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.
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.
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.”
Oh, yeah. Dressing and looking like the freaks in those pictures is totally normal. Right.
Really you're judging an entire group based on one photo, now that's just dumb.
Thank you. Raised a "preacher's kid" I was quick to judge for many years. It wasn't until I began to realize that a number of my good friends were gay, and they began to trust me to attend events within their community that I saw how wrong my ideas had been. While I don't condone promiscuity, many of my friends are truly outstanding members of the community and dedicated to their partners and families. This project is very meaningful and hopefully the people you met during your time pretending will be able to understand that you didn't betray them.
It sounds like he is trying to help troubled youth who have been shunned by their families.That's a good thing.How these religious people can treat their own children this way is totally beyond comprehension for most folks.How do they sleep at night?I guess- instead of helping their kids,they pray for them.Gee thanks Dad ! Pathetic.
There are a lot of gay people in Nashville, and I am sure that most of his interaction with gay people in Nashville were not people in drag or wearing leather shorts, but how odd that those are the pictures he and CNN chose to display." Look! He's acting gay so he poses with drag queens!!" I am glad he experienced the reaction from many in the evangelical community have about gays, especially in the south. I think his intent was honorable, but deceptive. We are used to the double cross here in Nashville, but its usually from people pretending to be straight legislating our rights while venturing out from the closet at night or online.
The problem is his faith which is false.
One of the reasons God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was because he did not want the Jews to be influenced by this evil. As the Creator of all things, God has the divine right to destroy evil as he sees fit.
Every kind of evil was taking place, including h o m o s e x u a l i t y. I don't believe that God destroyed these cities over just h o m o s e x u a l i t y, but because of ALL evil acts.
"One of the reasons God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was because he did not want the Jews to be influenced by this evil. As the Creator of all things, God has the divine right to destroy evil as he sees fit.
Every kind of evil was taking place, including h o m o s e x u a l i t y"
n Genesis 18, the story about the angels coming to Lot's house, we learn that the reason they were coming to destroy Sodom was because of the wickedness that ALREADY existed in the city. The exact form of wickedness is not mentioned in that story!
Let's just reinforce this CRITICAL piece of information. In the story of Sodom, in Genesis 18, God had ALREADY decided to destroy the city BEFORE the attempted rape of the angels – which incidentally was perpetrated mainly by heterosexuals since ALL the men of the city were involved, and we know that throughout history, gays have only represented about 10% of the population. Also, if they were homosexuals, why would Lot suggest that they take his daughters instead? That just doesn't make sense if the men were gay.
So just to get this straight, the event that took place at Sodom was an act of violence and rape, mainly by heterosexuals. It had nothing to do with a loving relationship between two people of the same sex, and homosexuality was NOT the sin of Sodom in whatever form. The story of Sodom in Genesis 18 was about violence and domination, the same type of event that takes place in prisons and occupied countries, but it was NOT the reason for God's decision to destroy the city, and to use this story as a basis for prejudice against homosexuality in general is like comparing rape to marriage. There is NO similarity!
TRUTH BE TOLD,
God destroyed Sodom because the people were GREEDY. Read the Bible sometime.
truth be told, TRUTH BE TOLD, is that you have no authority to speak for god.
and, the god you describe is a petty, vindictive pr!ck
The worlds worst evil is religion, with Islam and Christianity being the two worst. The dark ages, the Inquisition, witch burnings, beheadings, enslavement of women.
Elaine – You and Observer have reading comprehension problems. I said that I DO NOT believe God destroyed these cities ONLY because of H O M O S E XU A L I T Y, but because of ALL evil acts and H O M O S E X U AL I T Y was among the evil acts.
sam stone – FOOL, and you have the right to describe who God is?
"ONLY because of H O M O S E XU A L I T Y, but because of ALL evil acts and H O M O S E X U AL I T Y was among the evil acts."
The fact that you equate rape with homosexuality speaks volumes about your deep prejudice and stupidity.
You have a reading comprehension problem. God said he destroyed Sodom because the people were GREEDY.
Read the Bile sometime.
tbt: i am only commenting on your description of god. and you are a pompous diseased gash
So it's ok to lie for year? Boy that was some experiment. Let's deceive everyone and then all will be right.
When he tells all his friends he was only kidding they said, "Yeah. Suuurrreee you were, tinkerbell."
