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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. sneeky

    More religious people should be so enlightened as this man! Kudos to him for having the bawls to go through with it and actually have a life altering experience! Soooooo many people could learn from this!

    December 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Bob

      just your retard opinion

      December 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  2. Bob

    I hope gay people repent soon.

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

      Prejudice people like this are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • ShannonCT

      As soon as religious people beg for forgiveness for thousands of years of nonsense.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • adam

      Why, what's in it for you? Are you getting paid Everytime someone, who you think is wrong, changes to conform to your beliefs? Did GOD make a secret deal with you that Everytime a "wicked" person repents, you score brownie-points in Heaven? Of what gain do you get by hoping so-&-so repents? We all would be wise to worry about our own soul before we worry about our neighbor's. Earth would be more of a peaceful place then, too. No, Bob, I'm not gay & yes I am a believer in Jesus Christ, & no, I'm not going to repent.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • John

      I hope gays repent too, not for my sake but for theirs. However, they are no more guilty than anyone else. We've ALL sinned and fallen short. The difference is agreeing or disagreeing with God. I could murder or lie or cheat on my spouse, but if i agree with God that it's wrong and truly repent, He forgives and forgets. However, if I justify my sin and keep walking away from God, I hope someone like Bob will pray for me.

      December 2, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  3. steve

    All bible thumpers really are spoiled minds who hide behind a false "ideal" to deal with their filthy dirty sick thoughts. They can't deal with the world around them and lie to each other. They are simple minded people who lack the gene of evolution. They lack creativity and deserve each other.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      What gene of evolution? Is Darwin's racism genetic now?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • bgg1175

      Well John, some do get left behind. Not in a Rapture but they are left behind in churches as the rest of the world progresses.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  4. Bob

    I wish an ostrich would bury his head in my a-ss, but then the gerbils would be mad

    December 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Bob

      Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      @fake bob

      Do you think Jesus is proud of your behavior of the last twenty minutes? Will he say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" for what you are doing now?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  5. Steve-O

    What's with Kurek's t-shirt in that first photo? Did they just partake in a 'coming out bukake party'?

    December 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  6. EmeraldCity

    No matter what kind of criticism that this guy is receiving now, his work is valuable, nonetheless. It is good work that exposes the hypocrisy of Christianity and those who are indoctrinated from the time they are born. And reveals how damaging the effects of it are on society.

    Good for you, Timothy.

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

      It exposes democracy is hijacked and damaged by a bunch of losers who can only survive as activists. It is true Obama won by collaborating with cults, illegals, and all kinds of losers created to destroy America and democracy.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ letus: excuse me while I adjust your tin foil hat . . . . there – better?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  7. Name*jesus1

    was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” He wrote a book alright. But not about god

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

      Jesus was represented as the master of empathy – stopping a woman from being stoned by ignorant people. Be careful you're not on the wrong side of that firing line.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Roger that

      If you want to read a book about God then I would suggest the Bible. In that book, God plays the villain.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  8. kayaker247

    I'm sure he was just "pretending". Give it up religious freaks. People are just trying to be happy. Worry about your own life, stay out of everyone else's.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  9. john

    CNN will go to any extremes to justify its disgusting left wing social views.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @john

      And... cue the Fox News idiots.

      Peace...

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      you know it wasnt cnn that pretended to be gay for a year right?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Yeah, those leftie values, like love your neighbour, look after the poor – ickie stuff like that.

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

      You mean views based on evidence rather than an ancient book of myths?

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

      This story began because of a person who was disowned by her family. Is maintaining strong families and loving one's neighbor a liberal value now? I get so confused.

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

      Jesus went to extreme lengths to show his left-leaning social views (i.e., that God created everyone and went to extreme lengths to show his love/mercy to everyone). The rest of the world (not attending churches which wouldn't open their doors to them) will hopefully find that out (even if the church tries their best to keep that 'good' news a secret).

      What do you think all the parables were about: prodigal son, lost sheep, lost coin.

      "The church" sounds a lot like Jonah (throwing a hissy fit that God would love/forgive 'sinners').

      December 2, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  10. Nietodarwin

    Religion. It`s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.
    Charlie Chaplin

    The xstians and the LGBT's are mad at this guy for his lies. He is a VICTIM of the lies of religion . We "none" had better ornganize and START PREVENTING this indoctrination of children, instead of just making fun of their ignorance brought on by religious upbringing when they comment on here or shout bible verses in public. It's a problem. It has lowered our test scores. It really should be made criminal to raise children in ONLY one religion, Even my religion classes in catholic school told us what other religions believed. (I am now "SAVED" I am a fulfulled atheist.)

    December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  11. lmatiukas

    people still believe in fairy tales and it's 2012 already... dumb idiots there is no one living up in the clouds

    December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  12. Dave

    I dont beleive this man was or is a Christian.
    He has been enticed by the Gay sinful lifestyle

    Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
    For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?
    And what communion has light with darkness 2Cor6:14
    And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,
    but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:11

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

      Judge not, lest ye be judged...

