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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. tryecrot

    Yes there should realize the opportunity to RSS commentary, quite simply, CMS is another on the blog.

    August 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  2. Melody

    The saddest part about all of this is that everyone has formed and opinion and deemed it as so because you said it. To everyone and everything there is an origin and an original intended purpose for existence. To disagree or agree with one’s opinion doesn't necessarily make it so. We all learn different things at different times from different sources. The bible is genius in that it has a way of reaching everyone if you allow it to. As it relates to being gay, I am not judgmental because God loves gay people but he doesn't love the act of being gay. Just like he loves the liar but he doesn't approve of lying. Just because it is what you first liked or enjoyed or identified with doesn't mean that was His design for you.

    If I take a new shoe out of the box and use it to hammer a nail into the wall before I wear it doesn't mean it was designed to be a hammer. So instead of trying to convince everyone else that what you are is ok, how about ask God what was his original design and plan for you...you can argue back and forth with me and everyone else all day but I am not the judge.

    August 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  3. Rico

    Y'know. The bible is also kind of on the fence about beastiality. So, I think I'm going to marry my dog. Then maybe my pup and I will adopt a young child, and thank goodness I'll be able to home school the child and raise him to understand that the love shared between animals and man are just as valid as those shared by gays and straights and bis and trans, etc...

    Hey, don't blame me, you ignorant people...you don't understand that I was born this way...

    August 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • DUH

      The fact you posted this demonstrates how ignorant you are regarding this issue. Animals can't consent you moron. The APA has proven that gays and lesbians are great parents, the children turn out just fine and sexual orientation isn't determined by parenting style. DUH!

      August 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Monbois

      "Rico"? Isn't that Spanish for "idiot"?

      August 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • LOL

      LOL

      August 29, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  4. The Lionly Lamb of God Does Roar

    Within the above Blog is written, "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."

    "Having crushes on boys" is a Natural thing! It is looking toward others of the same se-x to be a part and parcel of one's peer group. I too nad "crushes" so to speak on many of my peers when I was but a child not yet in my teens. I was fearful and did comment to other guys badly about girls. When I did finally have a "crush" on the opposite s-ex, I was in high shool and was around 13 years of age. Childhood and the teen years become our indelible reasonings when one reaches early adolesence before one does finaly become adult orientated in our manifestations of rudimetary beliefs toward Being but a humane believer of socialization's and culturalism's Ethnicities wherewith we become like seabirds soaring high above the masses of one's childhood years. As people stand upon their ownliness beliefs, regardless why, an individual is self-persuaded by their sometimes unsound reasoning abilities which do become as a permanent fixation come Adulthood and cannot hardly ever be reversed especially by otherly forces within society that will not let alone one's iconic belief system!

    August 5, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Monbois

      HUH???!!!

      Gay or not, you're a weirdo!!!!

      August 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  5. doug

    i honestly dont think gays are at fault for anything. they were born that way. and they have a right to live their life the way they want just as much that any other man and woman, straight or gay, on this planet we all have to coexist in

    July 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  6. Hi

    Being gay,black, and male you get triple hatred. Why would anyone sign up for that? Black's have been judged, hated on from day one.(hair,skin,nose,etc) so they become experts at judging. Sad.

    July 28, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • Monbois

      Personally I think black women have it tougher than black men because they're looked down on just for being women, whereas black men are accepted at least for being men.

      And let's not forget that black men are stereotyped to all be very well endowed. Although all stereotypes are wronge and based on prejudice, this is one that I've not heard a lot of black men complain about.

      August 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  7. anm

    For those of you who wish to judge, read Roman's 14:4. That verse tells about us about His feelings on this. I have learned to love others in Christianly love, but you do not have to like their choices in life. God is the ultimate judge not man.

    July 23, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • rawr

      And, threatening people with imaginary places of pain and suffering is cool. Right?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  8. SAFA

    We (Christians) are not the judges of anyone in this world, and that includes gay people. God loves them as well and he wants to save their souls as well, like the Bible says he loves sinners but not their sins. People of God stop arguing with people that don't understand the spiritual thing in the Bible because they have a natural mind and start praying for them and preaching the gospel so that God includes them in his plan to save humanity from evil. God bless EVERYONE.

