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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. bogo

    Kurek should write a book about the escape from "Christianity". Now that's a real myth!

    December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Edweird69

      Good post! I was raised in a staunch xtian church, and have to deal with the brainwashing on a daily basis. I know I'll never be cured from the hatreds I was taught, but I acknowledge what happened to me, and cope with it as best I can. My parents just thought they were doing the right thing, so I have no anger towards them at all. Their intentions were pure, but the result was undesired.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • bogo

      Thank you. I'm thinking about being a Christian for a year and then write a book about it! Great idea!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  2. mark

    The headline should read "gay poses as evangelical". This whole thing sounds like a big ploy to me. First of all what he did is completely meaningless so pretending he learned some great lesson from it is hilarious. People are just catching on and playing the game. Everyone knows how to promote themselves and get on tv.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      What a load of bullsh!t, mark. You claim to know his motivations and then you claim that everyone knows how to get on tv? LOL

      December 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Just because your poor critical thinking skills can't discern the meaning doesn't make if meaningless.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Mak

      You people are hilarious. You just jump on board with everything and act like whatever the liberal news throws at you makes perfect sense. This is just plain silly but I suppose this guy has found his intended audience and he's going to milk it for all it's worth.

      December 2, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Peter Bishop

    When do we get the "Gay Pretends to be Evangelical for A Year" story?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  4. Lion

    Science is the only way we can derive real knowledge about the natural world and our place in it. Religious faith simply confuses and divides.
    Perhaps the person who wrote Genesis didn't have a clue what he was on about?
    Knowing right from wrong? Even monkeys, horses and cats follow rules when living in a group, but I don't think they were ever handed tablets of stone. I'll never alter someones blind faith, but still feel obliged to point out errors of logic which are portrayed as fact.Religion came about when people didn't understand the world around them properly and a God seemed a sensible choice. But when people started asking questions like Galileo he was maligned and demonized. Thankfully we understand the Earth and our place in the Universe a lot better and these days religion just seems to create problems and conflicts and not much else.There is no God, sure religion has given the world fancy buildings, but there just isn't evidence of God.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • poopmeister

      I cannot agree more. Back in biblical times, people were trying to find answers at a time that they did not have the know-how to do so. Beliefs were around alot longer than before the Old Testament. It was all speculation and just because some of it ended up in print, doesn't make it right....it makes it folklore.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • sqeptiq

      God is simply the space between the knowable and the as yet unknown. It is an ever shrinking phenomenon.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  5. fara

    did he immerse himself fully and swallow a few hot dogs?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  6. somedude

    Nnobody "pretends" to be gay for a whole year. This dude has a different kind of soul searching to do.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Many gay people pretend to be straight for years and years – some for their entire lives. Why can't a straight guy pretend to be gay? Do you have such insecurities about your own s-exuality?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Just because you can't conceive it doesn't mean no one can. Arrogance abetted by ignorance is all you offer.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  7. SusieKJ

    I think a lot of you are missing the point. You say that he went too far, but have you ever really spoken to an entrenched evangelical? It usually requires a radical experience to have them be open to alternate views or to alter their own views, and this is the one he chose. I actually applaud him for being brave enough to do something that might be spurned by so many. As for Amy Lieberman and others that said they felt sorry for the gay community – I say check your self righteousness at the door because it comes across no better than a bigoted religious zealot. Can I not forge a friendship with a gay person if I'm not gay? Are you fighting for equality or not? He lied to the straight and gay in his life, but at least he did it in order to gain understanding and acceptance rather than to increase the hate. Your intolerance increases the hate.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  8. dwadaf

    This took a lot of courage, and faith, to do. God spoke to him through his lesbian friend and he answered the call. That is impressive. I look forward to reading the book.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Yes, it took a lot of courage. But no – "god" didn't speak through his lesbian friend – she would have done that all by herself. Unless "god" is also speaking through the hate-mongers who discriminate against gays. There is no rational basis for picking and choosing. And, it's rather presumptuous of you to presuppose what a supposedly omniscient, omnipotent being's actions and motivations are.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  9. GAW

    He must have been posing a s a G ay V irgin. There's just certain things he wasn't doing during his covert operation.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  10. bogo

    A recent CDC study found that in 2008 one in five (19%) gays in 21 major US cities were infected with HIV, and nearly half (44%) were unaware of their infection. Which means nearly half of them are happily spreading it!