You're completely missing the point of his experiment. He felt he needed to pose as a gay man to try to understand what it's like to be gay and shunned from your family or church. His response to his friend offended him enough to do it. All you're seeing is a lie and totally glossing over how the experiment helped him evolve and be more accepting of people different from him. It takes courage and the desire to try to comprehend someone else's hardships by stepping into his shoes. Talk about being outside your comfort zone. No, one year of posing as a gay man did not expose him to a lifetime of marginalization and disparity as part of a minority population; you can get only so much of that. But at least he tried and I'm not mad at him for that. Please re-read the article with a more open mind.
I think he must be gay.
Pretending to pretend, hmm
"Pretending"? I doubt that it was all pretend.
OK. So what? Whether it was ruse or reality doesn't change his experiences.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.Is he serving God are Satan
Why quote the Bible when you don't believe or practice every word?
1 Corinthians 10:13 – There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Do you believe EVERY word of Corinthians? YES or NO?
Just PICK and CHOOSE what you like from it.
Name*jesus: you do realize that quoting a book to those who don't accept the authority of the book is only so convincing, don't you? Or, does it just make you feel all pious to do so?
Observer, the Word of God is True; It does not depend on whether people choose to live It. The Word of God is God Himself – John 1:1.
Religion, christian or otherwise does not tell us what God has to think or does. He has called us into a personal RELATIONSHIP with Him (through the reconciling Blood Sacrifice of the Messiah (Jesus).
People are to seek God personally and be led by His Peace and Joy – see Roman 14:17.
Religions or denominations; christian or otherwise are in truth an abomination to God, though people will experience the Presence and Peace of God in some churches, as they yield to seeking Him, and it helps to be among other like minded folk.
The focus should be on the Word of God and His Will even if one is in a church.
"Religion, christian or otherwise does not tell us what God has to think or does."
So, why do Christians call the bible the word of god, if not to tell us what God has to think?
Those chastising Mr. Kurek do not understand the meaning of "walking in another persons shoes". Those chastising Mr. Kurek do not understand the teachings of Christ, not once does Jesus mention gays must less dismiss them with hate and disgust as most evangelicals I hear and see throughout our society.
This gentleman whose motives, I believe were pure, belongs to a religion and a denomination that is an abomination to the Word of God.
The Baptists doctrines are dead and they mislead people by not leading people into a personal relationship with the Lord. The deny the power of God and the Bible expressly tells us to avoid those who preach the "Bible" and deny the Power thereof.
If we are TRUE followers of the God of the Bible we are to heal the sick and cast out demons. How many baptists do you find doing this? It is a blind religion with blind followers who do not read the Bible for themselves and seek God as their Father who has promised to teach His Children. See Matthew 23:8-10.
One of the main areas that the Baptists do NOT teach is that of demonic influence and deception. This man's conclusions do not factor in that spiritual truth.
Whatever we believe or conclude has to come from a personal relationship with God. We should be open to say, "The Lord told me that," and should be open to question someone on whether they heard that from the Lord.
We are told to study and to research the scriptures. We are also told that those who are the Sons of God are led by His Spirit. Be led by His Peace and Joy – Romans 14:17
HE BECAME INTIMATE WITH MEN....HMMMMMM I DONT THINK THATS PART OF THE EXPERIMENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Where did you see that in the article. It says he did not become intimate with other men
The article specifically says he did not become intimate with men, but had a friend pretend to be his partner.
"The experience – which stopped short of Kurek getting physically intimate with other men..."
You missed that part correct?
Look on the left of your keyboard. There's a magic key that transforms letters from one case to another. Experiment with THAT.
PRETENDING to Enjoy Dancing all Night with a Club full of guys in Hot-Pants. Now THAT is Dedication or SOMETHING – I Guess.
He has more courage than just about any evangelical Christian
He LIED, where is the courage in that?
@Truth, The OED defines fear as simply the courage to do something that frightens you, and I imagine this fit that description. I find very disturbing the waya lot of people call anyone who does what they don't like "cowards". Sure, most terrorists are (by my reckoning) doing wrong, filled with hate and ignorant. But they aren't cowards and calling them that makes your position laughable. The same applies here. You may not like what he did, but it did take courage. If you want to make a criticism, pick a relevant one.
tbt: he had enough courage to challenge his convictions. do you have as much courage, big mouth?
No threats here, Colin.
I hope your beliefs (or lack thereof) work out for you when all is said and done.
However, the costs of being wrong are far less severe if I am wrong than yours if YOU are ...
That's assuming that you've chosen the right god or gods to worship, out of the several thousand that man has worshiped. At best, you could be wasting your only shot at existence. At worst, you could be punished for eternity for worshiping the wrong god.
