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. Aldrich

    Don, your message is yet another important step toward eliminating one of the last bastions of bigotry. You are to be applauded for delivering it and not be ridiculed by the cowards who use the anonymity of the web to advance their hateful opinions of others. I admire your courage. And you are a fine anchor, too.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. Adam

    Don Lemon you are an inspiration, and most importantly my inspiration. Coming from both the black community and the Islamic religion, I feel the burden of discrimination is weighed even more heavily than any others. Especially in such a strict and orthodox religion as the Islamic religion. However, in a general, we as a whole have to focus on the discriminatory acts impacting the whole nation and their children. As Don would agree, this is child abuse. A gay child's childhood wouldn't be lived out normally; instead, fear and confusion would be instilled from the obligation and demands enforced by religion and society. A change has to come and it has to come now.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  3. Kim

    I second the other Kim, Awesome Post!

    May 22, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  4. Meens

    Don, you are a wonderful person. You have made great contributions to the world. Hold you head up high son. Nothing to confess about. You are perfect just they way you are.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Jorge Reyes

      Think about that, "You are perfect just the way you are" Then, are you saying that we are not perfect?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  5. Tim

    Religious people love to cherry-pick the bible to find passages that support their prejudices and ignore completely those ideas that they don't like. I wonder how all of these gay-bashing quoters feel about passages such as those calling for the death penalty for talking back to your parents or that women should remain silent in church? Just the tip of a very large hypocritical iceberg.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  6. Kim Pugliano

    Awesome post.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  7. DJL

    "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."

    Prayer didn't end slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women. A lot of hard work, conflict, sacrifice and even loss of life were required. If you want to get something done, you have to get up off your knees, stop praying for someone else to do it and go do it for yourself.

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

    The religious people here need to read, re-read, and read again this section of the column: "That type of thinking – or non-thinking – keeps many religious people enslaved to beliefs that they haven't truly stepped back from and examined."

    May 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • DJL

      Well said, Jenny.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  9. Anastasia

    The post says that he studied different religions? So in other words looking for one of them to clear his concise. All the bible is metaphors? Okay so Jesus used a metaphor and rose from the grave? No, he did and he is literally living and meant every word he said. Romans 1:26-32. Read it at a metaphor or a word for word doesn't matter. It's wrong.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • JanetMermaid

      Prove it... WITHOUT quoting scripture.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • JSinKC

      You do realize that Jesus is NOT the author of Romans, right?

      May 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  10. Jaysin

    If you are a christian and calling yourself gay then repent. God does love you for who you are but he is not happy with your choice. We are all sinners of course. But you can't go around calling yourself "evangelical gay Christian" I don't think God would like that term.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • JD

      Well, then, I suppose it's a good thing that God doesn't ask your opinion.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Desmond

      He just did, and your mind doesn't think like God, so you can't use that either you blasphemer! Hell, God may think it's quite sassy and fit!

      May 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Laughing@sheep

      I truly feel sorry for people like you who honestly cannot form a single thought on their own, they need to be told what to believe in because you're too ignorant or lazy to form your own thoughts and beliefs, so sad. Perhaps you belong with the rest of the sheep...in the pasture. Funny thing is Christianity actually call all of you sheep and you feed right into it! LOL

      May 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • just a dude...

      His choice to be gay...that's funny. When did you make your choice to like the type of people that you like?

      May 22, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Rhonda

      Who are you to say God does not love someone? How about you turn the other cheek and ...do not judge. Thats not our job.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • someguy

      Congratulations! You have FAILED reading comprehension 101!
      If you'd understood the article, you'd understand that he (like most gay people) chose NOT to be gay, and tried really hard for many years until he realized that IT WAS NEVER HIS CHOICE TO MAKE. Choosing to be straight or gay is about as useful as choosing what direction the sun will rise from or choosing whether to obey the law of gravity.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • sad and confused

      do you light candles or flip switches to have light?

      June 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  11. Joe

    I have yet to find it in the Bible where it says that gays go to hell.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Jorge Reyes

      Then you must read it again.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Jaysin

      All sin will send you to hell and Gay is one of them. It is the belief that Jesus Died for you is the only way to go to heaven. Once you believe this then you need to start turning your life around.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Joe

      Then tell me where it says it...?

      May 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Anastasia

      Romans 1:26-32

      May 22, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Jaysin

      Romans 1:26-32 (King James Version)

      26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

      27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

      28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

      29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

      30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

      31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

      32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • DJL

      Joe, it's in Leviticus (I know it not from reading the bible, but from reading responses on forums, like this). He also said essentially that women are property (not allowed to speak in public, daughters can be sold into slavery), which means we can replace divorce lawyers with big rocks. No, I'm not serious; just pointing out the dangers of taking ancient mythology (written by men, not some 'god' - there's no such thing) and trying to apply it to a so-called "modern" society.

      Individuals who believe this are being lead around by politicians who pander to their fear in order to get elected, while voting against their best interests at every turn, because they actually represent the rich and big business, as they are the ones paying their campaign bills.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Joe

      Yes I have read Romans before. Maybe I am not the most enlightened person, but I took that to mean that God punished man by making some do unnatural things by being gay. That seems to indicate that it is not their choice and that is how they were born.

