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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. momzna

    Why everybody ganged up on people who earn more than $250k/year? Incomes are already taxed on a progressive scale, so they pay more from every dollar above $250k than low earners pay from their incomes. High salary is not a life time award. You can lose it faster than a low paying job. They are not won in a lottery. People invest great deal of time and effort to acquire high valued professional skills and get a job or create their own businesses. By raising taxes only for high earners you are effectively saying: talent and dedicated effort mean nothing to us; no matter how good you are, we will pull you down to the level of the crowd.

    Why $250k/year and not $100k/year? It looks like a result of a shrewd political calculation. Nobody in his right mind would be happy to be singled out for punishment. Therefore democrats chose a small enough group that they could afford to alienate.

    December 3, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      yeah ok, whatever
      wrong article anyway

      December 3, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • When you get to hell, you will have to face . . . Clown Dentist Satan!

      I don't think this guy's book is going to bring in $250,000 a year, so yeah, that's irrelevant.

      Did anyone tell you that you lost the presidency and the senate? And almost every candidate the NRA supported lost as well?

      December 3, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Adelina the Carnal Dentist

      Wrong. Every dollar they make is only possible because of the infrastructure of a transparent social and banking system. They do not "contribute" anything of inherent value more than anyone else. They SHOULD pay a much higher proportion, and they use the infrastructure to a higher degree.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • TeaPatriot

      momzna your right. I dont make 250K but think the idea stinks of socialism.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Patrick

      "They do not "contribute" anything of inherent value more than anyone else. They SHOULD pay a much higher proportion, and they use the infrastructure to a higher degree."

      This is such a stupid comment and this person must be bitter because they probably aren't making this kind of money. So moron, contributing paying jobs isn't anything of inherent value huh? What an idiot.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  2. momzna

    Ganged up.

    December 3, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  3. redskins

    he is gay didn't pose nothng for a year, was tired of living a normal life1 lol

    December 3, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  4. Casey

    To those Christians who judge and condemn g a y s, I would stop worrying about the salvation of g a y people and worry about how you are going to explain to God how you alienated so many of His g a y children from Him with your judgment and intolerance.

    December 3, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Really now

      The still isn't any god.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Athy

      It's "gay," not "g a y."

      December 3, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      The founder and leader of thee Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF.org) is a former pastor. There is a nice little bible quiz (be you a believer or non believer) and a little quiz on church and state. If you are a pastor or minister who wants to admit that you don't believe in god or what you are preaching there is a support group, (since you would be treated like this kid in the story was. It's a very beautiful thing to embrace reason and throw off all this 'belief" that has been forced on you since childhood. (That's really being "born again".) Most atheist WERE raised in some kind of faith, usually christian. Kindness, morals, humanity come from people, not "belief" Any christian should still visit this site even if they want to keep being a believer, it will help you "fend off" the atheists....ha ha. Becoming an atheist isn't easy, because of the things that need to be unlearned, but living as an atheist is a much happier and healthier way to live. Here' what old Penn Gillette says;

      “You don’t have to be brave or a saint, a martyr, or even very smart to be an atheist. All you have to be able to say is “I don’t know”.”
      _ Penn Jillette, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales

      December 3, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  5. ROFL

    People! Atheist and God Fearing alike: Your lack of thinking is showing!
    While the subject of religion has always been a somewhat heated debate. What cannot be changed or misinterpreted are the facts.
    Fact: All holy books are inherently Flawed as they are interpreted and scribed by humans, who are themselves flawed. No biblical reference needed as an example for this save the comments on this story.

    Fact: The Earth has been around for 4 billion years! Christians, Creationists! Get used to it!

    Fact: The majority of Religions are hypocritical! While the reasons are many, I will settle on one example. Stella...Would you give up all your worldly goods to a homeless family in need? Would your Family? How about your Church?

    Historically, religions have been used to Conquer other Cultures! That strategy has Not Changed!

    Faith is a wonderful thing to have! I do not mind anyone who believes and honestly practices their faith, harming none and converting no one.

    Faith is an Individual thing! Not something meant to be forced down others throats because of low self esteem of the faithful

    Atheists! Get a grip! You have your beliefs, atheism is a belief by the way!, Leave others alone to enjoy theirs! No one needs "Saving"

    Religious People – Get a grip! Your faith is your own! Doesn't have to be your neighbors!

