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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. John

    Although I believe in god, but I do not believe in church. It is all made up by people on this earth. In the day when there was no law and order, churches were a good thing to hold people accountable (to god) for their actions. Today I feel they are unnecessary and all they do is cause violence and separation of people. Besides, from what I see is that most people who go to church seem to be a bunch of hypocrites anyways. Look at our church going politicians as an example.....

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

      I agree heartily. I love God, hate religion.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Which god do you love?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • oscar r

      god is made up also

      December 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  2. Manny

    I've never liked ostriches. For the next year I'm going to pretend I'm an ostrich.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • midwest rail

      You're already doing a fine job with your head in the sand.

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

      Midwest: GO F YOURSELF

      December 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • midwest rail

      Thank you for that typically Christian response.

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

      "Midwest: GO F YOURSELF"

      Grow up troll.

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

      I wish an ostrich would bury his head in my a-ss

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Bob

      "I wish an ostrich would bury his head in my a-ss"

      Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Bob

      "I wish an ostrich would bury his head in my a-ss"

      Prejudice people like this are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  3. Nietodarwin

    When we pass laws making it illegal to take kids into a church, just like they can't go drink at a bar, then we will have progress.
    Brainwashing children should be illegal.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  4. Bob

    I love gay men

    December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  5. ElreydelMar

    This is brilliant. We need more people to understand what this guy did and how great it will help relations for both the gay community and the religious community. As for when they say every interaction with him (while he was maintaining that he was gay) is false and fake, I dont think so. We leave a mark on everyone we talk with, interact with, even smile at. He listen, he helped, he was a true friend.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  6. Gracie Lake

    This reminds me of the book "Black Like Me" where a white guy spent six weeks passing as a black in the 60s in order to shed light on the subject. It was ground-breaking, and anyone who fusses about being 'lied' to by the writer has it all wrong. It is the path that is important, and by 'coming out' backwards, he has done gays a great service.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  7. Peter

    This man is gay and want to pretend he is not

    December 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • SixDegrees

      OK, let's go with that.

      So what? How does that invalidate his experience or what he has to say?

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

      yes, you are not gay or experiencing the "gay" experience until you swallow a few hot dogs and do some banging of men, Capisci?

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

      "yes, you are not gay or experiencing the "gay" experience until you swallow a few hot dogs and do some banging of men, Capisci?"

      Oh look more trolling, grow up.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Bob

      I wish you all could see what I'm doing with this Kielbasa sausage right now.

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

      "I wish you all could see what I'm doing with this Kielbasa sausage right now."

      Grow up troll.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  8. 69

    I wonder if he got banged

    December 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Bob

      Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Bob

      But I like to watch men get banged, and partake sometime, ok, most ime, ok ok. all the time

      December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • midwest rail

      Did you need to ask him if his experience was identical to yours ?

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

      "But I like to watch men get banged, and partake sometime, ok, most ime, ok ok. all the time"

      Grow up troll.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  9. bogo

    Most homeless drunk schizos are also pretending to be just that, but for a lot longer than a year. Just ask them.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      OK. Bogo, are just pretending be a drunk, crazy idiot? Or are you genuinely as moronic as you appear?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  10. TG

    One that is a genuine Christian, follows Jesus perfect example, both by words and by conduct.(1 Pet 2:21) Jesus assisted people to leave their former way of life that was contrary to God's laws and principles and put on the "new personality" (Col 3:9, 10) that imitates Jesus as one loyal to our Creator, Jehovah God's, moral laws.

    The apostle Paul, rather than mixing in with the immoral ones of the Roman Empire to "understand them", he guided them to leave their former way of life, saying: "What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God."(1 Cor 6:9-11)

    Rather than getting in the "mud puddle" with those whose lifestyle was unclean in God's eyes, he made great effort to teach them God's moral laws. Paul counseled, contrasting life styles: "Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Be´li·al? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols?" and then quoting from Isaiah 52:11, he now says: "Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing ’”; “‘and I will take you in.’” “‘And I shall be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me,’ says Jehovah the Almighty."(2 Cor 6:14-18) Hence, many left their former life style in order to please God after being taught God's moral boundaries.

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

      mind your own business.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @TG

      And... cue "Bible Quotes" 8O

      Peace...

