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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. emily

    This is problematic in so many ways. I am just going to post a few thoughts.

    1) The use of James 1:27.
    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.”

    Does James say, "Religion that is pure and faultless is this: Pretend like you are an orphan or a widow. Then decide whether or not you can have compassion on them, and then decide whether or not you will look after them" ?

    No. He says simply LOOK AFTER THEM.

    Jesus does not call us to understand everyone's situation; he calls us to be in relationship with people and to love.

    2) "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."

    Well, I'm glad he can feel better about himself now, without thinking about how being straight and being his version of what he calls "Christian" have oppressed others.

    3) "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."

    He is pretending. He has it so hard, life is rough for him,

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

    I am interested to know which Christians he is referring to. Also he feels like he can tell other people's stories now; that's an interesting conclusion to come to after this experience.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Richard

      Youve only added to the 'problematic' nature of your thoughts by writing jesus calls on us.. A fictional character cannot call on anyone. Please try to understand the mythological/legend/folklore aspects behind the stories you think real.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • BurningMan

      Hi, Em...

      you said: "Jesus does not call us to understand everyone's situation; he calls us to be in relationship with people and to love."

      I'm not really sure how you can "be in relationship" with someone without understanding them.

      What this tells me about you is that you retain a self-centeredness when you relate to others, approaching them with all of your preconceived notions firmly in place without allowing them the opportunity to be who they are.

      You have, however, enlightened me to the Christian argument that "it's not a religion, it's a relationship" when witnessing to the lost. Clearly, the relationship with Jesus is obviously one-sided.

      If Jesus exists, you might want to shut up when you pray...and listen. That is one of the tragic things that Protestantism left in the dust when they split from the Catholics...the contemplative life.

      How sad.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "Jesus does not call us to understand everyone's situation; he calls us to be in relationship with people and to love."

      Emily,

      Signs you are in a abusive relationship.

      – Monitors what you're doing all the time
      – Decides things for you that you should be allowed to decide (like what to wear or eat)
      – Threatens to hurt you, or your children if you don’t love him
      – Blames you for his or her violent outbursts or shortcomings
      -Being s.e.xually controlling
      – You have an impending sense of consequence that will come if you don't "obey."
      -Tells you that you are “nothing” without him and you don’t deserve his love

      December 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • BurningMan

      @Cheese!

      This post of yours is another reason why I said earlier that I greatly admire you...not many within the Body of Christ have the courage to actually consider what their relationship with "Father-god" and Jesus means...just like you describe.

      I would add that any Christian with a teenage daughter might want to consider the analogy of a boyfriend demanding that the daughter either love him or he will pour gasoline on her and light her up if she didn't accept his love forever.

      An odd thing about the Christian free-will and "choice" excuse that is always in serted in the "original sin" argument is that accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior or eternal separation in hell are God's only choices...

      That is not a choice...it is an ultimatum.

      Were Jesus and his "father-god" truly loving, they would have made it "love me or you can go your own way without any fear of my wrath"...

      ("wrath" from an omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent being still cra cks me up...obviously the Christian god was made in the image of angry, :"justice" desperate and victimized Christians).

      Always enjoy your thoughts...

      December 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  2. Splovengates

    I think im in the enemies camp now just posting

    December 2, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  3. topconservative

    I wonder what his girlfriend thought of him "pretending" to be homasectyouall for 1 year. Christian men do a lot of pretending.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  4. Bob

    I want a hot cuchifrito in my culo. Viva taco bell

    December 2, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  5. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    Shouldn't all the children posting here be in Sunday school?

    December 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Bob

      stfu. havent you figured out this board is a joke. you make me sick.you s t u p i dd f u c k

      December 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Edweird69

      Geee whiz Bob..lighten up!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Bob

      stfu. havent you figured out this board is a joke. you make me sick.you schifo

      December 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Does typing asshole get you all excited?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Bob

      stfu. havent you figured out this board is a joke. you make me barf.you dolt

      December 2, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Bob

      piece of s h i t

      December 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  6. Splovengates

    Why would anyone go into the camp of the enemy? You might not come out alive

    December 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  7. Bob

    Dame PINGA

    December 2, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  8. Mike

    I'm happy that he did the experiment. It woke him up and allowed him to see the American Christian church for what it really is. I'm buying his book this week.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Bob