    July 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • LOL

      The only problem with your criticism is you are not considering God created gay people in his image as well. Nothing in the bible is relevant to what we now know about them, nor does it condemn the saved loving gay relationships. It does condemn male prost-itution, ra=pe and idolatry or did you not read a history book to put the scriptures into context.

      July 21, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Coloradonative54321

      It appears you are considering being gay as something that is wrong...however, it is not wrong, because it is not a choice to be gay.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • rawr

      If God really did create us in his image... shouldn't we be invisible and incorporeal?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  9. me

    One more thing. If you don't believe try this. One time and it will change your life I promise. Neal down one night say the Our Father and then ask Jesus to come into your heart with the truth and see what happens. Once you get your answer don't be afraid of it. Live it. Then on the same night say one hail mary, one glory be and ask mary to interceed between you and Jesus to have him come into you and fill you with the seed of truth. Amen and peace be with all of you.

    July 19, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Coloradonative54321

      Actually, I wouldnt want to do that...or I might become like you 😦 sorry

      July 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Been there, done that...well, not the Mary part...but still.

      Want to know when my life really and truly changed? When I walked away from Christianity and embraced true unconditional love for my fellow man.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  10. me

    People God loves everyone. If he did not he would not have created you with his Will. He certainly would not of allowed his Son to die. I am a Christian that trys to live a good life with prayer. I know everyone else may have their own beliefs because they have been brought up a certain way. Remember that we are all people. What did Jesus say? He does not require sacrifice he requires mercy. He was the sacrifice for the entire world. Do not judge less you your self be judge the same. Saying that you don't agree with gays is not a judgement on them just their actions but be careful. We can only pray to Jesus and Mary to ask them to change their hearts so that they may see the truth. To those of you that have never read the Bible read it. I promise it will change your life. Remeber the book is about knowledge. All the stories in their are to help you learn how to live right and holy not to die. Believe in Jesus for he die because he so believed in you. Have mercy on all so that our great savior may have mercy on you. Love is what will save this world not opinions or judgements.

    July 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Coloradonative54321

      It appears you consider being gay to be wrong...however it is not wrong for one reason...it is not a choice...

      July 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  11. CALISUNRIZER82

    I am the least to judge a person, however, I think that they are touched in the womb by Satan. If you are not brought up around that, how would you know what it is? I have a sister that is a lesbian and I don't think she stood her ground on saying no to something that is an a abomination. Me and my sisters were raised in the truth. If you don't like men, why look like one? If you don't like women, why look like one? You have the boyish girls that like girly women, but the girly woman doesn't like men...so, why are you with someone that looks like one???? If you are a girly guy and you don't like women, why look like one??????? All Satan is doing is causing confusion. That is his job....to prowl this earth to devour whom he may... Think people!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • CALISUNRIZER82

      A 2y/o can't decide that he/she doesn't like themselves...A 3y/o can't either....many have said they felt like that since they was young. Unfortunately, where did you learn that you was not ok in who you was born in??? There are those that change their lifestyle based on how they was treated by boyfriends or girlfriends....that is no excuse to say who you think you should be. When you cross the line and CHANGE(physically) who you are, you are calling Jehovah a liar... If I wanted a brother, I would go to the Boys & Girls Club and adopt a brother... Satan has them twisted. That is what this world is SUPPOSED to come down to. Revelations says it all. Actually, the whole Bible does. Don't try to analyze what is written and make it to fit into something else. Take the words as they are written.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • crew75

      Thats such a blatant sterotype. I am a man and I love a man there is nothing girlyish about us.

      July 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • LOL

      "I am the least to judge a person, however, I think that they are touched in the womb by Satan. I"

      Science has proven you wrong, it has to do with hormones levels and genetics. Wow you are one scary person.