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

      @TG: the verse you mentioned: "But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God."

      Seems like God's a little more compassionate that you are.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • BurningMan

      It is widely known that por nography is a prevalent issue in today’s society, but its potential of addiction is not isolated to the secular world. Charles Swindoll calls it “the no. 1 secret problem in your church.

      According to a ChristiaNet survey, 50 percent of Christian men are addicted to por nography. And it’s not just a “guy-thing;” 20 percent of Christian women are addicted to por nography, and 60 percent of Christian women admitted to significantly struggling with lust.

      And yes, por nography is in the pulpit, too. Christianity Today found that 37 percent of pastors admit that they struggle with Internet por nography, and 51 percent say it’s a source of temptation. And more than half the pastors surveyed (57 percent) said that addiction to por nography is the most se x ually damaging issue in their church.

      Perhaps Christians should pay a little more attention to the "sin" lurking in the pews around them. Distracting one's self from their own sin by focusing on another is informative.

      And they might want to conduct quality research into why the "transformative" power of Christ is so impotent in the daily lives of Evangelicals.

      Of course you won't find any statistics of the prevalency of hom o se x u ality in the Evangelical community. They lack the integrity and honesty because it will confirm the inefficacy of their relationship with god.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  11. jay

    this is terrible...like a white man painting his face black to look like an african american to see what it would be like. he's making money off of this and that is just sad. exploiting stereotypes is wrong. did no one tell him that?

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

      That's beendone before, too, and with the same mixed reactions. But if you really want to see the world from another perspective, this is as close as you canget. I wouldn't want a world whereeveryone does it, but to have a small handful crossing over lines I suspect will enrichus as a society.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  12. John

    And all will buy the book, the writer will smile cashing the checks, but nothing will change the mind of God.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So you know the mind of god? Do tell. Based on what? A book written 2000 years ago? Your imaginary conversations with a non-existent being? Your own prejudices?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  13. TheWord

    All Organized religion = cancer of society

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

      People who make blanket statements condemning what they do not fully understand and who hold prejudices about people they have never met = cancer on society.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  14. pl

    I'm pretending to be poor..

    December 2, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  15. Matt Fredrickson

    A lying evangelical christian, now there's a real shocker!!! LOL. It's amusing to see just how many other hypocrites defend a liar.

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

      Your intolerance and hate is just as apalling as thsoe who discriminate against gay people. You should be ashamed of yourself because you're just the same as them, but you direct your ignorance and hate at a different group.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  16. nutty

    did he give any BJ's?

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

      Grow up.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Todd

      Sounds like you're very interested.
      Hmmm...

      December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Bob

      I love bjs from men, they know how to do it

      December 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Captain Crunch

      Only HJs... BJs would be crossing the line

      December 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Bob

      Oh look you didn't like my comment so you prove your immaturity by using my name to make another immature comment. Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Bob

      I "stole" you name??? LOL. You ARE a F-–ing m0r0n

      December 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Bob

      "I "stole" you name??? LOL. You ARE a F-–ing m0r0n"

      Grow up troll.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Bob

      Hey Bob: STFU

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

      "Hey Bob: STFU"

      Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  17. Jennifer

    This man lied to countless people & caused his family to suffer unnecessarily. Nothing about that behavior indicates he is a follower of Jesus Christ.

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

      If his family suffered, it's because they have a mental disorder.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Jennifer

      " caused his family to suffer "

      And he *caused* his family to suffer... how specifically ?

      Oh, that's right... his family was exposed to their own prejudice and bigotry.

      Peace...

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

      He didn't cause anyone to suffer. And not every lie is wrong.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • BurningMan

      @ Jennifer...I'd like to encourage you to come out of your protective cognitive/emotional shell and review the past 20 years of headlines depicting the secret lives of pastors across the country (not even counting Catholic priests)...

      Lying among the Body of Christ is clearly a normal pattern of behavior.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  18. john

    “I am trying to figure out what place in the body of Christ I fit in,” he said.

    -OR-

    "I am trying to figure out what body part of Christ that will fit in,"he said.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  19. chiachrist

    Ya... thats it I'm just "pretending" to be gay....thats the ticket.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  20. fara

    I hear his nickname is turd burglar now.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:54 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.