      P

      December 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • letushelp

      Obama did the experiment to collaborate with cult. He will get the fiscal cliff. Those who voted for him must pay the price.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • letushelp

      Bob, there are other holes like bottle of a coco

      December 2, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • letushelp

      FISCAL CLIFF, is the ANSWER!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Bob

      ussy

      December 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • James PDX

      letushelp needs help.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Yes. Too bad we can't take a collection and get him a blow job to release his stress. Bob seems to be in need too.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • hal 9001

      Your assertions are quite correct, 0G, Both Bob and letushelp are in need of blow jobs.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  9. carbie

    "BABE" – (you wish) – you are nothing more than a H O who wants to have s ex with any and all males outside the marriage!!!!!

    December 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  10. Splovengates

    Lets get it straight. YOU PLAY WITH FIRE YOU GET BURNED

    December 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • letushelp

      Get the fiscal cliff.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  11. Bob

    I like 7" snakes

    December 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Edweird69

      Darned...I'm outta luck..mine's 8"

      December 2, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  12. Nietodarwin

    This internet thing is really allowing the non religious to think, and speak Reason, without fear of being murdered by a christian, or a muslim, (those ARE the heavy hitters of murder caused by religion, although there are others.)

    Evolution is a FACT. It is the foundation of ALL study of biology now. Religion hurts kids, hurts society, hurts test scores and general intellect. Xstian thumpers always doubt Darwin, but never Einstein, (I guess they find atomic bombs more convincing than fossiles.) Here's what Uncle Albert said, A man`s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. (Albert Einstein)

    Here's what Lewis Black said, “Who knew that the devil had a factory where he made millions of fossils, which his minions distributed throughout the earth, in order to confuse my tiny brain?” (Lewis Black)," Me of Little Faith"

    December 2, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  13. r

    He wanted to try it out and made up a cover story. At least he should have had the guts to be honest.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • letushelp

      The problem is not being gay or marriage to a dog. The problem is gay PRIDE. Pride for what? for their hallucination that they changed American politics. Really shameless hallucination with the fact being they ruined America democracy. It is not a joke. It is a tumor.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Bob

      "The problem is not being gay or marriage to a dog. The problem is gay PRIDE. Pride for what? for their hallucination that they changed American politics. Really shameless hallucination with the fact being they ruined America democracy. It is not a joke. It is a tumor."

      Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Bob

      I meant :PREJUDICED.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      @letushelp

      Who cares? If you and a bunch of others want to be proud for having blonde hair, what's the difference?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Bob

      prejudiced. what's with the smiley face. I love men.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  14. jeff

    This is what i hate. Christians pick and choose what to hate and what is a sin. Read your bible and look at all the ways you are sinning. People mention where Leviticus 19:19 you can't mix threads, but no one has a response. I think it is because it is as stupid as hating gays, but not nearly as fun for them.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  15. Splovengates

    Lets get it straight. YOU PLAY WITH SNAKES YOU GET BIT.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Bob

      The snakes I play with spit at me

      December 2, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  16. Bob

    this is so boring. I'm going to craigslist and looking for some strange

    December 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  17. Erik

    " and abandons the gay lifestyle "

    The experts have shown this is dangerous and not healthy form gays. Being gay is not a choice science, in fact, is actually not in dispute on this matter.

    All major medical professional organizations concur that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed, from gay to straight or otherwise. The American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and European Psychological, Psychiatric, and Medical Associations all agree with this, as does the World Health Organization and the medical organizations of Japan, China, and most recently, Thailand. Furthermore, attempts to change one's sexual orientation can be psychologically damaging, and cause great inner turmoil and depression, especially for Christian gays and lesbians.

    Reparative therapy, also called conversion therapy or reorientation therapy, "counsels" LGBT persons to pray fervently and study Bible verses, often utilizing 12-step techniques that are used to treat sexual addictions or trauma. Such Christian councilors are pathologizing homosexuality, which is not a pathology but is a sexual orientation. Psychologically, that's very dangerous territory to tread on. All of the above-mentioned medical professional organizations, in addition to the American and European Counseling Associations, stand strongly opposed to any form of reparative therapy.

