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. Reason In Its True Form

    It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  2. william coffey

    i can t understand that people discriminate against gay people... that enrage me... by the way i am a black guy for all your stereotyped head people. o go to progay rallye, people deserve equal right, so therefore a gay guy should not be discriminate against....

    March 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  3. Bishop John

    Some argue that since homosexual behavior is "unnatural" it is contrary to the order of creation. Behind this pronouncement are stereotypical definitions of masculinity and femininity that reflect rigid gender categories of patriarchal society. There is nothing unnatural about any shared love, even between two of the same gender, if that experience calls both partners to a fuller state of being. Contemporary research is uncovering new facts that are producing a rising conviction that homosexuality, far from being a sickness, sin, perversion or unnatural act, is a healthy, natural and affirming form of human sexuality for some people. Findings indicate that homosexuality is a given fact in the nature of a significant portion of people, and that it is unchangeable.

    http://www.dignitycanada.org/images/dotclear.gifOur prejudice rejects people or things outside our understanding. But the God of creation speaks and declares, "I have looked out on everything I have made and `behold it (is) very good'." . The word (Genesis 1:31) of God in Christ says that we are loved, valued, redeemed, and counted as precious no matter how we might be valued by a prejudiced world.

    There are few biblical references to homosexuality. The first, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, is often quoted to prove that the Bible condemns homosexuality. But the real sin of Sodom was the unwillingness of the city's men to observe the laws of hospitality. The intention was to insult the stranger by forcing him to take the female role in the sex act. The biblical narrative approves Lot's offer of his virgin daughters to satisfy the sexual demands of the mob. How many would say, "This is the word of the Lord"? When the Bible is quoted literally, it might be well for the one quoting to read the text in its entirety.

    http://www.dignitycanada.org/images/dotclear.gifLeviticus, in the Hebrew Scriptures, condemns homosexual behaviour, at least for males. Yet, "abomination", the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexuality, is the same word used to describe a menstruating woman. Paul is the most quoted source in the battle to condemn homosexuality ( 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and Romans 1: 26-27). But homosexual activity was regarded by Paul as a punishment visited upon idolaters by God because of their unfaithfulness. Homosexuality was not the sin but the punishment.

    http://www.dignitycanada.org/images/dotclear.gifIn 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul gave a list of those who would not inherit the Kingdom of God. That list included the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and robbers. Sexual perverts is a translation of two words; it is possible that the juxtaposition of malakos, the soft, effeminate word, with arsenokoitus, or male prostitute, was meant to refer to the passive and active males in a homosexual liaison.

    http://www.dignitycanada.org/images/dotclear.gifThus, it appears that Paul would not approve of homosexual behavior. But was Paul's opinion about homosexuality accurate, or was it limited by the lack of scientific knowledge in his day and infected by prejudice born of ignorance? An examination of some of Paul's other assumptions and conclusions will help answer this question. Who today would share Paul's anti-Semitic attitude, his belief that the authority of the state was not to be challenged, or that all women ought to be veiled? In these attitudes Paul's thinking has been challenged and transcended even by the church! Is Paul's commentary on homosexuality more absolute than some of his other antiquated, culturally conditioned ideas?

    http://www.dignitycanada.org/images/dotclear.gifThree other references in the New Testament (in Timothy, Jude and 2 Peter) appear to be limited to condemnation of male sex slaves in the first instance, and to showing examples (Sodom and Gomorrah) of God's destruction of unbelievers and heretics (in Jude and 2 Peter respectively).
    http://www.dignitycanada.org/images/dotclear.gifThat is all that Scripture has to say about homosexuality. Even if one is a biblical literalist, these references do not build an ironclad case for condemnation. If one is not a biblical literalist there is no case at all, nothing but prejudice born of ignorance, that attacks people whose only crime is to be born with an unchangeable sexual predisposition toward those of their own sex

    March 26, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  4. romeo

    i would encourage all to research(sodom & Gomorrah) that will clear up or give answers to how God feels about these sins among us to day. may God have mercy on us.

    March 22, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Douglas

      Romeo, Good point!
      The Bible is a very useful reference in regards to this subject.
      Recurring passages condemn male on male s@x and woman on woman s@x.
      The solution is celibate living for gays and lesbians. Straights are also bound by Biblical instruction
      and they must refrain from fornication until they have been betrothed to their spouse. At that point,
      s@x within marriage with your spouse is acceptable and part of God's plan for mankind's survival.

      Romeo good work. There is hope for GLBTQ and straight folks as long as they abide by Biblical authority.