    It's far worse now.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      If they are unaware they are infected, then by definition they could not be "happily spreading it".

      You are truly too stupid to live.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Bob

      bogo is a prejudice troll that goes by many handles. Grow up troll.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Observer

      bogo,

      SInce marriage is an excellent way to decrease promiscuity, you have made an excellent argument in favor of gay marriage.

      Well done.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • ShannonCT

      Still much lower than the percent of straight people who are happily spreading HPV and causing tens of thousands of cervical cancer cases every year, and this despite the existence of a vaccine that many Christians don't want made standard.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Edweird69

      Statistics now show that 39% of new AIDS cases are now caused by hetero s ex in the U.S. Mainly woman, and very young str8 men between 20 and 26 are now the new victims of this virus.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Ryan

      Don't post numbers if you can't do math.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  11. Shawn Irwin

    This was terrific, if more religious people could be like him, we would have a lot less intolerance in the world . . . . now all we need is one of these fundimentalists to try being an athiest for a year; try that out and see just how you get treated by your so-called christian brothers and sisters . . .

    December 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  12. Blasphemy

    There really is no reason to pretend anything if want people to think you are gay.

    Just act like an individual with poise and dignity instead of acting like a submissive horn dog that melts every time a female flashes her breasts at you. Many submissive horn dogs will assume you are gay. Many manipulative females will start the rumor in retaliation for the rejection.

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

      "If he can resist this he must be gay." LOL

      December 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  13. Terry9

    One should actually read Kurek's book before passing judgement here.

    I did read it. It is a terrific story of a young man's escape from the dogma he'd been taught his whole life. I smiled and I cried through the whole book. Thank you, Tim, for paving the way for others to reject teachings of hate and intolerance.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  14. Melissa

    interesting.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  15. poopmeister

    If there is anything that I learned on this Earth, I learned that we are all here and we have to figure out a way to get along with each other. Compromising is the key and I don't see how staying closed off and sticking to the teachings of an ancient book is going to help us with that fact. Everyone needs to evolve and this guy is just another person trying to reach that goal, kudos to him. I don't care if he needed to go to more drastic measures instead of just lying to get some heads to turn and notice the problems of our society.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Goose66

      The ability to get along with one another is in our genes. Instinctually, most of us will respect another's right to exist, their personal space, and their physical and emotional well being. This is a product of evolution. That's not to say we don't have prejudices. Those are instinctual, too. What is happening in our society is that government and organized religion have taken over the role(s) of providing and enforcing the rules of "getting along," and this shifts us to a de-evolution of the instinctual societal pressures that has allowed us to become civilized in the first place.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  16. Jim in PA

    I can only assume that the accompanying photos are of Timothy and his conservative church friends.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  17. GAW

    In this case, the ends don't justify the means. But this is how many Evangelicals work. They will lie in order to get what they want even though in this case Kurek may have developed a greater sense of understanding of the G ay community.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Counter

      You just painted evangelicals wit the same brush some evangelicals paint when they judge gays.

      Nice.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  18. Daniel Xavier Knight - www.eternian.tk

    "Evangelical" is a word liberals don't even understand, like "fundamentalist" it's simply code for "Christian who believes in and promotes the Bible is God's word and won't give in to us liberals" and a sleight of hand to get people to ignore what the Bible says and attack the messengers of God's word. As for this man who pretended, if he lied for a year, how can you believe he didn't simply become twisted? There is a verse in the Bible that many translate as, "Bad company corrupts good manners". This is not to say that Christians shouldn't go out and talk to non-Christians, but not to be with them for a period so long that their sinful behavior causes you to imitate them. For those who say that is bigoted, you simply ignored what I said and that common sense. The Bible says that the good are disgusted by the evil, and vice versa, so those who say "bigot" are being hypocrites and are bigots themselves.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Jesus

      Dumb-ass alert!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • ShannonCT

      The worst are liberal Christians who cherry pick the Bible and refuse to carry out God's laws of putting to death gays, adulterers, and kids who mouth off to their parents.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      This is not to say that Christians shouldn't go out and talk to non-Christians, OH PLEASE SAY IT I don't know any chritians who just vomit at the table while other people are eating, why can't you realize that this is the effect your preaching has on the rest of us. Freedom OF religion also means freedom FROM religion. People get mad at this kid for telling lies about being gay, (both sides the Talibangelicals AND the LGRT's are angry) He is a VICTIM of lies. Religion is a lie.
      "Christianity is the most perverse system ever shone on man" Thomas Jefferson

      December 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Jim in PA

      Actually, "fundamentalist" refers to people who call themselves Christian yet conveniently ignore almost everything Christ ever said, and instead pattern their lives after ancient pre-Christ writings like Leviticus.

