that one is against God law, and not too long ago was mans law.i just wonder how many of you will be all for this sickness when the end really comes?I know this is what cause alot of civilization to fall because they let the people become perverted just like we are becoming today and i bet that all these people that wonder whats wrong with the world today,well one of the problems is divan t behavior like this.God bless, have a nice day.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Are you kidding ? "Deviant" ? Who even says that any more, old man. It's "variant". Get a clue.
      Fluffy is agitated this morning.
      Good on you Don Lemon. I always knew there was something I liked about you !

      May 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Jason the Pendleton Rat

      Hop on your wheel, you'll be ok.
      If your ears were ringing last night, it's cuz we were talking about you. You're the funniest da-m thing to "happen" here in months.

      May 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  5. alex

    funny, we don't get as much problem with gay people in canada that you do in the usa.... In fact I lived next to a gay community and everything is perfectly fine, it even adds something interesting to the neighborhood !

    May 22, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  6. Damian

    People get confused easily, God gave us the Bible as a guide, to instruct us how to live following his law and be good childs before his eyes, we are in a time that interpretation has already passed, this time is to act and obey we are mentally capable of understanding what God said thru the Bible, now satan wants us to get confused by understanding everything the wrong way, God said no man shall joint another man, period. what interpretation do we have to give to that phrase? NONE!. Brothers, everyone that loves GOD will follow his commandments. The thing is that people will rather living in darkness than humiliating and ask for forgiveness and changed their live since they feel that doing whatever is currently done is just fine, so many people get lost every single day by listening to satan. sad truly sad

    May 22, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • Sassan

      Just read back to yourself what you typed. Satan?? God's laws?? First of all, we live in a secular nation. Second of all, if you are no longer a child and a man as you claim I suggest you start living your life with some rationality and ask yourself why you believe in such ridiculous fairy-stories created thousands of years ago before the advent of science. Science is a beautiful thing; your fairy stories are simply fairy stories and have no relevance to the lives of people who live their lives with a little bit of logic.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      Biblical interpretations by the self-righteous, no matter how tepid, always tend to break down into a judgmental, nasty rant.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Cherriesxo

      I completely, completely agree with you. There are some people out there that have common sense.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Cherriesxo

      @Sassan You have truly strayed from the right path. Who do you think created "science"? He who is Creator of all. You are following the path of satan, giving in to his tempting whispers. It is not too late to repent. Perhaps God will forgive you if you do for he is Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Oft-Forgiving. On Judgement Day he will judge you. There's a grievous punishment for the sinners so repent now while you can. You are the one being trick by "fairies" or demons I should say.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Cherriesxo

      I meant I completely agree with Damian.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Sassan

      lol @ cherriesxo. Who created god? And no, you can't say "he was always there". And who created god's god and god's god's god and on and on and on....god is a figment of your imagination and is a result of lack of scientific knowledge. You will live in delusion but the only "wrong path" that I have gone in your deluded mind is a world of rationality, logic, and scientific knowledge and understanding. I bet you think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old...am I right?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Chicken Little

      The plural form of "child" is "children". I stopped there. Anyone who doesn't get that is not worth the 5 seconds it takes to read what he tried to write.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  7. Susan

    Thank you, Mr. Lemon, for this thoughtful piece.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  8. Nick

    You say that you are no longer part of any church but believe in a higher power. Isn't this a bit too convenient? A higher power who has no "wants" no "musts" no "shalls"... following the same reasoning this power has no mercy, no love, no blessings to give you. It is just an abstract blob of supernatural located somewhere with absolutely no direct or indirect effects on your being... Do you honestly believe that? When you look yourself in the mirror each morning... when I look myself in the mirror each morning, do we not see hopeless men breaking our own promises and being above all self-centered? Do you not see a broken creature, created for something far greater and nobler than the life we live when we try to live it by ourselves? I see that... I definitely see that... and Christ sees that... thats why I need him. Because his life can give life to my dead soul

