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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. trxsuspension

    Hello. everyone.
    would like to make new friends with you guys.

    November 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  2. Douglas

    Today we give thanks to a merciful God who has provided us with the power of celib@cy and abstinence to keep us
    pure until we exchange wedding vows. I give thanks to all of you who are making an earnest effort to respect the
    dignity of those practicing celib@cy and abstinence. Our young people need encouragement and uplift to see beyond
    the filth that can drag them down into the abyss of despair, STDs and broken hearts. Thank you for all of your efforts.
    Happy Thanksgiving!
    Douglas

    November 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "abstinence to keep us pure until we exchange wedding vows"

      Hey now Douglas is making headway that's right gays deserve to be married just like everyone else, because nowhere in the bible does your god condemn the saved loving long term partnership of a gay couple. Plus, the experts have shown that being gay is a normal part of sexuality, it's not a mental illness, it's not a choice. They deserve the same happiness and intimacy that comes from having loving relationships.

      Yes for gay marriage. – Nice job Douglas you're coming around!

      November 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Douglas

      Ok'yDok'y,
      Wow! I'm gone on travel for a couple of days and you claim I support gay marriage?
      Nice try, but no cigar. Gay marriage is forbidden in accordance with Biblical instruction.
      In Matthew 19, Jesus clearly defines marriage as the union of one man
      and one woman who become one flesh. No provisions are made for gay or lesbian marriages.
      Gays and lesbians can co-habitate, but should remain celib@te or abstinent to conform to
      Biblical instruction. There is power and salvation for gays/lesbians who can practice celib@te
      living and for straights who remain abstinent until married. It's a tough challenge and Jesus himself makes that call
      at the end of Matthew 19:12.
      Take care Ok'yDok'y and have a blessed Christmas with your family!
      Best, Douglas

      November 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Gay marriage is forbidden in accordance with Biblical instruction."

      That is not true, especially since the NT was written long after Jesus was dead so his original followers probably did not write those books. When you factor in the writer did not understand gays and lesbians back then the issue was never addressed. The writer wrote the bible from the perspective of being straight. Jesus was about love and supporting those being oppressed. I am sure all the gays that are married through their church before your god are well loved and are not considered living in sin. It's only bigoted and prejudice people like you that want to deny true happiness to those you don't understand. Being gay is normal, it's not a mental illness, it can't be voluntarily changed.

      November 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  3. AL

    Its not fear or prejudice of gays, but a beleif of morals, whats right and wrong. Its the love of christ that compels us to tell people of sins hopefully to save them. Its not fear, or prejudice or even hatred, but Christs love.

    November 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "compels us to tell people of sins"

      Being gay is not a sin – that's your problem. How's that log doing in your eye...

      November 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • fred

      Al
      I do not think the Bible says that, I think it says we are to embrace those who do not know or believe in Chirst. That would always be the first step anyway. Now, the next step is help and encourage your brothers and sisters on their journey. Notice that once Christ is your Lord and Savior and thier Lord and Savior we are all in the family of God. This family transends our life and goes on for eternity. This life is lived in Christ (recall we die to self) not some right wing commentator.

      November 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  4. Iqbal Khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J-9dn3_hpY&w=640&h=360]

    November 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  5. Douglas

    Castrate Sandusky. He engaged in forbidden acts contrary to biblical instruction.
    Now you can all clearly see the pain, heartache and suffering caused by the devil acts that I have been
    teaching about in this forum. The scourge of fornication must end now!

    November 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      o moron no where in the bible does your god condemn the saved loving long term partnership of a gay couple. The experts have shown that being gay is a normal part of sexuality, it's not a mental illness, it's not a choice. They deserve the same happiness and intimacy that comes from having loving relationships. Your post does not come from a place of love and understanding – it comes from the darkness of prejudice.

      November 15, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  6. A.L.wilder

    The Father, Son and Holy Spirit loves eneryone, but hate sin. Sin is sin in the eyes of God and the old and new testament says it. The bible is being fulfill everyday and many can't see. The bible say "the things of the flesh do not understand the thing of the spirit." Read 1cor. 6:9,10. Don't believe if you think it's wrong..How can God bless America in so much sin? May God continue to bless and protect the believers and save the unsave.

