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. lara

    I love you, Don! Thanks for being strong and courageous and may you find love and light in all you do.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  2. Non beliver

    Good article. Good luck with that.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  3. Luisa

    I just e-mailed the article to my friend who has not come out due to his family's strong religious beliefs. I see the lies he continues to live with as he does not want to "break his parents' hearts" if ever he comes out.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  4. Alie

    Don, Thank you for being brave and sharing your story.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  5. Daniel

    I fully believe in Jesus teaching us to "love thy neighbor," but it is also our duty to expose sin when we see it. Certain scripture, such as the 10 Commandments, have no way of being taken as parable. As such, how can Leviticus 18:22 be taken as a parable? Does it not say "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination?"

    Let us not forget that we need to love each other and not persecute our neighbors because they are different from us. Sometimes I think Christians need to remember to, "Hate the sin, not the sinner."

    May 22, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • k5150

      Well said.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Vera Waitress

      The bible was written by people. Get it? People.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • EndTheHate

      Yes but no one follows all the scriptures.

      Do you follow these?

      Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)
      All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)
      If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)
      A priest's daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)
      Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
      When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)
      If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT)

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

      Daniel, if you're going to quote Leviticus to justify an opinion, then you have to stand by ALL the verses in Leviticus. I hope you're living up to the verses declaring the eating of seafood an abomination, the stoning of adulterers as the rule of thumb, and the evil of wearing mixed fabrics and, (best of all) the acceptable styles for haircuts and beards. Can't just pick the one that suits your purposes. Hope to see you outside Red Lobster protesting next weekend.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  6. ralk

    God does exist no doubt about it except gays are the ones to chose to live their lives as a blasphemy against God's wishes...he loves all his children...I believe he doesn't love what they all chose to do with their lives.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Which of the thousands of "gods" invented by man over the millenia did you have in mind?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Larry Schwarz

      Thank yu for your beautiful and thought provoking essay. It was brave and honest–You are a role model in many ways. MaMae is looking down and smiling proudly.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  7. Trey

    Please stop using a fairy tale written by man to guide your life. Be good for the sake of being good.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • ALeigh

      Thank you, I was beginning to think I was the only person who realized that. The bible was written by men as a means to control other men. Fear is an excellent way to control weak minded people. If any person were to write a book today, no matter how fantastical and claim that god told them what to write, everyone would think they were a lunatic and that person would be locked away and drugged into a stupor.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Trey?

      Let a wise person speak, and just keep quiet!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • FRANK


      May 22, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • john

      The concepts of good and evil don't fit into an evolutionary mind-set. You have to borrow from the Christian world view to even consider good and evil as anything but random evolutionary processes.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • David

      There is no 'being good' without a frame of reference of what is truth, and what is 'good' and 'bad'. That's where God comes in, and the bible is his primary way of revealing himself.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • qunicey9

      It's amazing just how many throughout history and in our own time purport to speak for God. "He hates these people..." and "Those people are doomed to hell" and so on. It's true. The bible was written by men and not some sort of supreme being. Oh! Wait! I forgot that God told them what to write. Just like he told the Jews that a certain chunk of land was theirs. Umm. God just told me that I'm the new president, so get me to Washington straight away. Honor the 'God' within yourself and that is within everyone else. In traffic it's not 'Your lane' and in spiritually it's not 'Your God'. How can anyone, no how DARE anyone lay claim to faith as an exclusive club with certain beliefs and rules of admission posted on the door. Everyone speaks of radical Muslims as "hijacking faith". Well, that doesn't seem be an exclusive idea either. "And why do you look at the splinter in your brother's eye, and not notice the beam which is in your own eye".

      May 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  8. LizardMom

    God bless you, Don! Sorry you had to go through so much just to be the kind, loving, intelligent man you are.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  9. ALeigh

    Weren't all the fanatics supposed to be raptured yesterday? Wow, I kind of wish it had happened now so that we didn't have to read their dribble here.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  10. Rainer Braendlein

    Dear Mr. Lemon,

    the triune God loves all people and wants to release everybody. Regretably God is not very enthusiastic about gayness. Reading the Old Testament, you would notice that God has wiped out some people, practising sins like gayness (besides they had intercourse with relatives and animals, etc.). NevertheIess I can assure you, God loves us sinners, he loves even the gay people and even me. You know the story about Jesus Christ, by whom we can be set free. Unfortunately in your article you don't mention Jesus Christ the Son of God. According to Romans 6, the releasing power of Jesus Christ is dedicated to us at Holy Baptism. I don't know the Baptists. I am more a Lutheran. Maybe you don't know that according to the Bible and the doctrine of the Early Church baptism is a sacramentel act. During baptism God really acts and changes us. Maybe you have not yet received the sacramental baptism or you have a lack of faith. Assumed you have received the sacramental baptism, you could start a Christian life immediately, right now, just by refering back to your baptism: Your old man has died and God has given you a new life in Christ. Just live it. God has finished the slavery of sin for you and for me.