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

      "He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:17)

      December 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • John Wood

      Dave, it's not your place to make that determination.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      funny dave but people use similar quotes from the qu'ran to show how 'evil' Islam is.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      Will you people just STOP with the bible quotes. I wish some of you could win some Darwin awards. (Sorry, that's too harsh, I don't wish for your death.) Here's a bible quote for you to follow, which will still result in the elimination of your genes from the gene pool should you choose to "read that bible and LIVE by that bible"
      What personal sacrifice for "the kingdom of heaven" was Jesus talking about when he told his disciples, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it"? CASTRATE YOURSELF (Matthew 19:11-12)

      December 2, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      I do not believe Dave is or was a christian. He has been enticed by feelings of warm holy spo.ok fuzzies.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • bgg1175

      Well I dont hate men or women or Judge them if theyre gay Dave, but according to the scripture you just quoted I should avoid the likes of you as you carry the darkness of hate and you cast stones at others and I should not dwell among those that may spread darkness into my heart.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • sam stone

      good for you, dave.

      when DID you get promoted to god?

      looks like posting all that scripture got you noticed in all the right places

      December 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  13. oscar r

    pretending my ass

    December 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • oscar r

      he was just looking for an excuse to come out

      December 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  14. Todd

    We have become so technologically advanced as a society, have developed incredible machines and advanced our way of life; yet somehow, millions upon millions still believe nonsensical books from thousands of years ago.
    Why?

    December 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Faithnis the reason, a delusion like Love.

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

      It makes them feel good and gives them meaning. Albeit misdirected. And remember we live in a very felt needs driven society.

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

      This existed for thousand years. What is novel and technology advancement?

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

      Todd, man is not God. You trust in iPhones and automobiles and the things man can make, but you'll soon find out that there exists the one true God (the God of Israel) and that his Word is true. That day will for SURE happen. Don't let that be the worst day of your existence.

      December 2, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  15. John P. Tarver

    Tom Cruiz is quitting Scientology and is never coming out of th closet either.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  16. Joe

    Hey CNN, why not do a hit piece on Muslims and their views of gay people? I'll bet you wouldn't dare.

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

      Joe,

      Muslims don't claim this is THEIR country and try to get their legislators creating laws to deny others rights here.

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

      Yes, it's a testament to centuries of secularists risking their lives and reputations that Christians no longer feel the urge to murder someone for disagreeing with them, like so many Muslims do. You can thank us later.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Joe

      " Hey CNN, why not do a hit piece on Muslims and their views of gay people? "

      Hmm... CNN has done numerous articles over the years on the fanatical crazy muslims.

      We are hoping for "better" from the so-called "Christians."

      Peace...

      December 2, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • sam stone

      joe: when muslims start enshrining their belief system into our secular laws, let me know.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  17. Mom

    For me, it would be easier to impersonate a gay than an evangelical for a year. Heck, I can't even pretend to be evangelical for one Sunday!

    December 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • GAW

      But it's been done. I think the name of the book about it was Chapter and Verse. The author went to Criswell College for a year.

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

      I'm looking that book up, I bet it would be eye-opening!

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

      I think it's called "The Year of Living Biblically". He tried to uphold every mandate in the Bible, which is impossible since it calls for polygamy and murdering children, but he did his best.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  18. Susan

    Jesus said, "go and sin no more". He didn't say, I understand your feelings. Regardless of how you feel, think, or act, you go ahead and do what you feel is best for you – because that's what is right for you..

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

      The idea that being gay is a sin is as ridiculous as the idea that eating certain types of meat and not others is a sin. The Bible is a poor source of ethics and morality. It condones horrible things and prohibits harmless ones.

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

      should go for immolation.

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

      Susan, you wrote: Regardless of how you feel, you go ahead & do what you feel is best for you–because that's what is right for you.
      I don't understand what you mean by this. Can you please explain it to me?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • bgg1175

      No, a book written by men says those things. And "Go and Sin no more" is something not one person, not you has ever achieved.
      You are implying that hetros somehow are better just by being hetros. Men and women hetros and especially church going hetros cause their share of problems.
      And why is it you "christians" like Muslims really enjoy casting them stones?
      That the one line "christians" seem to ignore openly and most wholeheartedly.
      If you dont believe in being gay-dont be gay. But stop worrying about how others live their lives. Live yours and stop trying to use an old religion to exert control over people.
      Their lifestyle is none of your business!!!!!!!!!!!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • ssmote

      If you are wearing more than one type of fabric right now or eat seafood, consider yourself banished to Hell. It doesn't matter how you feel about it or how sympathetic anyone is to your plight. You will burn in Hell according to the Bible. So, be careful what you consider a sin.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  19. GAW

    From the Huffington Post article "he recruited a gay friend of his to play his boyfriend so he would have an excuse not to hook up with guys."

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

      yeah, he was hooking up with him.

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

      He must have been posing as a bear.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  20. Saraswati

    This is the kind of research most anthropologists dream of doing, but are restricted from by both regulations and an inability to blend.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:00 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.