    November 11, 2011 at 4:26 am |
  7. Douglas

    There is power and salvation for gays and lesbians who can commit to celib@te lives. There is hope
    rising from the depths of sin. Fornication and filth have a toll taker. Satan is gleeful at the prospect of
    consuming unsuspecting gays and lesbians who fornicate and straights who fornicate and should know better.
    Support celib@te gays and lesbians and abstinent until marriage straights. Drive out fear and yours will be the
    victory over Satan and his minions!
    Best, Douglas

    November 3, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • JD

      You're crazy. How would you feel if you were told that sleeping with your wife is "filth" and a "sin". It sounds to me like the only person who has fear in their hearts is you. So, how about you drive it out of your own heart and leave others alone.

      November 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Douglas

      Celib@cy for GLBTQ youth is helping them to enjoy long, healthy life spans.
      Saying no to fornication is helping young Christians to remain obedient to Biblical instruction.
      Start a support group for celib@te GLBTQ youth and abstinent straight youth at your place of worship.
      Movie nights, bowling outings, community volunter projects and career mentoring can build partnerships that last a lifetime with our
      GLBTQ and straight youth.
      Best, Douglas

      November 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • tb63

      I'm gay, sleeping with my partner AND enjoying a long, healthy life. No way in hell I'm wasting my one shot at life being celibate. Just sayin'.

      November 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • steve g

      Douglas...why do you keep posting the same exact thing in multiple forums? also, i am pretty sure those that are not celibate enjoy long healthy lives as well, both hetero and non. i know myself for example am not abstinant or celibate and am living quite well, as are many of my family members. please show where your statements show no fault or error. ❤

      November 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  8. carol

    I can only add my confirmation: You are so right, Don Lemon. Keep declaring the truth.

    October 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  9. Questioning

    Stop hurting people. All people sin and struggle with certain temptations. We are born with sinful natures. My struggles are not your own. But does that mean that God likes my sin? No. He loves me – even though he is fully aware of my sin. I can choose to follow Him or follow what I want to do. Classic struggle. But very real. We will never be perfect here. No one should act like they are perfect. But, there is right and wrong. People just find it hard to realize it.

    October 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  10. Douglas

    Celib@te Gay/Lesbian youth are on the move! They are rejecting sin and STDs for salvation along with their straight counterparts who have pledged to not fornicate. It is a new day. A beacon of hope shines brightly. STDs and sin...take a hike!
    Best, Douglas

    October 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  11. Charles

    Don,
    Real talk: we need to have a discussion. There is information (verified and accurate) that might make you change your mind about a few of the statements you made in this article. If you want to know the absolute truth let me know. You sound like you have truly been searching for some real answers for a while now, and asking some very tough questions. Have no fear, the true god Jehovah will provide you an answer very soon.
    Respectfully,

    Charles R. A. Johnson
    Los Angeles

    October 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • tallulah13

      You think very highly of yourself, don't you?

      October 26, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  12. CM

    Jesus was gay! Read some gnostic heretical gospels sometime! He also killed another child for shoving him when he was a boy. His neighbors and teachers were terrified of him! Reading other gospels banned by the Church is fun. Try it sometime!

    October 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  13. Douglas

    A celibate, gay, Christian minister tells his story...a story of hope!
    There is power and salvation in celibacy for GLBTQ&Q folk!
    http://www.mlive.com/living/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2010/11/celibate_gay_author_says_you_c.html
    Best, Douglas

    October 2, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • YeahRight

      Still being an idiot showing your prejudice while spewing total nonsense. Your bible does not condemn the saved loving partnership of gay couples. Only prejudice bigoted people like you interpret it as wrong to justify their personal prejudices. Get a life and stop blocking other peoples civil rights because of your cult.

      October 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  14. Douglas

    Salvation though celibacy. This timeless message brings hope to GLBTQ&Q folks who yearn to establish a relationship with God free from acts that are forbidden and are counter to biblical instruction. Be supportive of GLBTQ&Q folks who are bold and brave in rejecting what is "popular" (multiple partners, risky behaviors, unhealthy acts) and are eager to be saved through faith. GLBTQ&Q folks need allies to support their efforts to practice celibacy. I am an ally, how about you?
    Best, Douglas

    September 23, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Salvation though celibacy. This timeless message brings hope to GLBTQ&Q folks who yearn to establish a relationship with God free from acts that are forbidden and are counter to biblical instruction. "

      Still pushing your pathetic nonsense. Your bible states no such thing about the saved loving partnership of gay couples. Only prejudice bigoted people like you interpret it that way. Get a life and stop blocking other peoples civil rights because of your cult.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • tallulah13

      There is much more evidence that ho.mos.exuality is innate than there is evidence of the existence of god. In fact, there is NO evidence of the existence of god. Perhaps you ought to consider who has taught you to hate yourself, and why?