    In my home country, Norway, reparative therapy is officially considered to be ethical malpractice. But there are many countries that do not regulate the practice, and many others that remain largely silent and even passively supportive of it (such as the Philippines). Groups that operate such "therapy" in the Philippines are the Evangelical Bagong Pag-asa, and the Catholic Courage Philippines.

    The scientific evidence of the innateness of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism is overwhelming, and more peer-reviewed studies which bolster this fact are being added all the time. Science has long regarded sexual orientation – and that's all sexual orientations, including heterosexuality – as a phenotype. Simply put, a phenotype is an observable set of properties that varies among individuals and is deeply rooted in biology. For the scientific community, the role of genetics in sexuality is about as "disputable" as the role of evolution in biology.

    On the second point, that there is no conclusion that there is a "gay gene," they are right. No so-called gay gene has been found, and it's highly unlikely that one ever will. This is where conservative Christians and Muslims quickly say "See, I told you so! There's no gay gene, so being gay is a choice!"

    Take this interesting paragraph I found on an Evangelical website: "The attempt to prove that homosexuality is determined biologically has been dealt a knockout punch. An American Psychological Association publication includes an admission that there's no homosexual "gene" – meaning it's not likely that homosexuals are 'born that way.'"

    But that's not at all what it means, and it seems Evangelicals are plucking out stand-alone phrases from scientific reports and removing them from their context. This is known in academia as the fallacy of suppressed evidence. Interestingly, this is also what they have a habit of doing with verses from the Bible.

    This idea of sexuality being a choice is such a bizarre notion to me as a man of science. Many of these reparative "therapists" are basing this concept on a random Bible verse or two. When you hold those up against the mountain of scientific research that has been conducted, peer-reviewed, and then peer-reviewed again, it absolutely holds no water. A person's sexuality – whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual – is a very deep biological piece of who that person is as an individual.

    The fact that a so-called "gay gene" has not been discovered does not mean that homosexuality is not genetic in its causation. This is understandably something that can seem a bit strange to those who have not been educated in fields of science and advanced biology, and it is also why people who are not scientists ought not try to explain the processes in simple black-and-white terms. There is no gay gene, but there is also no "height gene" or "skin tone gene" or "left-handed gene." These, like sexuality, have a heritable aspect, but no one dominant gene is responsible for them.

    Many genes, working in sync, contribute to the phenotype and therefore do have a role in sexual orientation. In many animal model systems, for example, the precise genes involved in sexual partner selection have been identified, and their neuro-biochemical pathways have been worked out in great detail. A great number of these mechanisms have been preserved evolutionarily in humans, just as they are for every other behavioral trait we know (including heterosexuality).

    Furthermore, there are many biologic traits which are not specifically genetic but are biologic nonetheless. These traits are rooted in hormonal influences, contributed especially during the early stages of fetal development. This too is indisputable and based on extensive peer-reviewed research the world over. Such prenatal hormonal influences are not genetic per se, but are inborn, natural, and biologic nevertheless.

    Having said that, in the realm of legal rights, partnership rights, and anti-discrimination protections, the gay gene vs. choice debate is actually quite irrelevant. Whether or not something is a choice is not a suitable criterion for whether someone should have equal rights and protections. Religion is indisputably a choice, but that fact is a not a valid argument for discriminating against a particular religion.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Erik

      Again... excellent !

      Peace...

      December 2, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • jeff

      Your first mistake was using science. Just because you can "prove" things with "legitimate and repeatable science" doesn't make you correct in their eyes. those are simply tools for the devil, like rock and roll and the jersey shore.... though, they may be right about the jersey shore.

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

    what can anyone say about a "mother" who would rather have her son die of cancer than be gay. Proves exactly how evil the xian cult is.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • kdliz

      The article said, she journaled that she would rather be diagnosed with cancer than to have a gay son, not that he would have cancer.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  19. Steve

    Gay men and women are people and deserve all the rights , dignity and respect that everyone else gets. Some of the smartest, creative and moral people I know are from the gay community

    December 2, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  20. Bob

    Io amo caballeros

    December 2, 2012 at 11:33 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.