    May 22, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • sassypants


      May 22, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • ALeigh

      You don't have to "belong" to a church to believe in god or Jesus. There are plenty of people who belong to churches who don't. And there are plenty of people from both categories that claim to be Christians that don't act very Christian. I am not saying that all people of the Christian faith act this way, but (from my experience) it does seem to be the majority. They are the most intolerant, hate filled, judgmental people I have ever had the misfortune of interacting with. It's their way or the highway. If the god of the bible really does exist, no person; living or dead, knows his mind. Not one person has all the answers or actually can know the path of salvation. And you sitting there judging this man is a HUGE no-no according to your own doctrine. The very Jesus you spoke of says "Judge not, lest ye be judged". I guess you have failed in that aspect. So for you and all the people like you who want to sit on your high horses and think that you are so righteous and so knowledgeable in the way the rest of the world should live their lives, maybe you should practice what you preach. He who lives in glass houses, should not throw stones.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  9. Pam

    I agree Don. We must realize that differences must be loved and appreciated. God made us all special and unique and that should be celebrated.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • sassypants

      Light and Dark have nothing in common. If a brother is sinning we are to tell him he is sinning and if he refuses to repent then he must be on his way! This man wants his sin to be accepted and that absolutely goes against church teaching. He needs to repent and get on with his Christian walk or stop pretending and leading others astray.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  10. JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

    My brother was subjected to religious brain washing and guilt. That's when I realized how evil organized religion is. There simply was no love or acceptance.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • sassypants

      Yes, we are to love our gay neighbor enough to tell him the truth about God and sin.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  11. thanks don

    this was beautifully written. any religion-based justification of hate and oppression is disgusting and shameful. many of the posters here seem to have taken it upon themselves to judge others. i hope they're prepared to answer for all of their sins when the time comes.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • nimitta

      A great article, true. I'd just add that there is no such thing as 'sin', outside of the minds of some human beings (but not others!). Sin is a primitive concept that doesn't represent anything actually found in human beings, nature, or the cosmos – it is a purely human construct, a misconception that hinders rather than helps us to understand reality. Like you, I grew up with all this mumbo-jumbo, but eventually opened my eyes to the fact that there's no 'sin' out there, no devil, no hell. And here's the real 'good news': they are not necessary at all for people to be kind, generous, non-violent, or compassionate. In past times it was difficult to demonstrate this, but today's scientific inquiry has settled the question: atheists who reject nonsensical ideas like sin, the devil, and hell are just as good morally as believers, and actually behave better than most fundamentalists (think 9/11!).

      May 22, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  12. JT

    When anyone starts a sentence with "the bible says" then you should read no further.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Kirby

      I could not agree more. Nothing against religion, but it seems that these Christ-ites do far more harm than good when they are trying, "spread the good word."

      May 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • sassypants

      Kirby Honey, Christ is alive and well. He dominates the scene and if it were not for these Christ-ites.. the rest of you would most likely be dead after killing each other off by now.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Ducci

      The Bible is replete with offensive views that depict how the Hebrews constructed their society inside the Levant during their exile from Palestine. There are dozens of authors of the OT and the NT, so you will not find too much unanimity. That said, the Bible also calls its adherents to love their neighbor as themselves – what's your problem with that? Anything that is written in this world (including this dumb a$$ post) is partial.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • ALeigh

      That is not entirely true, I am not a Christian, but I can quote their bible better than most of them. I use this when one of them tries to argue religion with me, I have found that being well armed with knowledge is the best way to put them in their place and get them to STFU. If you learn their bible better than them, it is very easy to make them look stupid...even though some of them do the job for you.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  13. Malik

    Bayard Rustin (the man whom orchestrated the 1968 March on Washington for MLK) best summarized it all:

    "[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 22, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • mgrandon

      Ooops! March on Washington was 1963 not 1968. My bad!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • BadumpTSH

      Wow–so your goal is to take away everyone's right to publicly express any antigay sentiment?? What about the first amendment????? Where does it end–can I express the opinion that being an unwed teen mother is a problem - or is that another lifestyle choice that I shouldn't be able to express an opinion on?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Ducci


      Big ups on dropping Bayard Rustin, THE unsung hero of Civil Rights movement, in my opinion. I think there is a video on YouTube of him debating Malcolm X.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Allison

      Badump, expressing anti gay sentiment is absolutely anybody's right. It's the manifestation of that anti gay sentiment that needs to stop. People can hate anybody they want, but when that hate interferes with anothers pursuit of life liberty and happiness then it crosses the line of what is acceptable.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  14. John Richardson

    Thank you, Mr Lemon, for a post that will help others find the courage to be who they are, not what bigots want them to be.

