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Christian’s year of living 'gay' leads to dramatic change, sparks controversy
December 2nd, 2012
06:45 AM ET

Christian’s year of living 'gay' leads to dramatic change, sparks controversy

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Timothy Kurek’s motivation to spend a year pretending to be gay can be boiled down to a simple conviction: it takes drastic change to alter deeply held religious beliefs.

The experiment began after a lesbian friend opened up to Kurek about being excommunicated by her family. All Kurek, an avowed evangelical Christian, could think about, he says, “was trying to convert her.”

He was quickly disgusted by his own feelings, more pious than humane.

In fact, Kurek was so disgusted by his response to his friend that he decided to do something drastic. Living in Nashville, Tennessee, he would pretend to be gay for a year. The experiment began on the first day of 2009; Kurek came out to his family, got a job as a barista at a gay café and enlisted the help of a friend to act as his boyfriend in public.

The experience – which stopped short of Kurek getting physically intimate with other men - is documented in Kurek’s recent book “The Cross in the Closet,” which has received international attention, landed him on ABC’s "The View" and elicited some biting criticism.

The book is the latest entry on a growing list of experiential tomes revolving around religion. They include Rachel Held Evans’ recent “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” in which the author follows the Bible’s instructions on women’s behavior and Ed Dobson’s “The Year of Living Like Jesus,” which had the author “eat as Jesus ate. Pray as Jesus prayed. Observe the Sabbath as Jesus observed.”

For Kurek, his year as a gay man radically changed his view of faith and religion, while also teaching him “what it meant to be a second class citizen in this country.”

A yearlong lie

For years, Kurek says, the only life he had was “his church life.” Being an evangelical Christian was his identity.

He was home-schooled until seventh grade, almost all of his friends were from church and his social life was a nightly string of faith-based events, from church sports to a Christian Cub Scout troop. “It was the only thing I was used to doing,” said Kurek, who attended Liberty University, the largest evangelical university in the world, before dropping out after freshman year.

Kurek grew up in an “independent Baptist church.” “We were evangelical,” he said, “but we were more conservative than evangelical, too.”

His churchy lifestyle led to some deeply held views about homosexuality. Most evangelical churches condemn homosexuality as sinful. Many rail against certain gay rights, like gay marriage.

“I had been taught to be wary of gays,” Kurek writes of his beliefs pre-experiment. “They were all HIV positive, perverts and liberal pedophiles.”

Those views began to be challenged in 2004, when he first encountered Soulforce, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, on Liberty’s campus. The group made the school an important stop on its cross-country tour targeting colleges that they alleged treated LGBT people unfairly.

Kurek was struck by what he had in common with the protesters at Liberty. “It really impressed me that people who were coming to push their agenda were able to do it and be so nice about it,” he said.

His doubt about Christianity’s condemnation of homosexuality, Kurek writes, was “perfected” in 2008, when a close friend recounted the story of coming out to her family and being disowned.

“I betrayed her, then,” writes Kurek. “It was a subtle betrayal, but a cruel one: I was silent.”

His recognition of that betrayal, he writes, led him to believe that “I needed to come out of the closet as a gay man.”

“I believe in total immersion,” Kurek says in an interview. “If you are going to walk in other people’s shoes, then you are going to need to walk in your shoes.”

To ensure the purity of his project, Kurek says, he had to lie to his deeply religious family about being gay, something that troubled him throughout the year.

“I felt like they loved me but they didn’t know how to deal with me,” he says. “They didn’t understand how to handle having a gay brother or sibling.”

In the book, Kurek recounts learning that his mother wrote in her journal that she would rather have been diagnosed with cancer than have a gay son. That experience and others left Kurek feeling outcast by people he loved, confused about his new life and conflicted about past religious beliefs.

Kurek was living a lie. And even though he was conflicted by his family’s reaction to his new lifestyle, he was longing to be honest with them.

The response

It’s no surprise that the “The Cross in the Closet,” has spurred strong reaction, especially from the LGBT community.

“I feel for the gay community of Nashville, and for every person who trusted Kurek enough to flirt with him, hang out with him, and confide in him about their lives,” wrote Amy Lieberman on the blog Feministing. “If I were in that community, I would feel so betrayed right now.”

In a Huffington Post blog post titled “Pretending To Be Gay Isn’t The Answer,” Emily Timbol, a religion blogger, expressed a similar opinion: “What's sad is that every interaction Timothy had during his year pretending was fake.”