      July 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Coloradonative54321

      I truly feel bad for people like you 😦 you live a life full of hate and ignorance. Being gay is not wrong for one reason...it is not a choice...please try to understand that, if you can.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      I am a woman. I look like a woman. I have long hair and a well endowed chest.

      I love people based not on how they look, but on who they are. My current guy-friend is a big guy, tall, broad at the showers, big hands, deep voice. My current female-friend is girly, with sensuous curves and long hair.

      Your stereotypes are dated and useless and insulting.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  12. Noble9

    In Leviticus it very clearly states that for a man to lie with another man is an abomination. It also states that you can't eat geckos and ostriches, that you are to present goat sacrifices with the liver and kidneys still attached, and that you need to sacrifice seven lambs, one bull, and two rams every year for the Festival of Weeks.

    Practical everyday advice.

    July 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible must have anticipated Geico ads.

      July 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • LOL

      That is referring to only to a specific form of ho-mo-se-xual prosti-tution, that is performed in a pagan temple. It has nothing to do with how we now understand it today.

      July 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • CALISUNRIZER82

      I agree. Many people try to what the truth is to MAKE it fit. Its sad to see them perish if they don't repent.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • LOL

      "Its sad to see them perish if they don't repent."

      There is nothing to repent when God created you, science has shown gays are born this way.

      July 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  13. Nikki

    Over the years i have read many articles like this, then i see the negative reactions and comments that follow it. This has pushed me to be an athiest. I believe that all people have a right to love whom they want to love and what we believe should not be determined by what predjuiced men who lived many many years ago thought. It has been proven that Martin Luther was anti sematic, and the catholic church is constantly their views (ie suicide), what are regular people to believe?

    July 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • scott

      Martin Luther was only anti-sematic in the last couple years of his life. It has been blamed on several forms of dementia.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Vincent

      The Bible is God-Breathed literature... False interpretations that are not endorsed or pleasing to God are things that you should look down upon. The Bible is clear cut and as long as you believe Jesus died to take away our sins and that we should repent and confess our sins. Sorry to break it to you, but there is only one truth and one train to heaven. Our desires to love and engage with whomever and to believe whatever is from the evil desire of our heart to soothe oneself at any cost. People are chasing the desires promised to be, and that seem to be fulfilling. People are choosing a life that is coated in gold paint, rather than to refine oneself through the Word and through the conviction you feel. Why focus on man's mistakes (Martin Luther King), and the men who run the "church", the 1 true important thing is to worry about "How is your relationship with God", and if you are willing to see the truths outlined in the Bible, then you do not need to take attention of another person's stumble in Christianity, but rather pray that they get back on the right track. Feel free to ask any questions

      July 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  14. sarah

    I've been reading these comment threads on here for the past couple days, and my heart has been heavy with all the hatred and negative comments toward one another. What's the point? By hating or bashing someone for what they believe, we are still hating. I believe one thing, you believe another... one day we will all find out the absolute truth. I know we all feel the need to prove that what we believe is right, but how do we prove that? We don't. There is no way to. I will add that I am a Christian, and I am disgusted with the remarks on here by other Christians. Please, don't get caught up in the negativity. Think before you speak. Our faith is what sets us apart. There is no way to prove our faith to other people. Our command is to be a light to the world, to be different and to stand apart. We are to be loving, patient, and understanding, whether we agree with something/someone or not. It isn't our place to pass judgment. It isn't our place to save someone or even change their mind. God changes people's hearts and minds when we allow him to. He knows what He's doing more than we do.

    To everyone who has been offended by Christians on here, I sincerely apologize. We are all human, and sometimes we can get caught up in our emotions. Please know that God did make everyone in His image, and He loves us more than we can comprehend.
    If you disagree with me, that's okay. But please, don't attack me with negative remarks. I know that arguments and outrage were not Don's intentions when writing this article. Let's all be a little more open-minded toward each other.. we'll all benefit from that!

    June 29, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • tb63

      This is the best comment in this thread. Thank you Sarah.