I know I'm not the "Colin" you're addressing, I'm a different Colin. Reading other Colin's words, I agree with other Colin. That said, Pascal's Wager is a laughable argument at best. Try something else.
ShannonCT – Out all of the thousands of "gods", how many of them remain known and popular like Jesus Christ?
Truth – the popularity of Christianity stems from the fact that the Roman emperor Constantine found it a useful tool for controlling an empire, and then later European kings found it useful for justifying their dictatorships. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the validity of a particular belief in the divine. But as long as we're talking popularity, there are about a billion and a half Muslims in the world who think you will burn in hell for worshiping Jesus as a god. What if they're right and you're wrong?
My point is merely that I have chosen a side and am at peace, regardless of the outcome.
I hope everyone else can say the same when it comes to brass tacks.
"My point is merely that I have chosen a side and am at peace"
Then you should just leave it at that. Because the Pascal's Wager justification you snuck in at the end is nonsense.
@shannonCT- I would take 1:1000 odds over 0:0 any day. Good luck
Timothy – If you're taking 1:1000 odds of choosing the right god and being rewarded, you're also taking 999:1000 odds of either (1) choosing the wrong god and being punished or (2) wrongly choosing a god at all and wasting your time/money. I personally don't play the lottery, or other bets that are highly likely to lose.
oh no....if there is a god out there other than the one you believe in, you could be in as much trouble as you claim unbelievers are with your god
Wow. Kurek also knows what it is like to live a lie and to ultimately have others find out that you were living a lie. As a gay man who served in the military in the 90's and who grew up in a very rural community in the south, it was unthinkable for me 20 years ago to be "out". I had to live a lie in order to keep a job, be part of a family, and even be free from having violence inflicted upon me. To the gays and lesbians who felt betrayed by Kurek, almost all of you are hypocrites. At one time or another you played the part of being straight to members of your family, to friends, and to co-workers. I, for one, applaud the courage it took for him to challenge his beliefs and sacrifice so much to understand "us". Isn't that the goal we all have, to be understood and accepted? Thank you, Timothy. God bless you as you continue on your journey to discover his heart.
I completely agree.
I am waiting for the book on living a year as an evangelical Christian by a person who was never exposed to that lifestyle before. Maybe that person will be able to understand where they are coming from and explain it to the rest of us. I have been very discouraged with the current evangelical Christians with their hateful ways. This is my background and I do not remember the people I knew engaging in that behavior.
Then check out The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose.
Times they are a changin'. As older and more bigoted generations of "Christians" die off, this lifestyle will become as accepted and seen simply as, what is . Religious cherry picking of biblical passages is quite obviously a self serving justification for bigotry. While I understand how his family or new found friends in his LGBT might feel betrayed, I applaud Timothy's willingness to admit to and explore his long held views and his hostility toward another human being for simply being "different" from himself.
Anne, the only bigot and hateful people are people as yourself wishing for Christians to die off. Christians has been around for over 2,000 years and even though not every Christians are true followers of God, you seem to want to label everyone of them as being hateful and bigot.
@Truth, I think she put "Christian" in quotes for a reason, and was therefore not referring to all Christians.
Sarawati – Read it again...."As older and more bigoted generations of "Christians" die off,"
@Truth, I read itagain and the quotation markes are still there.
...and she wasn't "wishing" for Christians to die off. She was stating a fact. Guess what, you're going to die! I am too. And so is your pastor, your mailman and all of your children. Its an inevitability. Your "God" made us this way.
"Truth", your handle is ironic. And yes, you totally misunderstood the poster.
Good for him
I cannot condone his deception of the gay community but I also think his motives were honorable. Too many of us condemn things we don't understand without taking the time to truly find out about them. I also think that his search is one many of us live with but don't act on. I am a Christian but I can't get over the thought that man, who by definition is imperfect, tells us how to "understand" the word of God. I go to a church because I enjoy the minister; I don't always agree with his interpretation of the Bible but at least he gives me messages to think about. However, I can't always accept the stances the church takes; they seem to fly in the face of being Christian, particularly when they enter the political arena. I learned long ago to take people for who they are, no matter lifestyle, political persuasion, or religious belief. I found that we all seem to have common grounds in one area or another which opens dialogue. To reject people because of their religious beliefs seems counterproductive and somehow goes against what God wants from us.
People have lied to friend and family for far worse reasons. It's hard to measure, but I'd guess the net result will be positive.
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.