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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. Agnostic and gay friendly

    Right, pretending? Does that mean Michele Bachmann's husband can stop pretending now too?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Robrob

      So you needed to post it twice?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • J

      Im a ex gang banger who had pride in my hood because I had no family love and thats where I was accepted and felt loved. Then the veil that satan had over my eyes for 28yrs was lifted and I found a love that surpassed all others and I felt accepted when I believed in Jesus Christ. I didnt need anyone to tell me It was wrong to be a gang banger I knew It was wrong. The Bible says the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. I have a heart for all the homies who still gang bang but I dont condone their lifestyle. I tell them about the love of Christ and how he filled my life full of Joy and true acceptance. If someone saying they are a christian and needs to experiance a life of sin and the struggle of a type of people I will drop you off in south central LA and let them know you want to be a gangster. Sounds foolish right? Thats because it is. The same can be said about What this man did. As Christians are heart should be filled with the love of Christ that it breaks our hearts when we see people living a gay life not angry. A love for someone not because they are a sinner but because you know that if they dont accept Christ as Lord and Savior they are going to Hell and that should break a Christians heart so that he loves each gay they meet and love them to the Cross not nail them to it. Jesus already took care of that.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      So J, I worked in South Central and I'm glad to hear you're not banging anymore. If playing the Jesus card helped you accomplish that then good show. I just want to point out that your education needs tending to, (I'm not going to correct your spelling and grammar or anything) and that a lot of what's in the bible interferes with people's education, especially with regard to science.. Don't just stop your road to a better life with christianity and Jesus, there's more out there. (There are moderate christians, even the old catholic church does not deny that evolution is fact, so I'm not telling you to quit the church) Maybe if LAUSD public schools were better you never would have started banging. Government needs to take more control of our social programs from a secular stance, instead of leaving it to churches. Churches survive just like gangs, they need members, they need bodies to stay in existence.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  2. Agnostic and gay friendly

    Right, pretending? Does that mean Michele Bachmamn's husband can stop pretending now too?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Pravda

      Lol, yeah, "I am not gay but my boyfriend sure is...."

      December 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  3. LWJR

    10 minutes of fame and compromise. Sodomy is just a sin, no different than adultery. This kids needs a bible study.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Pravda

      Or lust, or a little white lie, or stealing things...

      December 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • thegadfly

      Your butchery of the English language is a sin. Or maybe you're Hispanic. Then I forgive you. I don't do well at Spanish at all.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      Mom and Dad, I'm getting a D in biology, because the teacher says that ALL biology is based on evolution and it is a fact. You brought me up in bible study, and now I can't pass my biology class. The other kids make fun of me, and call me "that creationist kid" Why did you do me this harm all of these years. Why did you not tell me that the bible is a very old book. The bible calls bats "birds" You are my parents who are supposed to love me, and now I'm behind everybody else, and won't get into the college I want to go to because of this. My friend who graduated from the christian school says the university won't allow him into the biology class there because he has been taught creationism, and the university already won a court case from another christian kid who tried to sue them for not accepting the "intelligent design" class he was taught at the christian school . Thanks a lot Mom and Dad

      NO more kids need any more 'bible study" That is what is screwing up our nation and our test scores. Even Pat Robertson agrees “If you fight science, you are going to lose your children, and I believe in telling them the way it was,” Robertson concluded. STOP INDOCTRINATING INNOCENT CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS WITH LIES FROM THE BIBLE

      December 2, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Pravda

      ROFL!!!!

      Creationism isn't taught in schools and God has been kicked out of our schools, or didn't you get the memo??
      Our constantly falling education level is on the heads of Atheists.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      IF my good little christian wife who I married when we were both virgins takes it in the back door, (even thought it DOES hurt a bit because well, "god" endowed me, but she IS a good subservient christian wife so she obeys) IS THAT A SIN?

      December 2, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  4. lionlylamb

    My God allows all mannerisms of s e x u a l relational genders. My God allows a drunkard to stay a drunk. My God allows all to love their animals devotionally. My God loves all people who love others no matter their ills of societal quirks. My God is the best God of all those other gods. Mu God is not yet married yet He is up for grabs though! I just love my God! I really do! Amen!