      June 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Yo

      You can have your opinion as long as it doesn't stop gays from getting their civil rights. Do you support civil rights?

      June 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • sarah

      Yo- Truthfully, I am still forming an opinion on that. I grew up being taught by my parents and everyone else not to support gay rights, but I don't want to believe something just because my parents do. There's still a lot that I'm trying to understand, and would like to do more research on. I [try] to always be empathetic and see/undetstand both sides.

      June 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • sarah

      *understand

      And, I don't think my opinion is powerful enough to prevent or cause gays getting their Civil Rights... though that would be cool if I was that powerful 😉 However, I can still have an opinion, can't I?

      June 29, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Yo

      "And, I don't think my opinion is powerful enough to prevent or cause gays getting their Civil Rights... though that would be cool if I was that powerful 😉 However, I can still have an opinion, can't I?"

      The people you vote into Congress, your state legislators and your community gives you that power, use it wisely.

      June 30, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Vincent

      We as Christians are supposed to rebuke one another so that they may correct themselves. In Ezekiel Chapter 2 & 3 it tells us to speak the truth and to preach the Word that God has given us (Bible), "whether they hear or refuse to hear because they are a rebellious house" We are also either to be hot or cold, not lukewarm or God will spit us out. So how can we compromise on subject matter that we know to be either a sin or not, so I am pretty sure that it is in our responsibility to rebuke, not judge. By rebuking one another we are truly showing the love of Christ because it shows that we (Christians) take an interest and desire to save one another through Christ.

      July 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Believer

      Amen to Sarah! There is a fine line between judging and observations. Our job as Christians is to love and be the light not to put people down or judge them. Good comment Sarah. Be an example by our actions of love.

      July 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Gail

      Sarah, well said. I, too, am a Christian, but my sister is Lesbian. I know it is not my place to judge, that is left for the One to do. But she is not evil, an abomination, or "touched by Satan in the womb"...she is who she is, and because of hate and ignorance has had more struggle and hardship in her life than any one person should have to experience, People will hate because someone loves, and yet,the same person will look the other way when a friends husband/boyfriend beats the living hell out of her..."well, thats not my business." Yup, we, as human beings have appointed ourselves judge, jury and executioner...but only at our choosing....It's a wonder God hasn't pulled the plug on all of us before now...But thank you, Sarah, for speaking with a voice of reason concerning this! Too bad tolerance wasn't taught right along with all that fire and brimstone that was dished out...

      August 5, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  15. JD

    Don,

    Please stop rewriting, misinterpreting, and discrediting our religious texts to better suit your lifestyle choices. Thank You.

    Sincerely,

    Religious People

    June 28, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • tb63

      JD,

      Please stop telling us how to live our lives. Thank you.

      Sincerely,

      Everyone Else

      June 29, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Max

      Don,
      Don't worry about the nonreligious. Religious people have been doing that even before the Christian Bible was canonized. Case in point: the virgin birth. A Christian doctrine that only exists because the gospel writers read a mistranslated version of the Jewish scriptures. And according to one of the most respected Evangelical Pastors (though not for long) hell no longer exists.
      Cheers,
      God-fearing Atheist

      July 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Max

      My response was to JD not Don. Sorry for the mistake. I'm only human just like the writers of every word in the bible. cheers

      July 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Gail

      JD, Please stop speaking for all "Religious people" everywhere. I am a Christian....and there is a difference between being a "Christian" and being a "Religious person"...obviously, being a "religious person" carries with it more judgemental rights than does being "Christian"....and, before casting that stone, maybe you should just step back a minute and self examine. I know that when I do...it's very humbling!

      August 5, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  16. Jessi

    So true! Great article 🙂

    June 28, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  17. Nick

    Excellent article, very well said. I had an upbringing that was similar in many ways – thank you so much for sharing.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  18. Linnea

    Beautifully said.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  19. Jacob

    Excellent article, so full of truth. It's what I've always thought and how I've understood the matter.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  20. awdam

    spray it away?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:46 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.