“He was welcomed under false pretenses, acting like someone who understood the struggle that his LGBT friends faced,” she wrote. “He did not.”

But Kurek says that that was not his aim. “This isn't a book about being gay, I could not write that book, I am not qualified,” he writes. “What this is about is the label of gay and how that label affected me personally.”

Throughout the book, Kurek emphasizes that distinction. While much of “The Cross in the Closet” is about the struggle to understand the gay community, which he tries to address by enlisting a friend to act as his boyfriend, much of it addresses how his former church’s community – and family – reacted to his new lifestyle.

“I am actually not friends or in contact at all with 99.99% of the people that I grew up with or the churches that I grew up with,” Kurek says.

Kurek says he isn’t opposed to interacting with people from his "former" life. When he has run into members of his old church, he said he generally has quick, cordial conversations and moves on.

But some of the new distance is by choice. When Kurek’s mother told a friend in her church that her son was gay, the person said Kurek’s sexuality could jeopardize his mother's standing in the church.

The evangelical community has remained fairly mum throughout much of the reaction; most responses have come from Christians who are in some way connected to the LGBT community.

The change

Though Kurek goes to church less now, primarily because he has yet to find one that feels like “home,” he says he feels more religious “in the biblical definition of religion.” He still considers himself a Christian, although no longer evangelical, and says he is interested in attending the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the future.

Kurek quotes James 1:27 from the New Testament: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

There’s no mention of organized religion in passages like that, and Kurek says it’s the institutions of religion that worry him most today. He talks about his once robust church life as a distant memory.

Living as a gay man jaded him to religion, he says, though he has not surrendered all of his former beliefs. Yes, Kurek says, he is struggling with certain points of his theology, but he has been looking for the right church. “I am trying to figure out what place in the body of Christ I fit in,” he said.

As for his original goal, to radically change who he was, Kurek says mission accomplished. He says he has conquered his prejudices of the LGBT community and is happy with the person he has become.

“If anybody had told me back then who I would be or what I would believe now,” Kurek said, “I would have thought they were completely insane.”

For example, Kurek now thinks homosexuality is completely acceptable.

His family is happy to know that he is not gay, says Kurek. He has a new set of friends. And he lives in Portland, Oregon, where he moved shortly after finishing his experimental year.

The author plans to donate part of the proceeds from his book to help LGBT homeless youth who have been rejected by their families.

He is now at work on a book proposal for a follow-up to “The Cross in the Closet.” The book will be about the years after his experiment, transitioning back to honest living while continuing to engage the LGBT community.

“I want to tell more stories,” he says “and humanize the people who Christians always want to look at as labels.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Faith • Homosexuality • Sexuality • Uncategorized

soundoff (3,659 Responses)
  1. rusty5

    "If you are going to walk in other people’s shoes, then you are going to need to walk in your shoes.” -the article above.
    How is pretending to be gay walking a in their shoes? That's like sitting on a street corner begging for money and pretending to be homeless when you know you can go home to your nice house at anytime you choose. Not nearly the same thing at all.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • brandon82

      Rusty5 –

      What has this guy done wrong? Yes, he pretended to be gay in order to understand what it is like to be a gay man in America. The article says that he did not get physical with any man or lead someone on even lead someone on romantically as he asked a friend of his to be his "boyfriend' for the year. As a gay man myself, I think that rather than condemn this man we should commend him for wanting to understand and evolve. I think what he did is very brave and we need more people like him in the world (maybe not to the point where they pretend to be gay, but still try to understand and accept).

      December 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Mike

      Is the social stigma less real because he's pretending? And what implications does being gay have besides the social stigma?

      In my mind, being gay and being homeless are two entirely separate things. Being gay, the problem is the social stigma. Whereas being homeless, the problem is not just the social stigma but being unable to afford basic necessities of life.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Saraswati

      Try committing to sitting on that corner for a year and sleeping in the shelters. It's not the same, but it's a lot closer than reading about homelessness on CNN.

      December 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  2. rickdday

    Well...SOMEONE has to do The Lord's work for Him!

    December 2, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  3. BHS

    His next experiment? Black shoe polish on his face for a year to learn about the black experience. W hat a ridiculous story, CNN.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • Mace

      That was done in the sixties using tanning pills and the book that resulted, "Black Like Me" had a major impact on the national conversation and is still occasionally taught in college classrooms. So, he could do it, but it's been done.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  4. Jowl

    His poor mother was sick over this for an entire year.. What kind of man pits their mother through something like this?