      March 22, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Sam Wise

      I completely agree I have done many research projects at my local adult learning center on Sodom and Gomorrah and I just have to say I can't believe the ignorance of these people here in America. I love America but the population here could stand to go through revival week at my house of worship the Church of the Freshwater Jesus Heart of America. Pastor Rick Wright will have a hard time saving their souls even though he saved mine from the bottle. I fell on hard times after my farm got taken from me from our liberal pinko commie government. I had nowhere to turn but the sweet savory taste of my only friend C.F. Burgery. Anyway Pastor Reverend Wright saved my soul I doubt he could do the same for the people who have not done their research on this Biblical city and its overall debauchery

      March 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • blap blop

      Theres Lots of information in the bible. But unfortunately i havnt found any christians that will sell their daughter to me as a slave, as god clearly allow. Also I dare not kill anyone working on a sunday, becaus those pesky secular laws dont take the bilble into consideration.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "i would encourage all to research(sodom & Gomorrah) that will clear up or give answers to how God feels about these sins "

      It might help if you actually read your bible because in Ezekiel it clearly states what the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah was and it WASN'T about gays! Keep showing how ignorant Christians are about their own bibles!

      March 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  5. Douglas

    Gay, celibate, and loving it!
    A message of hope that rings loud and clear!

    Thanks for your support,

    March 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  6. ToMyWife

    The worth of our relationships and our love and commitment to them should never be determined by others. No one has the privilege or responsibility to validate my relationship with my wife. No one other than she, and me, and God that is. We know what it is we have together. We know how deep our love and how genuine our commitment is to one another and to the life we share. We know that the other was brought into our life as a gift from God and that our union is a blessing to God. That others in our lives recognize and affirm our marriage is a wonderful thing but our marriage doesn’t depend on them to give it worth. In the same way, the worth of your life doesn’t hinge on anyone’s or everyone’s approval. You have already been fully and completely validated by God. Your great worth has been established in the love of God and in God’s eyes you are fully seen, fully known, and fully loved and if you allow God’s thoughts of you to shape your thoughts of you, then whether a thousand applaud or a thousand throw tomatoes nothing will cause you to sway and lose your footing.

    March 17, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  7. Douglas

    Weaken Satan...make him tremble!
    Practice gay/lesbian celibacy and straight abstinence before making the marriage commitment for life!
    The righteous will be redeemed!

    March 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Ok'Doky

      Again Douglas the experts and scientist have proven you WRONG and no where in your bible does your god condemn gays as we know and understand them today. What you have too really look at is your personal prejudice and dark heart. Gays should not be denied having a loving committed relationship married to their partner because when they do that they do NOT sin before your god.

      March 17, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  8. Douglas

    Support the healing power of celibacy for gay couples.
    Support straight couples who decline fornication.
    Reject that which is unclean.

    Best, Douglas

    March 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      What you define as unclean and what I define as unclean are two different things.

      March 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Ok'Doky

      "Reject that which is unclean."

      You are one of the most pathetic excuse for a human being. There is nothing unclean about a loving committed relationship only prejudice hateful person would see it that way.

      March 17, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  9. Erik

    You can accept the word of God for what is actually is, or you can twist it to suit your own desires, but when God decides that the time is up, He will sort everything out according to His holy will.

    March 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      What word of god? The buybull was written by man for man, no god inspiration and you can't prove it otherwise. Learn something about the history of your belief system before speaking stupidity.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Fanatastic Mr. Fox

      To answere you Mr. TruthPrevails, you can prove that the BIBLE is God inspired. Referring back to Genesis 1. no one was alive as the world was being created, except for God. Thus requiring a dictation of the accounts of what had taken place. Even in the Bible, it is written in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

      March 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  10. ivan

    Its not a choice. Instead of trying to understand, condemm or curse these people we should pray for them that God may help them and thy will be done on them. He and only He can help them He will do something. Amen. Leave them in peace and do not condemm, may they or we be healed. Amen

    March 6, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Its not a choice."

      You said, "Instead of trying to understand, condemm or curse these people we should pray for them that God may help them and thy will be done on them."
      Didn't the christian god, according to christian doctrine, create everyone? Doesn't that include homosexuals? Doesn't that mean that he meant for them to be homosexual? Why would you ask him to change his mind? Did he make a mistake? Do you know better than your god?

      You said, "Leave them in peace and do not condemm, may they or we be healed."
      There is only one group that needs healing in this respect, and that is the group that does the condemning.

      March 6, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  11. SeanM

    Hey can somebody help me out I don't understand the reason for praying. Last night I prayed for a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, when I was done I said I would be okay with a Ferrari 458 Italia. I get up this morning go outside and I still have a Cavalier and its not like I even woke up and had a case with $1.6 million dollars that I could use to buy the car.

    February 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Ceege

      God has better things to do than give luxury cars to people who already have cars that run. I mean, sure, he COULD give you a luxury car if he thought it would truly make your life better, but he knows (like you probably do, deep down at least) that you don't really NEED a luxury car. BTW, I once heard a Catholic priest say this about prayer-
      "God answers all prayers. He has three answers he uses: Yes, of course; Yes, but not now; & No, I have something much better for you."

      March 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • blap blop

      You dont pray hard enough, or maby to the wrong god. Ive got both my arms and legs back efter amputation by praying. Every time i loose a leg or an arm or just a finger, i pray for it to grow back. Its no big deal. It has even worked for curing the flue. It usually take 3-6 days to pray the flue away.

      March 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  12. apd

    gay, stright...who cares... all we need is love ...in any form... couse there isnt enough of it if we are having this discusson.

