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.
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.
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.”
Any therapist will tell you this guy IS gay. It's his complicated way of working it out.
Gay ism, hind love ism is nothing else but way to please their hindu soul, filthy desire, just like hindu filthy animals.
Woah there. If a therapist can't tell you that you aren't gay, then why can they tell you that you are gay?
How can an article about a book written by a member of the majority living as a member of a minority group not even mention "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin?
Could Griffin really understand the totality of the Black experience in American in the 1950s? No. Could Kurek really understand the totality of the experience being a gay man in a strongly evangelical Christian community? No.
But that doesn't mean that they don't both offer valuable insight that was and is useful in expanding the minds of people insulated from minority groups. I haven't read Kurek's book, but as a gay man raised in an evangelical home I think the concept and idea is worthy of the effort. I encourage the rest of the LGBT community to at least give him the benefit of the doubt.
I was thinking the same thing. I remember Black Like Me from years ago. I respect Tim Kurek's courage for doing what he did to confront his own prejudice. It's one thing to come out of the closet as a gay person and deal with the prejudice. It's another thing to deliberately choose to deal with the prejudice while not being gay. I certainly don't think I would feel betrayed had I been one of the people he had befriended during his year of playing gay.
Many comments on that old book here today, (I thought the same) However, nobody asks if your gay or straight when you buy a pack of gum, so they aren't exactly parallel. The sad thing is , he says he is still christian. The sad thing is all the hate from the christians on here, which THEY learned as children. If we see children being harmed, we stop it or call the police. When we see them being taken into church, for psychological and intellectual harm,we just shake our heads and think 'What a shame"
Our values have collapsed under the Obama Administration.
No they actually collapsed under the Lincoln administration.
Our values have collapsed under the weight of Journey's mama.
He's back in the closet. In then out then back in becuase he was scared. wow.
This guy is the Joaquin Phoenix of gay.
What I gather from all these is that: THIS DUD is GAY. He came out pretending that he was coming out. Now, he can come back, and pretend he was not, and make some money in the meantime. But for sure, he is gay. I hope he now realizes that he is not alone and can dump his family and old friends if they cannot want to see him. But, he is gay, not that there is anything wrong with that.
He had other people in on it thewhole time.
I guess being gay is a choice.
@nope, prove it. Give me incontestable proof, otherwise my guess is as good as yours.
Another religious opportunist. Yawn.
I head for his next book he's going to come out of the closet as a black man and teach us how its exactly the same.
The devil has him now
(I'm a bigot mirror facing up at the poster)
LOL... Oh, you've got to be a troll... poe or both.
Like a rich man "acting" poor while all the time knowing this can and will end whenever he wants, then telling us he understands. At least he's done something to change the archaic, absurd and completely hypocritical mindset of relgious followers.
"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"
In an age of information, logic, and reason this is the only way evangelicals can to hold onto the youth. By sheltering them from any other way of thinking since birth. Sad.
This worked in the past, but no more. This is the beginning of the beginning of the end of the HORRIBLE influence of religion on our country. (We do need to take massive steps to protect children from the creationist's beliefs , they are killing our test scores in comparison to other countries) People of science and reason can now speak and write without fear of being murdered by christians (or muslims, same thing from my point of view) who want to PROVE there is a "god" who loves me by sending me to meet "Him" right away, violence is OK if it's "for the lord."
@Nietodarwnin, Totally off topic. What does your name mean? I must be daft, but I'm reading your name as No to Darwin which doesn't sound right.
This is the way religion is perpetuated. Probably the main reason it still infects society.
Come to California. We have a lot of liberal Christian churches that accept gay people, divorced people, single mothers and Halloween.
They pretty much all do here inNew England.
"...and Halloween " LOL ! :D
The Halloween thing is funny by country region. Here in New England, almost everyone celebrates it and some haven't even heard of people who don't. Down South it was taboo in the schools. Inthe northwest is was out of the schools too,but for a totallydifferent reason. There there are so many wiccans its considered a religious holiday, like Good Friday.
Saraswati: Where in the "Deep South" is Halloween banned in schools? I am a former K-12 teacher from Louisiana, currently in Texas, with family in Mississippi – and in none of the 3 states has any mention of Halloween been banned.
I'm not sure how much more "Deep South" you can get than LA, TX, or MS...
@Just me, I never used the word Deep South so I'm not sure why you're usingthat with quotes around it?
What I saw whenI lived In the Carolinas was this kind of unofficial 'ban' all over the place, where after religious objections arose it was just eliminated:
An attention wh0re has received attention. Mission accomplished.
Are these boards actually getting moderated?
Come all ye faithful. None of you christians who are commenting on here are saying anything new. If you don't believe me, take time and read through the 30 pages of comments. Some OTHER christian has probably already quoted the bible quote you are about to quote, or shown the same ignorance of science you are about to show, or shouted out in the name of hate in close to the same way you are about to show hate and intolerance. YOU ARE PROVING THAT RELIGION IS FOR THE UNEDUCATED, AND THAT THE MOST STUPID AMONG YOU ARE THE ONES PREACHING THE LOUDEST.