    December 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours Richard Dawkins

      December 2, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  5. Pravda

    The thing is that I have grown up in evangelical churches and not once seen this "war" against the gays in the Church. LGBT's may find it odd that Christians are not plotting their downfall every Sunday. We don't meet on Wednesday and talk about how we can bash gays the rest of the week. Matter of fact we had numerous ex-gays in the church that would talk about how they themselves felt condemned for their lifestyle. They also talked about the reasons that they turned to the gay lifestyle. Odd though that not one of them claimed that it was a "gene"..

    December 2, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  6. Chad

    I contend we are both conservatives, I just believe that one fewer societal behavior is proper than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible societal behaviors as being legitimate , you will understand why I dismiss your pet one(same sex marriage)." – Rephen Stoberts

    December 2, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So spamming is your only shot at making a point?

      Figures. Are you impotent in other areas as well?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Answer

      Poor Chad.

      Tsk tsk. Becoming so irrelevant – all the years wasted on being a religious tool.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I contend that you, Chad, have cultivated an interest in opposing whatever you believe your God of Israel opposes. Not just behaviour in society, but also what people do in their private lives with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Also opposing how some people would like to formalize their relationship with each other and enjoy the same rights and protections as others
      do. Shame on you, Chad.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • mama k

      Who is Rephen Stoberts?

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

      Chad,

      I surmise you have been diagnosed as having what is called, "The Pandora's Box Syndrome". You don't want anybody to open this box for fear of unleashing its contents spewing upon the world all mannerisms of decadence and vileness. Take ease Chad and lighten up! This world will not disappear or be destroyed just because the gay crowds want marriage to be a legalized civil right!

      I admit that I fought the same emotional dissatisfaction you seem to be facing now. God or rather my conscience got the better of me. So Chad as you can plainly see, I have not disappeared just because I cracked upon Pandora's Box and allowed its essence to ooze into my mind. Be of good cheers Chad and crawl away from that rubick's cube! It's too complicated an issue for the common folk to sort out!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  7. ....and life goes on....

    This article is nothing more than more pro-gay propaganda. People should look at CDC statistics and other statistics and make decisions based on facts rather than emotion. Keep evolving.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes. Gay marriage should be encouraged.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I agree. Marriages increase stable family life.

      Why would anyone oppose such a thing?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Ian Flowers

      You're absolutely right: pro gay propaganda it is.

      And note the Anderson Cooper ad at the bottom of the page.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Saraswati

      You mean the stats showing how gay teenagers have lower suicide rates in accepting communities or that women who've only ever slept with other women have the lowest STD rates?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  8. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    @Chard: Where is there a ballot initiative to legalize incest? Is there a referendum being conducted on polygamy? Where? Is bestiality being voted upon? In what state?

    Are you always dishonest? A liar? A complete loser? Or do you just play one on here?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  9. Mopery

    Right, right, he's just "pretending" to be gay. Yeah, sure.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  10. Eric of Reseda, CA

    BRAVO!!!

    December 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  11. bobo

    I'm gonna pretend to be gay to my reparations.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Rednip

      In that spirit, I'll pretend to be a right winger so that I can be a righteous lunatic who cries like a victim about obscure reactionary memes in random news topics.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  12. Richard Mavers

    Anyone else think this guy just did this to write and sell a book?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Eric of Reseda, CA

      I don't think so at all! We live in a cynical world, but that cynicism isn't just. I believe 100% that this guy is genuinely disgusted with the way the Evangelical community demonizes gays. This is no different than the guy that wrote "Black Like Me", who, discgusted by racism in America, had his skin dyed, hair done, etc., to pass as black and set off to see first hand how racism affected the individual, etc.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Noelcharleson

      I was thinking the same thing! Not sure how I feel about this.
      Imagine someone who faked being deaf for a year so he could 'understand' the lifestyle. Hmmm. Doesn't sit well with me.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  13. bobo

    I swear to God I though Chris Farley was dead.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Pravda

      ROFL!