    May 22, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • esskay

      "Maybe you don't know that according to the Bible and the doctrine of the Early Church baptism is a sacramentel act" You do know that they're called Baptists, right? Probably just a coincidence! So glad that not only is Christianity the only true religion, but you make sure that your chosen sects beliefs are the only true interpretation of Christianity.

      Guess what, friends? Literalist interpretations of the Bible are a relatively new thing. Guess what, friends? The Bible was written over the course of a few centuries, and each book was influenced by the social, political, and religious context of the time it was written in. Faith can be an immensely positive thing, but as long as you stand on a pillar built of nothing but blind adherence and literal narrowness, you are standing on shaky ground.


      May 22, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Jesus of Nazereth

      Things that are sinful in the Old and New Testament:

      -Eating Shellfish
      – Mixing fabrics
      – women who wear short hair
      – women who wear trousers
      – women who don't have their heads covered
      -wearing make-up
      -playing with pigskin
      -working on the Sabbath (Saturday NOT Sunday)

      EVERYONE picks and chooses what they deem exceptable from that book. We'd all be Amish. If YOU think being gay is wrong then DON'T BE GAY and let those who are in this FREE country get married.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  11. nimitta

    Sorry you feel like you have a dead soul, Nick...but maybe your soul feels 'dead' because it isn't really there, and never was! Maybe you're just a human being in pain, and capable of being uplifted by more than one kind of good news.

    So, here's some more: you don't need Christ to be a good person, nor to conquer self-centeredness, hatred, or greed. If you don't believe me, just consider all the deeply moral, kind, generous, and nonviolent people who've never heard or cared much about Jesus. I know Buddhist and Jains next to whom most self-proclaimed 'Christians' seem strikingly aggressive and self-centered.

    If you don't believe me, read the research on how non-believers actually behave (turns out they're significantly more ethical than fundamentalists!), and then learn about how moral development doesn't require any sort of religious belief. It also might help to actually study the Bible more closely. If you do you'll recognize, as most Biblical scholars now understand, that the Bible was not handed down by a god but is a pastiche of separate writings by countless human authors over many centuries who often disagreed about matters historical, mythical, and ethical. Anyone who uses the Bible as a guide today is forced to cherry-pick those guidelines that are relevant and discard those that are not. For example, if you've ever eaten shellfish or disobeyed your parents, surely you haven't been put to death, nor deserved it.

    We've come a long way from the primitive ancient times of the desert fathers and their vindictive patriarchal society, which would be no less repugnant than the Taliban today. What an irony that so many people still try to live by its rules, or judge themselves by its often incoherent ideas like Original Sin. Good luck, Nick!

    May 22, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Sue Hutson

      Thank you for your refreshing insight this Sunday morning.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  12. a

    To make a pronouncement on another persons eternal destination is abominable.

    When Jesus was invited to pass judgement on a woman caught in an act of sin – he chose not to. (John 8:11)

    The New Testament makes it clear that there are many days of grace and there will be a single day of judgement – and a single judge – and that all 'men' have sinned and fallen short. No temptation has overcome you except what is common to man (1 Cor 10:13). And He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

    Don, just because these people have sinned against you – please do not let their sin get between you and God. Forgive them. God loves you, and has always loved you.

    Oh – and the whole Jonah and the whale thing – sorry, not a metaphor. Plenty of corroborating scientific and anthropological evidence that being swallowed by a whale and then vomited up is possible and not uncommon at that time. Jonah would have looked spectral by the bleaching of his skin and hair by the time he walked through Nineveh – little wonder why they reacted as they did!

    May 22, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • JSinKC

      "Plenty of corroborating scientific and anthropological evidence that being swallowed by a whale and then vomited up is possible and not uncommon at that time"

      Please share this evidence. In addition, please show the evidence that states a man could survive inside the belly of a whale for 3 days without being exposed to the digestive process.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  13. Carly Thomas

    If you want to honor your Grandma, go back to the God she served.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Ann

      What makes you think he doesn't have a relationship with the true God? Do you know his heart like God does? How dare you accuse someone you don't know that he isn't serving God?

