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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. Bob

    Stop trying to silence me or the truth.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Wisdom4U2

      Your 'truth' is NOT the Truth, bozo. CNN knows you're the multi-alias troll, so move along.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • « Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

      wisdom? what wisdom you MIERDA

      December 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  2. Brampt

    “Didn’t Jesus preach tolerance? If so, shouldn’t Christians take a permissive view of gay?”

    “Jesus didn’t encourage his followers to accept any and all lifestyles. Rather, he taught that the way to salvation is open to ‘everyone exercising faith in him.’ (John 3:16) Exercising faith in Jesus includes conforming to God’s moral code, which forbids certain types of conduct—including gay.”—Romans 1:26, 27.

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

      "forbids certain types of conduct—including gay.”—Romans 1:26, 27."

      You need to work on your reading comprehension skills, You skipped over 23 which shows they were using sex to worship a pagan god and has nothing to do with the loving long term relationship of a gay couple as we know and understand it today.

      Heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      December 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      What does s.e.x. have to do with morality?

      December 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Mattie

      The bible also states that to lay with another man as a man would lay with a woman is a sin. Nuff said.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Wisdom4U2

      @Mattie ~~~~ As long as you're not doing it why are you concerned... and why are you NOT praying that God will reveal His 'Truth', huh? Judge not, less you'll be judged. NUFF SAID.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "The bible also states that to lay with another man as a man would lay with a woman is a sin. Nuff said."

      Christians don't follow Leviticus anymore, learn your bible.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Commenter

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers
      "What does s.e.x. have to do with morality?"

      Good point. In the Victorian and Puritan parlance "morality" had all to do with physical pleasure offenses... s.ex, gambling, drinking alcohol, dancing and such. Keeping slaves, beating wives and children, burning witches, and other abusive behavior were not called "immoral".

      December 2, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Commenter

      Mattie,

      The Bible is nothing. Nuff said.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  3. Wisdom4U2

    Why are those goofy ass people calling Timothy Kurek 'fake'? It's the damn critics who are the phony ones. It's a shame Timothy had to go in 'that' direction to discover 'gays' are human beings (that's like going all the way around the block and down the alley just to get to your back yard...duhh), but nonetheless, he did learn.... The gay lifestyle is what it is, and there it is. Who are we to judge? Love covers....

    December 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  4. Bob

    I love Anderson Cooper.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Bob

      "Anderson Cooper."

      Yes, he is a great reporter!

      December 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Bob

      I really love him, so cute

      December 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Bob

    ERROR: please type a comment.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  6. Bob

    boring crap

    December 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  7. Bob

    Obama is the man. Free cell phones for everyone

    December 2, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  8. Bob

    Pray for Obama

    December 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  9. Nipper

    I just read this and was impressed that he was willing to test and challenge his beliefs. Would the community rather have another hater that is unwilling to learn love or a person that went to extremes and learn about the people he had belief difference with. The end result is he saw that love, respect and understand was really what religion is about. Hate, disrespect and condemnation should not have a place in any religious order.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Me, not you

      You might want to read it again, this guy is gay and he is lying to himself all the way to the bank.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • David

      I absolutely agree with you. He did a courageous thing in challenging his beliefs in such a committed way. I think the response (at least as reported in this article) by the LBGT community is disappointing.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  10. GRS62

    Sounds like a closeted person who tried to come out but went back in when the going got tough. I wish him the best in trying to find the truth within.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  11. Splovengates

    Jesus says, "go and sin no more"

    December 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bob

      my gardener says that? he cant even speak english

      December 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • BurningMan

      Jesus said, "Go and sin no more"?

      Oddly enough...:

      It is widely known that por no graphy is a prevalent issue in today’s society, but its po tential 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 no graphy. And it’s not just a “guy-thing;” 20 percent of Christian women are addicted to por no graphy, and 60 percent of Christian women admitted to significantly struggling with lust.