    December 2, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Chris R

      The better question is: What kind of mother would feel better about having cancer than a gay son. The mother should be ashamed of herself.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • rickdday

      What kind of Loving God's people would tell a mother her son's choice could 'cost her prestige' within the church. I'll tell you what kind...CHRISTIANS *spits*

      December 2, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • Darin

      She deserves it if she hols these types of feelings.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • masonph

      It was her own choice to be distressed about it. She has no one to blame but herself.

      December 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  5. William

    I wonder if CNN would run a story about a militant gay man who went to church and changed his views?

    December 2, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • stambo2001

      Never in a hundred million years. The small handful of people that control the media LOVE degenerate behavior. They publish pro-degenerate articles because they are pro-degenerates themselves. They could not possibly be in the positions they are with any belief in honor, decency, or morality. You're allowed to be swayed into degenerate behavior because the 1% want you to be swayed into degenerate behavior. Played like a piano into turning your back on your ancestors before you.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • JLS639

      I don't know what you mean by militant. However, CNN has done stories on ex-gay groups and has at least one editorial written by an ex-gay advocate.

      December 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Patti in Dallas

      Stambo, I'm curious to know what your definition of "degenerate" is...it sounds like you mean anything you dislike or is different than your personal experience.

      December 3, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  6. kbgirl1144

    I think it was an awesome experiment and I love that he was open to forming his own opinions and changing what was forced on him in terms of ideals. I know some hard-nosed people who are not at all open to change and the beauty of diversity will slam him, but I admire his courage and honesty.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Frank

      What honesty?!!!! You didn't read the article right. He's been living a LIE for a year and that's the exact opposite of honesty

      December 2, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • ml

      Agree complete. Frank, you are clearly a very shallow individual.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • Frank

      Nope And you are very twisted for admiring his so called "honesty" when there isn't any. This is too funny. It shows how little you can understand things

      December 2, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • kbgirl1144

      Easy, Frank. Don't hurt yourself.

      December 2, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • pburnham93

      Frank i think you have missed the point. He had to live in a lie... that was the entire point.. he was to live in the closet as a straight man. Every day there are gay people all around the world you live in the closet and in a life of lies because they do not fell accepted, they do not feel strong enough to come out to a society that most of the time condemns them for who they are.
      This man had to live in a lie because he need to understand. No he cannot and will not ever know what it is like to be gay but he now knows how dishonesty, like living in the closet, can truly hurt you and the people in your life.

      Read the book and you might think before you ASSume

      December 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Frank said: "

      Don't live a lie." I think he means for all gay people to come out of the closet and stop living the lie. Frank will take us all in with open arms & heart. An not judgemental.
      Frank, you truely are an angel on earth!

      December 3, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  7. josh rogen

    pretending? sounds like he's in denial

    December 2, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  8. Frank

    He's a hypocrite, One of Gods main commandment is Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness. This is the mother of them all lol This is a conflict in his own sick twisted research isn't it?

    December 2, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Kairos

      "The mother of them al"???!!! Stuck in the Old Testament?! How about this,"But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13. Time to grow and be a man Frank.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • mike

      By that logic, when a cop goes undercover or a spy working undercover, is lying. I'll admit lying is a sin. In the real world, many times, it is necessary to "lie", in order to find the truth.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • JLS639

      What neighbor was he bearing false witness against? After all, it does not say "don't lie," but instead says don't bear false witness against a neighbor. Also, hypocritical? What failing was he criticizing in others that he also has?

      December 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  9. Cassarit

    P I G

    December 2, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  10. stambo2001

    You know what they say, if you roll in a pile of poop don't be surprised if you smell like crap.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • atomicantics

      Never heard that one before. Poetry! :)

      December 2, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  11. Howie76

    They ran this story a few months ago and are recycling. This guy did what is called in Ethnography/Anthropology "going native" which is not considered a valid form of study for a cultural group. Also, I strongly question his motives to do this. Is he really that secure in his se#ual orientation. Sounds confused to me.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • Jowl

      Yeah, I knew I'd read this before.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  12. imposter

    The Bible is the only book which tells the truth as we know it. U either believe in Jesus as out Lord or you do not. It is up to U. Nobody forces U, Jesus said it is your choice? Man can go to the moon yet man cannot create one Flower growing in the wild. Think about that.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Howie76

      why?