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

      Speaking of hypocrites, since every Christians picks and chooses from the Bible, why not choose the Golden Rule?

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

      Well the majority of the world considers the U.S and your popullation " bad company" and it has been corupting "the good manners of the world" for years, so I guess there is some truth to that bible verse.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Jim in PA

      ShannonCT – Speaking of cherry picking, when did Jesus ever say anything about gays or abortion? Oh that's right, you're too busy cherry picking quotes from Leviticus to know the answer.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Oh, you nutty, whacky evangelical Christians! Putting the "mental" in fundamentalist!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Name*jesus1

      You must be jesus 2 alert

      December 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Saraswati

      Your argument makes some sense if you take as a premise that the originating position is correct. If there is nothing to be learned why risk contamination? On the other hand, if there is something to learn, direct contact may be one of the best methods to learn.

      And here we are talking about learning things bigger than manners. The way human society works certainly social norms such as language and posture "rub off" easily. However, learning facts is a much more complicated matter. Short of the conditions of Stockholm syndrome, no amount of time spent amoung those who believe the earth is flat is going to make most of us believe it. And this guy, after all, was fully capable of coming up with this idea when still immersed in the evangelical community, so he was capable of thinking beyong his immediate environment, and should have been expected to carry that same capability into his new endeavor.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • ShannonCT

      "when did Jesus ever say anything about gays"

      Jim, as usual, the atheist knows the Bible better than Christian. Read Matthew 5:18.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Nero

      The good are disgusted by evil. that's why I'm disgusted by evangelicals. Sure they think they are good, but subconsiously they are behaving in an evil manner.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Dennis

      I think you discredit those who you label as Liberal. Do you know what the word liberal means? I can be described as many things. I personally call myself a liberal conservative. My values are Bible based and I too grew up in church, however because I am socially active and I work with a population that is looked down upon (homeless, mentally ill, and substance abusers) I am often seen as Liberal my many. The word liberal means generous. We, as Christians, are called to love first and foremost. No, that does not mean to condone those things that are abominations, but that doesn't mean that I throw them on top of the garbage heap either. The old song says, "They will know we are Christians by our love."

      December 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      sorry daniel but you attempt to brush away any response as simply not getting the 'common sense' wont work.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • neednewgov

      Unfortunately, you just made yourself the example of what's wrong with organized religion. Try and get back to the core (truth) of who God and Jesus are and you'll understand that your statement is not of God.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • noirelion

      you are using "circular logic" – basing all your arguments about anything- based on tenets of your faith.
      you assume incorrectly that the base of your view of life- is everybody's and it isn't.
      -think for a minute.
      if stuff in your book is wrong- then you are wrong.
      so much in your book is just wrong- but ignore what you don't like in your book/stick with what you like.
      you can associate with only your own kind....but -how about you stay in your own enclaves?
      don't push your mean spirited beliefs based on the words in your book- on the rest of us....
      stop trying to convert people- to the hatreds you have against the myriad groups ...?
      but you don't do that. You proselytize- and blast your views and attack people who do what you do.

      most of the wars the last few thousand years were started by your faith.
      why don't you pipe down. and leave the rest of us alone- for a change?
      but you guys are always trying to get control of the government- and tyrannize the rest of us
      trying to make every American conform to your views- which many of us dont like.
      Forcing your faith on the rest of us makes you like the Taliban.
      People like you are the reason the Pilgrims left where they were and came here...now you are trying to make America like the place the Pilgrims left...annd we are not interested. Mind your business and stay out of ours.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • sqeptiq

      You obviously don't have a clue what bigoted means, so it's easy to deny being a bigot.

      December 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  19. Diane Zodikoff

    Great learning experience! You're able to learn and accept others. Anyone criticizing you just hasn't allow themselves to mature re: our differences. Unsophisticated is the kindest word I can use for them.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  20. Name*jesus

    It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil,[1] to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:42 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.