      And yes, por no graphy is in the pulpit, too. Christianity Today found that 37 percent of pastors admit that they struggle with Internet por no graphy, and 51 percent say it’s a source of temptation. And more than half the pastors surveyed (57 percent) said that addiction to por no graphy is the most se x ually damaging issue in their church.

      Not much lasting transformative power in their conversion to Christ it seems...

      Christians like to bumper-sticker excuse themselves with "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven"; yet they can't seem to exercise that same level of compa ssion on the one's their savior supposedly hu ng on the cross for.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Great point BurningMan,

      Belief in god does not help people act better or more moral, it just helps them deal with the guilt.

      Where as my wife and I share what p.o.r.n we like, there is no guilt or deception and it helps us to know each other more intimately and promotes trust between us.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  12. revbates

    This was a very courageous and loving thing that he did. It takes courage to listen to our heart. The impulse of our genuine faith is to see through the world's noise and nonsense to truly find that the Presence of God in All that we see; all people and all things. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said, "be in the world, but not of the world" ... in other words, don't let the world's judgments separate you from the realization that God is present in all of life.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  13. Steve

    what is sad are the churches that this guy is no longer comfortable in. His mother would rather have cancer? She could loose her standing in "her" church? As a Christian myself, I am truly saddened that people see Christians like his mother and the churches that have ousted him. Like he said, he grew up in a church that is more conservative than evangelical. People see this rather than who Christ is. The truth and beauty of Christianity is sadly getting lost in the name of conservatism and obstinate discussion on 6000 yr creationism and right wing politics.

    December 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  14. Bob

    Genesis 19: 8

    "Look, I have two daughters, virgins both of them. Let me bring them out to you and you could do what you like with them. But do nothing to these men because they have come under the shelter of my roof."

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

      Ra</b.pe is a horrible thing and should not be tolerated.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Bob

      if it wasnt for that you wouldnt be here

      December 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Bob

      "if it wasnt for that you wouldnt be here"

      Really it's about rape huh?Another prejudice remark from an immature person.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Bob

      prejudiced-learn proper english grammar, then come back.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Bob

      "prejudiced-learn proper english grammar, then come back."

      another prejudice remark from an immature person.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Bob

      incredible. my rash that is

      December 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  15. Bob

    horrible

    December 2, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  16. Name*RM

    If your a person of "GOD" who is supposed to be about love and all his children being apart of a better world. Yet you carry hate and resentment for everybody that isn't like you so really your the "DEVIL" then and should just kill yourself because you already have gone against "GODS" beliefs for having SINNED against your fellow man and woman. To be willing to outcast and make life miserable for another person should also be a sin right? Unless your really a fan of the "DEVIL" and you want to suck the "DEVILS"dick.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Bob

      "Unless your really a fan of the "DEVIL" and you want to suck the "DEVILS"dick."

      Prejudice people are so immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Bob

      Prejudiced.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Name*RM

      A little kid is immature. Prejudiced people are ignorant and scared of change

      December 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  17. Bob

    what's with the black dude in the back in the top photo?

    December 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  18. Bob

    I love everyone equally, well, actually, I love men a little more.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  19. Brampt

    Pretended to be gay?? LOL!! Just by looking at him i can perceive his a evangelical gay!!

    December 2, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Me, not you

      You sir I believe to be correct.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  20. Bob

    I have a tattoo on my back that says "Enter here".

    December 2, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Bob

      "I have a tattoo on my back that says "Enter here"."

      Another prejudice remark by an immature person.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Bob

      prejudiced.. get it right. you must be wearing out the 'report abuse' button.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Bob

      LOL

      December 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bob

      "you must be wearing out the 'report abuse' button."

      This shows you know what you are posting is prejudice and immature.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Bob

      no, it shows you are a big D I C K

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

      "no, it shows you are a big D I C K"

      Another prejudice immature remark.

      December 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
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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.