      It USED to be heresy to think the world was round. It USED to be a sin for women to have short hair, uncovered heads, and trousers. I USED to be an abomination to consume shellfish. All in the Old and New Testament. We all pick and choose. Get over yourself.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  14. Sassan

    Religion is pure evil and creates in-groups vs. out-groups, and divides people instead of unite. In the 21st century full of science and wonder provided to us first by the Hubble telescope (now retired) but now the Kepler telescope searching for Earth-like planets; one must truly wonder what the fate of our species will be when so many people live their lives in delusion based on primitive text written thousands of years ago that have ZERO relevance to the modern-day life of the rational thinker and scientific observer.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • sassypants

      Are you so naive to think that people would not be divided without religion? If you have an opinion on anything then you are divisive.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Sassan

      Not in the way we are today. Religion was our first and worst attempt at explaining the universe. Then came philosophy; then finally science and empirical research and experimentation. Only the most ignorant humans still believe in primitive text.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • sassypants

      Haha.. what a joke! I've tried it both ways and some of the most ignorant people I know are highly educated people who out of pride are unwilling to follow the most primitive text. They are losing their homes, their businesses, their families but hey they still have that man created education God bless 'em!!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Scott

      Sassan, your assertion that all religeon is pure evil is a non sequitur – didn't Mother Teresa (who wasn't perfect) care for many people who couldn't help themselves in the name of God? I suppose that if help is given in the name of God, it shouldn't be accepted at all?

      June 3, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  15. Carly Thomas

    You can be gay all you want, but don't you Jesus to justify it. And don't equate gay rights with black rights. Don Lemon's interpretation of the Bible is just wrong.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Alex

      Sorry, Carly.

      That's not up to you.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Lew

      HHHMMM Carly how do you know Jesus won't justify it. You have many men that justify killing under the name of Jesus. Many wars and cultures were killed off because they claimed that Jesus justified it. Soooo let's be honest, Jesus, which you never met other then the bible and preachers take on Jesus which the preacher then teaches, is different for everyone. Be open minded. Or can you.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      How do you know Jesus wasn't gay?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  16. sassypants

    Jesus is the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Christ. If you are not in Christ then you don't know the Father in Heaven and you belong to Satan!

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

      Only if you subscribe to a religion that believes in Satan...BTW, something Christians invented.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • sassypants

      ALeigh – if you belong to him already, you will never notice he's there. Try the Christian journey and you'll find out if he exists.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      He'd have to give up using his brain first... Religion is a FRAUD...

      May 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • ALeigh

      Been there, done that...as a matter of fact, my older brother is a minister. However, if you were to actually study your christian religion, you would find out that the concepts in your bible were all "borrowed" (wouldn't want to say stolen...everyone knows that stealing is a sin) from old religions...religions that predate christians. I can not adhere to a religion that will insult my intelligence. All organized religion is a cult and cults are for the weak minded who can't step out on their own, who can't think for themselves.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • sad and confused

      Dear Sissy..., I mean Sassypants,
      what would be your take on the disabled? Do they belong to Satan?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  17. Dee

    Good observations maybe people will get it someday.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  18. TV_Preacher

    When Christians learn how to read a bible, they are going to feel real creepy about the religion they invented.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  19. Rich

    As I'm sure you've already found out, there will be those who exclude and chastise you in the name of whichever god they serve, Don. Keep strong! I do not believe there is a God who does not love ALL He created. The judgements you hear are man's. I, like you, have long since given up on religious hypocrisy. Count me in your corner!

    May 22, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  20. morethanbikinis

    One has to wonder why God – if he exists – made people who can only follow a very straight and narrow line of logic. Almost like a Disney cartoon. To be able to quote complete fiction as fact. "He hasn't claimed the Lord as his savior that's why x happens to him". I'm really curious about that. Is it possible that some of us can see logic and others can't? Like some sort of rational dog whistle? It baffles me. Is it a limited intelligence? Do some of us use a higher percentage of our brain? I think Nietzsche may have been a bit off base: religion is not the opiate of the masses for these people are not docile and controlled, they're wildly assertive in their convictions. Perhaps it's not opium after all, but crack?

    May 22, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • eva68

      Then ask yourself this question. Why does a parent ask a child to walk in a path that is good and safe?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Dan

      are you one who can only follow a straight line of logic, or did you somehow get an exemption? just curious...

      May 22, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • SCOTO

      Its no real mystery. It's delusional thinking and if its inculcated into our species as infants (whose brains are pre-programmed to accept direction and indoctrination from adults) then its mightily hard to break. Depsite there being no evidence of any god(s) whatsoever (in fact quite a lot to suggest the opposite) its almost impossible to convince "believers" otherwise. Defense mechanisms abound like "you must have faith" (the abilty to believe in something for which there is no evidence and "Its Gods will" ( rationalizing away tragic events that happen to everybody – including believers. I dont even try any longer to have rational discussions on religion with the indoctrinated. Waste of time.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:59 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.