“I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.”
_ Stephen Hawking
“Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There`s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”
_ Bill Gates
“What I have a problem with is not so much religion or god, but faith. When you say you believe something in your heart and therefore you can act on it, you have completely justified the 9/11 bombers. You have justified Charlie Manson. If it's true for you, why isn't it true for them? Why are you different? If you say "I believe there's an all-powerful force of love in the universe that connects us all, and I have no evidence of that but I believe it in my heart," then it's perfectly okay to believe in your heart that Sharon Tate deserves to die. It's perfectly okay to believe in your heart that you need to fly planes into buildings for Allah.”
_ Penn Jillette
“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”
_ Thomas Jefferson
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus…will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
“Shake off all fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
_ Thomas Jefferson
I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.
2.Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
3.My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.
4.The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.
5.Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
6.The scientists’ religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.
7.There is no logical way to the discovery of elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.
8.The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
9.The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; It is the source of all true art and science.
10.We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.
11.Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.
12.When the solution is simple, God is answering.
13.God does not play dice with the universe.
14.God is subtle but he is not malicious.
15. A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.
16.Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
17.The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.
18.Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.
19.Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.
20.The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—-a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.
21.The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
22. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.
23.The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties – this knowledge, this feeling ... that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men.
24.The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.
25.True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness.
26.Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelationship of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to form in the social life of man.
Albert Einstein Quotes
It seems a lot of people have twisted ideas and a mistaken impressions about how God feels about lesbians and gays. The scriptures are very clear. Gays are an abomination before God. And if anything is misunderstood about that fact, it is only your own understanding of it…
Leviticus 18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination...
The above scripture makes it very clear that men with men and women with women is an abomination before God. If you can't see that then something is wrong with your mind…
Romans 1-26 – For this cause God gave them up unto VILE AFFECTIONS: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; MEN WITH MEN working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, THAT THEY WHICH COMMIT SUCH THINGS ARE WORTHY OF DEATH, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them…
Likewise in the above scripture, the statement that they are "worthy of death" is a very strong indicator of how God feels about gays. And if you interpret it any differently, then you're in denial. Understand this, on Judgment Day, gays will be judged not according to men and to men's opinion of gays, but according to the eternal God and his opinion of them. And his opinion has been clearly explained in the scriptures. And your opinion matters not. Ignore his warnings about the fate of gays at your own peril…
That is only true if you believe that Paul was not putting his own spin on things.
You are a sad and empty person. You will more than likely roast in hell with the rest of us. That would be sweet.
If Judgement Day actually comes, Ill welcome the judgement and tell God so. Because I don't believe it will happen. God (if he exists) does not care one bit about how we live our live. If he truly does fell the need to dictate our life, then screw him.
" And your opinion matters not "
Neither does yours, actually. Your opinion is just that... opinion, and all unverified speculation.
Leviticus 19:27 reads "You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard."
So you believe that shaving will get you a one way ticket to hell?
How about eating shellfish-Leviticus 11:10 reads, "But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you." And shellfish is right in that wheelhouse.
How about playing football with pigskin? Leviticus 11:8, which is discussing pigs, reads "You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you."
How about wearing clothing that is a cotton blend? Leviticus 19:19 reads, "You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together."
Dawn Day… Truth is truth, and belief has nothing to do with it. Nor does your disbelief of the truth make it untrue…
2 timothy 3:16 – All scripture is given by inspiration of God...
2 Peter 1:21 – For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Therefore, it is impossible for Paul to have put his spin on anything. Instead, it is far more likely that it is YOU who are trying to put your own personal spin on things…
To believe in a god that needs human acceptance and worship is pathetic.It acts like a spoiled child who needs the little wooden blocks to go in the little square holes or he will throw the blocks at his mommy.Not worth worshiping,by any standard.Unless,of course,you've been told to do so from birth.Then it makes perfect sense.Right?
NO ONE believes every word of Leviticus or Romans, so what is your point if any?
Paul said people shouldn't get married, but let's PRETEND he didn't.
@Perfect Truth –
Leviticus 18:22 says nothing about womankind lying with womankind.
Simple, PF: don't be gay, then.
As for others, you have zero say in the matter.
mmmhhhmmm, just pretending ... riiiiigggghhhhhttttt.
my thought, too
He's not good looking enough to be convincing as a gay man.
For Timothy Kurek, Hi Tim, You are in Portland Oregon and you are looking for a church? For crying out loud check out Donald Miller's church in Portland Oregon. Wish I am there so I could attend his church. He wrote a lot about that church in his first book "BLUE". Jack
Oh give me a break, people. He wasn't pretending when he came out. That was real. He's pretending NOW to try to get back into his family's good graces.
How do you "Live Gay" without doing some things that are against your own religion?
Not really trying to be funny, just wondering how you can live the life, without experiencing the life?
Evangelicals do it all the time. It's called hypocrisy.
There's no single "living gay" lifestyle, the only thing that separates a gay man from a straight one is who they choose to have se.x with. If this guy decided to live gay without doing anything naughty in the bedroom, then it's easy enough to live life as an evangelical and do this.
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.