    May 22, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Thomas


      May 22, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  15. Adelina

    America, don't be a des-pi-cable nation where freedom and perversions are confused. Your glory will be your shame as the Bible says. People are evil, therefore all the possible noble ideals get contaminated and abused and misused.

    May 22, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • nimitta

      Adelina, your ideas are insane and repulsive. Thanks for writing and providing such a vivid example of what Don Lemon was up against. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that your views are the stuff that we're all up against. Shame you didn't just float away somewhere yesterday!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • DrPete

      Adelina, thank you for serving as a shining example of what's wrong with religion these days.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • sassypants

      I agree Adelina.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  16. Adelina

    Young gay people must be taught sin as sin. Withholding vital truth from children is real unforgivable child-abuse. The Bible says those people who make children astray must expect the most severe judgment eternally from God. Rightly so.

    May 22, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • DrPete

      The Bible also says any child who disobeys their parents deserves to die.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • sassypants

      I agree. Why is this even news? It should be buried in the lifestyle section. Christians are to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. Transformed means to cause (a cell) to undergo genetic transformation; to cause to change. It sounds like this man gave up and has embraced his carnal nature. He was unsuccessful and is in no position to teach anyone about faith or the bible.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • DrPete

      sassypants, that is the biggest load of stool I've heard in a long time.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • sassypants

      DrPete – As an overcomer by the grace of God, I would have to argue that you are not one to give advice either.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  17. Adelina

    Life of ho-mo-s-e-x-uals must be protected and they must not put to death for the act itself, but society must grant citizens freedom to condemn sin as sin freely in any public places and to refuse to treat anything as marriage if it is not the normal union of one man and one woman. Otherwise, the society is not free but tyrannical. Oppression from perverts is the last thing the world needs. We must pray for their repentance and for restoration of moral society, never condone anyone's immoral destructive behaviors which will only bring the downfall of everyone. Certain types of immorality destroy the whole society.

    May 22, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • DrPete

      You need to enlighten yourself a bit. Why not spend your sunday trying to actually learn something about what Jesus taught, not the windbags who taught you to hate and judge self-righteously.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • JesusSaidLoveThyGayNeighbor

      judge not, lest ye be judged – oh self-righteous ones

      May 22, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Adelina

      @J-S-L-T-G-N-, Read the Bible again. We are not to judge better Christians than ourselves but we are commanded to judge pagans and perverts including ignorants like you. Please don't quote the Bible if you don't know what it means.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • JSinKC

      Adelina – "@J-S-L-T-G-N-, Read the Bible again. We are not to judge better Christians than ourselves but we are commanded to judge pagans and perverts including ignorants like you. Please don't quote the Bible if you don't know what it means."

      In order to determine if someone is a better or worse Christian than yourself, you have to judge them (which if they happen to be a better christian to you, then you just failed).

      May 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Yup

      Adelina fails a lot.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  18. Bryan

    Awww are u gay? Why don't we go eat some hay, and lay by the bay, I just may, what'd ya say? Hahahahaha

    May 22, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  19. Malik

    Don's coming out has changed the conversation and opened dialogue. He is a great icon, great example, great positive role model, and now my personal super hero. Don has no clue how far, wide and deep reaching his transparency has impacted me and so so many men of color mentally, physically and spiritually. THANK YOU Don!

    May 22, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  20. Kim

    I never knew so many people discredited God or the truth of His Word.

    The bottom line with all of this is that no matter who you are or what you struggle with, one should always love. Love the LORD with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself .

    The honest seeker of Truth understands that love is the answer to all things.


    Love God more and love others as you would yourself.

    Pray for those who struggle with challenges (no matter what they are).

    Believe that God can give you a new mind and new heart that is rooted in His truth.

    Understand that there will be some who don't accept or agree with God's Word.

    Appreciate that pure religion is not the problem, the problem is ignorance and the lack of or willingness to understand and/or to accept God's truth as THE truth.

    Know that sometimes, people want their truth to be accepted for all and by all.

    Believe that in the end, we will all have to answer for the choices we made in this life.

    Mr. Lemon is an excellent reported, who clearly faced adversity. I'm sorry. Still, keep chasing after truth with a sincere heart, and Truth, you will find,

    Blessings and Grace,

    May 22, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Sassan

      Maybe god doesn't exist and it is the pigment of your imagination most likely as a mechanism for coping with your own eventual demise and the death of your loved ones.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:42 am |
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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.