      December 2, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • ml

      Actually, Man has cloned all sorts of stuff. Not sure what you're getting at and why that even matters.. Nature is wonderful. We are part of it not above it.
      AND THERE IS NO F'ING GOD OR ALL POWERFUL BEING OR WHATEVER
      Im so sick of the stupidity..

      Like gays, hate gays.. whatever .. Doesn't matter. Just do it on your own. Don't let brainwashing and the sick twisted evil ways of ALL religion decide for you.. THINK FOR YOURSELF!

      December 2, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • lxNay

      The Bible is not my truth. It may be yours, but it ain't mine.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Stopthemadness

      The bible is far from honest. Since the inception of the bible it has been written and translated 19 times by 19 different men to suit the needs and wants of the leader in charge who had it transcribed. I am a Roman Catholic tried and true. But I can say this with out breaking a sweat the bible is not a book of laws it is more like a VCR owners manual it gives you advice for troubleshooting your problems. It was never meant to be the law of the land but a book of stories to guide you through your own personal trials and tribulations. To say it is the only honest book out there shows exactly how out of touch with reality you really are. There are several religous books out there full of Truth and honesty and you are an idiot to think otherwise as the truth of religion is in the eyes of the believer not they eyes of the people who don't agree. YOu are the believer of your own views and that makes your view the truth in only your eyes but tere are millions of others who don't see it as truth at all.

      December 2, 2012 at 8:07 am |
  13. ml

    Wow. Very impressive that he had the guts to do this and abandon the intolerant, and inherently evil ways of religion.. Well done!

    December 2, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  14. Plycarp pio

    Thats what happens when you put your human judgment ahead of Gods laws and commandments. The Lord doesnt really car what you think about sodomites/ sons and daughters of beliel, he will judge you by his word, not what you now think, you have become reprobate and contaminated, you think that by saying its now OK to be"GAY" that somehow God has changed his mind and OH WELL I made a big mistake, go ahead and lie with a man as with a woman and dont mid what I said about it being an abomination, Jesus took care of all of that, live anyway you want. PP

    December 2, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • ml

      Do you understand how stupid that sounds? Don't you realize that we are all just living in a computer generated reality and that the only judge is the program?

      See what I mean? that is just as impossible to prove or disprove.. yet I'm guess you'd call me stupid for believing it (some people actually do believe that)..

      How absolutely ridicilously stupid.
      And don't go telling me that just cause lots and lots people believe it must mean it has some basis in reality. At one time the whole of Europe believed the Earth was flat.. Were they right?

      When will you lose the brainwashing and start thinking for yourself?? Please hurry.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • kbgirl1144

      @ml: Spot on.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • PRETENDED

      Haha, you are sadder than the fat blob in the article who 'pretended' to be gay for a whole year.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • lxNay

      How about you stop pretending to be God, and speaking for him or her? There are a hundred versions of the Bible which shows that interpretations are still open. How about you leave the God stuff to God? I am more disgusted with the holier than though uppity moralizers, than practically any other special interest group.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  15. sugarKubett

    Don't talk about Romans 1 and leave out the Old Testament.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  16. imposter

    Though shalt not judge others for you will also be judged. Jesus gave 10 commandments and they hold true. So there!

    December 2, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Steve

      Jesus had nothing to do with the 10 commandments.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Katie

      Jesus didn't give ten commandments. Moses did. Jesus was asked which commandments were most important and he said they could be boiled down to two: love God, love each other.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Steve

      Moses had 15 Commandments but dropped one of the tablets.

      December 2, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      I give you these fifteen *crunch*.. uh.. TEN commandments!

      December 2, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • shoos

      LOL.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  17. John Cram

    Good social experiment. My option would be he didn't even get the full brunt of "being gay" from the community, but even a little is too much. The people of the planet will continue to evolve and educate themselves or be left behind. I'm not gay and no "Christian" either, but I do care for my fellow humans. No judgments here, just accepting of others for who they are. Teaching my kids the same and will love them fully (unless they harm others) and is that not basically the only "law" we need to live by?

    December 2, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  18. PRETENDED

    He 'pretended' to be gay for a whole year... Riiiiiiight.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  19. Nick

    sounds more like he just wanted to be gay

    December 2, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  20. sugarKube

    This nut believes in the Bible. If you believe in the Bible read Romans 1.

    December 2, 2012 at 7:00 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.