      December 2, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  14. Scott

    Kudos to you Tim. Hypocrisy is the worst sin of all.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • bobo

      Really? I wish had paid more attention in geometry. How do calculate the sin of gay love triangle again?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Ever watch the TV series "Caprica"? It was an offshoot of Battlesatr Galactica. There was a family of women and men all living together in a female oriented hierarchy. I sure do miss that series! Damn them all for not continuing it!

      December 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • J

      Im a ex gang banger who had pride in my hood because I had no family love and thats where I was accepted and felt loved. Then the veil that satan had over my eyes for 28yrs was lifted and I found a love that surpassed all others and I felt accepted when I believed in Jesus Christ. I didnt need anyone to tell me It was wrong to be a gang banger I knew It was wrong. The Bible says the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. I have a heart for all the homies who still gang bang but I dont condone their lifestyle. I tell them about the love of Christ and how he filled my life full of Joy and true acceptance. If someone saying they are a christian and needs to experiance a life of sin and the struggle of a type of people I will drop you off in south central LA and let them know you want to be a gangster. Sounds foolish right? Thats because it is. The same can be said about What this man did. As Christians are heart should be filled with the love of Christ that it breaks our hearts when we see people living a gay life not angry. A love for someone not because they are a sinner but because you know that if they dont accept Christ as Lord and Savior they are going to Hell and that should break a Christians heart so that he loves each gay they meet and love them to the Cross not nail them to it. Jesus already took care of that.

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

    Tender are the rose thistles and they p r I c k anyone who does come too close and does so brush against its thorniness. Likewise are the gay crowds who tend to deafen the hordes massing of mobbed religiosities never to skip a beat! They do clamor upon all who they deem threatening to their ever unending causes in their barrowed mindset. Equality of marriage is in the cards and their hand has been dealt.

    Bitter the once bitten are holding steadfast their hands dealt against the gay players. The last bets are made. Who will win the pot's treasures? Who will lose their hand's once strong held cards? Will all the players against the gay one fold or are there a good dealt hand to still yet be played? It comes down to one's will doesn't it? Whose will is the stronger? Always ones will. Ever is the will to be so done! Amen!

    December 2, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  16. Gary D.

    Does anyone else see his photos as just a teensy bit, "creepy"?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • MikeO

      Yes, incredibly creepy. And a bit disgusting.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  17. braydenmaine

    “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.”

    those are some wise words

    December 2, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  18. TonDef

    Did he really say "I am trying to figure out what place in the body of Christ I fit in"? I'm sorry. Maybe my mind is in the gutter, but given the subject matter, that is a hilarious choice of words.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Ian Flowers

      I'm of the same view. He appears spiritually blind and a self serving fake.

      Christ is the Divine Self within each and every human being. We have all be created by I AM, the one Father/Mother God. If he doesn't realize this clear and obvious Truth, then he's merely a careerist out for a buck.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  19. Ray

    Judge bigots!!! Judge as you always do. Face GOD in your judgement of others.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • bobo

      Are you judging me?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • MikeO

      And exactly what do you think you're doing right now, hypocrite?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Ray

      Do you want me too?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  20. Craig

    Finally! One evangelical finally figures out that the "gay agenda" consists of nothing more than "Leave us alone."

    December 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • MikeO

      Are you on drugs? The gay agenda is to brainwash the public into thinking being gay is "normal" while overlooking the epidemic gay bowel disease, one of 5 gay men with HIV RIGHT now, and a 20 year LESS life span for gays.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Observer

      MikeO,

      Reducing gay promiscuity can come from allowing marriage.

      Good arguments for gay marriage.

      Well done.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Eric of Reseda, CA

      MikeO, stop drinking from the crazy Evangelical well. Makes you look REALLY stupid. There IS NO "gay agenda" other that what Craig said: stop the discrimination, the abuse, the hate, the oppression, etc. I'm straight, but I'm an American who believes in freedom. I support the "gay agenda" 1000%.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Robrob

      Funny how the wingnuts can't stand to just let other people live their own lives.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:56 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.