      And these are Paul's words, not Jesus'.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  12. Karuna

    It's a real tragedy that a lot of kids still go through thinks like this. It's unfair and cruel to make them think that they're dirty or sinful.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Bob Rock

      The reality is sometimes unfair. Happens all the time.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • qase

      It is unconscionable. It is abuse, plain and simple. Thinking otherwise is a self serving delusion.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  13. Harpy Lady

    Keep your chin up and your head held high. The only ones condemning themselves are the ones judging everyone else. They are the true sinners and blinded to the truth.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  14. ryan

    This man is beautiful inside and out. If some 'godly' people weren't so willfully ignorant they'd see it/

    May 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  15. Bob Rock

    Discrimination is good. It helps us discern the freaky from the normal. This idea that we should all some day stop "discriminating" is absurd. We might as well all become religious (another failure to discriminate). The word exists for a reason – or am I the only one that thinks it's not a swear word?

    May 22, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Jim C.

      Yes, it is pretty much just you.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • DJL

      There's no such thing as "normal." Everyone is different. As for "freaky," you certainly qualify.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  16. William

    Thank you Don. I wish someone like you had opened up when I was struggling with the same reality. I'm guessing that the 1970s and 1980s were similar for you and I. Instead of trying to push those who were born gay to commit suicide (like Kelly), we need more people to open up like you have. I don't really know you, but I love you. You have a beautiful heart.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  17. Olivia

    The ignorance on this board is amazing. I appreciate your story and I pray for your continued health, happiness, joy and strength.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  18. Gs018

    These sunday morning posts seem to bring out all the religious naysayers... shouldn't you be in church?

    May 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • DS

      maybe they went on Saturday.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  19. Daniel Wilson

    I read this and think this guy wilth all his study and Bible reading, Religious Services and the like is missing something very basic. God made man and women for them to become one and they for each other only. Marriage is God's idea and not mans and it's very clear that if you read the scriptures it's to be between one man, male and one women, female. Basic truth on this is a good place to start. Now one ether believes this, Basic truths of the Bible or they don't and if not you might as well take the whole book and rewrite to suit you and your desires. People do this, then they can go on, do whatever and have rationale and excuse sin away as God made me this way, wrong God doesn't make mistakes.To the person who wrote this article, you want to pray then pray for revelation. And let me help you out here you can't pray away gay, you have to come against it in Jesus name because you're dealing with an evil spirit. It won't leave you unless you know how to use the power and authority Jesus gave us. Now this is conditional on wether or not you actaully know Him. Going to church won't get you there nor will merely reading the Word. You will actaully have to accept Christ and his sacrifice on the cross for the payment of your sins, say the sinners' prayer and mean it and receive salvation as free gift by asking him to come into your heart. It is by the Holy Spirit you will be born again and then of the Spirit of God. With out this process, this in filling of the Spirit of God they'll be no transformation and therefore no revelation of scripture and you will not understand fully nor will you walk in His ways. It takes His Spirit in you in order to get the correct understanding of scriptures and therefore to opperate in this world effectively. Religion will not get you there, it's having a real relationship with Him and in doing so He will lead you and guide you into all truth. When this happens then you will not be lead by any evil spirit nor by you own spirt ether. You can decern what spirit is operating and then come against it as I said earlier so it does not rule over you. We have the power of them not the other way around. We wrestle not with flesh and blood buy power's and principalities, sound familar? This passage I am guoting is dealing with spirits, not the good kind 'k. We as humans can not do anything without His empowerment throught grace buy the Holy Spirit and therefore I pray for this man God's Grace and grace more abundantly!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Olivia

      Your post has a lot of 'YOU' telling others what to think, feel, believe, pray. It dosen't work like that.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • SuzinFL

      You have been brainwashed.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • EmeraldCity

      CNN won't let me post my longer statement.

      Suffice it to say that SuzinFL is absolutely right. And this author hasn't done anything wrong. There's nothing to forgive.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • LT. Dan

      It is upseting to me that people like you are really out there. The people who really believe that the bible is the word of god are some of the most dangerous people in the world. Don't you see all of the others on this planet that think god wants them to blow up this , or cut the head off of that. They all have just as full faith in their story of choice as you. We should NEVER put religion before people. All bibles are someone's interpretation. King James, Lutherans, 7th day adv., Episc. WestBorrow Baptists ( they are the perfect example of what those who really believe ), Mormons, Family Radio fundee's, etc etc 1st test. Old test. New test. Live and let live. We all have the right to believe or not believe in what we want. As you can see the Christians tell us we will burn in hell, and god will come to earth and blow it up. As you can see he never does and never will. So live and let live dude. Until your god tells you to strap a bomb to your gut and blow up a clinic or mosque.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • qase

      If you were born in another country to parents with different beliefs and were preached to as a child about a different religion, I have the feeling you would be just as delusional about that point of view. Religion has wonderful benefits of offering peace, companionship, love, and acceptance. When religion is used for fighting, ostracizing, hate, and segregation then what good is it? Really. Who is it helping? I love the good of religion. It is extremely helpful for so many people and offers stability which can be invaluable. But the twisted belief that making a child feel the way Don did about his natural self was the "right" thing to do is ridiculous. And as such, the nature of mans input on the bible and the politics of translation, and historical editorial license on the book need to be given more weight then blindly following a few lines of text that for all you know were added by request of a spoiled religious leader in the year 874. I have faith in my heart and moral center and give that more value then a few lines that would lead me to believe I was right in crushing the soul of a child or any man.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Inez

      Amen...I agree with you!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  20. SPD

    We love and support you Don. Many blessings to you. You're an excellent broadcaster.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:38 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.