      October 26, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  15. Anne

    My choice wasn't to be left handed but I am. I could have been forced to be right handed but it wouldn't have changed that fact that I was left handed. 10% of the population is left handed.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  16. King James Bible Society

    King James Audio Visual Bible – and it is free at http://kingjamesbiblesociety.org

    September 13, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • YeahRight

      King James was gay moron.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  17. News Runner

    Okay lets make a clear statement, God does love gays but does not see the actions of gays as a holy or divine thing. God designed this world for men and women to be together and have babies. His purpose for this world has always been for the race of men to "multiply and replenish the earth." We are all children of God and in turn were all created equal. He did not decide that this person would be born gay and this person be born straight. No, not at all. The world around us and satan mislead people into choosing the gay life. As much as people say, its just a feeling they can't control, its not so. It's an emotion that they choose to follow, one that is influenced by satan to mislead people away from God's plan. He will use anything to make sure that you are blind or mislead from what God has planned for you. If he can make you feel gay, you won't have kids, thus foiling God being able to use you as a tool in his hand. You can just follow your heart on everything, cause really that means your following emotion and feeling which is unstable, BUT the purpose of this life is to control this body and the emotions and feelings, not to let them run our lives. Praying and acting upon the answers and reactions that you get from God are the only ways to counter act this temptation to be gay. Pray hard for it and act and I promise you that if you do it with real intent to change and don't doubt the power that God can have in your life, that he can change your heart and have those temptation taken away from your life.

    September 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • tb63

      So tell me, did Satan tempt you to be gay, but you resisted and CHOSE to be straight?

      I thought not.

      September 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Me!

      That is the MOST dumbest explanation I've ever read of why someone should "pray the gay away". Do us a favor and shut up.

      September 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Me!

      BTW, I'm not gay. I'm an atheist.

      September 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Keenan

      Well said!!

      October 2, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Tamborine

      @News Runner
      You said
      1) "BUT the purpose of this life is to control this body and the emotions and feelings, not to let them run our lives".
      2) "It's an emotion that they choose to follow"

      Really? This is what you think our purpose in life is? To control our body and feelings? You sound like a person who has been brainwashed and decided to do some personal suppression.

      Perhaps you need to come out of the closet yourself and read a little science.

      October 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  18. Evan

    1. I don't believe the bible is a book of little suggestions.
    2. God loves the gays just as much as me or anyone reading this.

    September 10, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Yvonne r.

      Oh please! You can't pick and choose what to believe in the Bible. So is a day in the Bible actually thousands of years? You are either with God or without God. Be gay if you want to be gay, you've made that choice. We will all see what the truth is when we die and come face to face with God.

      October 4, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Uh oh. Yvonner, you've got a bit of Pascal's Wager that slipped into your post.
      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager

      October 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • tb63

      Um, no Yvonne, I didn't make that choice. Nobody choses their orientation – period. Why would I chose to put up with you people?

      October 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  19. Douglas

    An alternative to celibacy that is gaining popularity in GLBTQ&Q Jewish circles is pairing gays and lesbians for marriage as a means of transitioning for family life. This holds promise and is worth examining as an alternative to celibacy for GLBTQ&Q folks.
    Here is the info: http://news.yahoo.com/israeli-rabbi-pairs-gays-lesbians-061904417.html
    Where there is a will, there is a way. Best, Douglas

    September 3, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • tb63

      No thanks. I'll just be happy with who I am. Waste your own life being miserable. Don't tell me I have to.

      September 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  20. Juli

    This is kinda a question: how you are born gay/lesbian? I personally believe its a choice since like its a feeling and you choose to feel certain ways about yourself and other people. For example, I could be born physically a boy but I feel like I should've been a girl...idk how you can be born feeling that since you develop your thoughts as you mature. I am not in anyway trying to put down anyone, I'm just curious to hear other people's opinions.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • tb63

      It's just as much a choice as your skin color. I don't know how else to put it.

      September 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • AnnieS

      tb63, I had always had my own way of explaining it but, if you don't mind I will be borrowing yours in the future. Brilliant!

      September 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Ben

      I've met gay people who say its a choice...

      November 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |
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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.