    February 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  13. Douglas

    Release the power of celibacy! May those struggling with sinful behaviors be liberated in their quest for salvation.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • *facepalm*

      Yup, because your god gave you urges that he doesn't want you to act on. He made you love people that you're not allowed to love. Just for kicks. Or maybe his gambling habits with the Dark Lord didn't end with Job. Either way, that's one loving god.

      Who knew so many Christians were anti-love.

      February 7, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  14. Douglas

    There is saving power for gays/lesbians in celibate relationships and straights who refrain from the temptation to fornicate. Gays and straights alike are under tremendous peer and media pressure to conform to filthy behaviors that can only lead them down the road to STDs, broken hearts, shattered dreams and ultimately, self-destruction. Be a source of support to gays/lesbians with minds set like a flint to maintain celibate relationships and straights who are struggling against the temptation to fornicate. Let them know that there is a power mightier than the filth merchants who would sell their souls for a few pieces of silver.
    Together, we can makea diffference in their lives. Regards, Douglas

    January 20, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Gays and straights alike are under tremendous peer and media pressure to conform to filthy behaviors that can only lead them down the road to STDs, broken hearts, shattered dreams and ultimately, self-destruction. "

      You are such a LIAR! There are millions of gays have loving intimate relationships that have lasted over 20 to 50 years. You're only spewing this crap because of YOUR personal prejudice towards this group! By the way there are thousands and thousands of gay churches around the world, pastors, rabbis, nuns, and other clergy stating that being gay is NOT a sin and they should be allowed to marry. Keep showing the world your prejudice.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "Let them know that there is a power mightier than the filth merchants who would sell their souls for a few pieces of silver."

      You must be speaking from experience since you'll be the one going to hell because of the hatred and prejudice you are spewing.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • ivan

      Society can be very cruel regarding young and even old gay people. However, we shouldn't judge harshly because we are not in their shoes and God in His Gospel tells us that He sent Jesus to give his second commandment which is to love thy neighbor like your own self. God bless everyone including gay people.

      March 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  15. FreetoBe

    There are only ten commandments and one golden rule and none of them refer to this as something that will keep you from God's love or out of Heaven.

    January 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  16. askduane

    (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) What! Do YOU not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. 11 And yet that is what some of YOU were. But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.
    (notice in verse 11. "some of you were", but, you have been "washed clean", you have been sanctified "made holy", you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ with God's Spirit). Accurate application of the Bible washing you clean and makes you holy. If there is not an accurate application you don't get clean and then you make excuses for your filth. If the Bible says you can change, then follow the formula and don't give up. Paul is telling new Christians that many of them used to be this way.

    January 15, 2012 at 6:37 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      Yo moron, it's talking about using sex to worship a pagan god. It has nothing to do with the saved loving gay person. It's called reading comprehension 101 you put it into historical context. You're an idiot and not a follower of your Christ you bigot.

      January 19, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  17. Anon

    A gay Christian is like a black Klansman.

    December 31, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • tb63

      Not as much as a gay Republican.

      January 2, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  18. tb63

    @ Douglas

    Your point?

    December 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  19. Douglas

    **News Flash** – "Gay" Penguin courts female penguin!

    December 13, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Duh

      So What – it doesn't change what the experts in the world believe about gay people. LMAO! You are such an idiot.

      December 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Duh

      "They were separated last month by zoo officials who said they needed to reproduce "

      It's sad that they were broken up by the zoo officials and not by their choice.

      December 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  20. Doris

    This is laughable. Many people have stopped being gay, but when this occurs, supporters dismiss it saying they were never really gay in the first place.

    December 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "stopped being gay"

      Then they were not gay moron, they were bisexual. LOL! A true gay person experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. Plus, all major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is effective.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • tallulah13

      I would like to see the numbers that support your position, Doris. Every reliable, neutral source indicates that anti-gay therapy doesn't work. I suspect you have no idea what you are talking about and are just lying, like so many other christians on this website.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • tb63

      They're right, Doris. Before I accepted who I am, I wanted and tried with everything I had to be straight. I learned the hard way that it is simply not possible. If it's impossible for me, it's impossible for everybody. Anyone that says otherwise is lying.

      December 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Douglas

      Doris, Some people will remain gay while others maintain bi-s@xual leanings and still others find that heteros@xual relations
      are more in line with their idea of a relationship with a person of the opposite s@x. Regardless, for firmly commited gays and lesbians, celib@cy is a means to self-fulfillment and obedience to Biblical instruction which forbids same s@x coitus. We should reach out to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and be supportive of their efforts to live happy, celib@te lives. Together, we can make it happen.
      Best, Douglas

      December 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      celibacy really dug, S_x is the physical act of love, how cold any one deny them self, love. Love is truly the one greatest thing in this world even greater than any god you should have it emotionally spiritually and physically. Saying LGBT can solve all of our problems simply by not have S_x is wrong and frankly as a bi-s_xualy who loves love in all its splendor and horror, it’s kind of rude

      December 12, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
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.