    December 3, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Sam

      If Christians and other religious types would stop putting their noses where they don't belong (bedroom, Congress, etc) atheists would be more than happy to let them think as they like.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  6. mdavidscott

    No matter what this guy does or how he approaches other people, someone is going to disagree with the way he does it. If he doesn't accept members of the LGBT community, then you dislike him. If he "lies" to better understand the LGBT community, you dislike him. If he was to approach members of the LGBT and talk to them to try to better understand them, you dislike him for trying to approach and understand. You lose either way. Welcome to our cruel world.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Okay

      Your third statement is false – none on our side would hate him for talking honestly with them. Christians would, but not gays or seculars. That is what he should have done, been honest. All that Christian upbringing, and he chooses to be dishonest in his quest for knowledge. That speaks poorly of Christianity as a moral teacher.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  7. Nietodarwin

    I think all you thumpers need to read a little more Mark Twain, I know they may have made you read Huck Finn in high school, but read it again all grown up. There's a chapter in Huck Finn called "Alright then, I'll go to hell" That's what Huck tells himself when he decides he is NOT going to turn his friend Jim into the slave catchers, but is instead going to burn in hell forever, which he believes because he is a child and that is what he has been taught in church. It changed our country. That IS our EPIC work. (Look that word up, be American first and christian second, or at least tied.)

    December 2, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  8. Casey

    Terry – Recognize g a y s as the children of God that they are.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Nietodarwin

      Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.
      Richard Dawkins

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

      If Atheism is a religion, then health is a disease!
      Clark Adams

      “The reason people use a crucifix against vampires is because vampires are allergic to bullspit.”
      _ Richard Pryor
      If god created man in his own image, how come I'm not invisible?”
      _ David Powers

      December 3, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Adelina the Carnal Dentist

      If horses had gods, their gods would be horses.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  9. Terry

    Let them have their fun for a time, I guess.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  10. Reality

    At http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/pdf/d61a.pdf , there is a check box for "unmarried partner" under Person #2. There of course is also a check box for "husband/wife". One assumes a gay couple could check this latter box but how does one choose which is which for a gay union?

    Future census forms should have a check box "gay union partner" for a better description?

    December 2, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • Andrew

      *GASP* and we only have 8 years before the next census! Change wording on some bureaucratic forms is known to take decades, even centuries, we're doomed!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  11. Andrew

    Stella, might I ask, WHY do you follow your god?

    Why do you believe your god deserves any praise or belief? A god which requires praise does not love unconditionally, therefore you believe in a god which does not offer unconditional love to its creations... then why follow it?

    I respect a parent who loves an unloving child far more than a parent who says "if you don't love me, I shall kick you out of the house into the cold forever and ever and ever, all because you wouldn't give me your love".

    That's self-serving. Why on earth do you follow such a god? How does such a god even appeal to you?

    December 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Stella

      I love God because when there is no one else, He is always there.
      I love God because He knows what's best for me, even when I think I know everything.
      I love God because He sees beyond my pain, my sin, and my life because He knows that I want to serve Him, and will serve Him in truth; but that there is a journey I must endure.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Susie T. Bean

      Andrew, good Q's but I doubt you'll receive a sensible answer if any.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Stella

      Susie must have dial-up...

      December 2, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • Andrew

      I ask you again why do you want to serve him? "He is always there and knows what's best for you" are the only reasons you want to serve him, even if he might be evil?

      Again, you attribute malice to your god, you attribute evil self-serving motives to your god. You make it seem like your god is a war-lord who deserves following just because he is there, in spite of any actual virtues.

      You don't describe your god in terms of virtue, you are describing god in terms of a hapless follower, one who doesn't seem to care about looking at the morality of your beliefs.

      I say again that the vain god of "belief or suffer for eternity" is an evil picture. It is self-serving, so if that is the god you follow, who 'knows best for you', then your god is scary, and doesn't deserve your praise or follow. If anything, an omnipresent evil god deserves revolt.

      Think about the virtues of your belief. Because the model of god you have given me does not deserve the praise or follow of any individual. A self-obsessed god is an evil god.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Adelina the Carnal Dentist

      So god is a "he" ? Why not a "she". Does god need to reproduce ?

      December 3, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheese makers

      Stella,

      You described a classic abusive relationship.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • CJA

      It is comforting to know there is a big "parent" in the sky who will always love and take care of you and forgive whatever you do wrong. In fact it is so comforting that if such a god did not exist we'd invent one and pretend he did exist.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Athy

      Which is precisely what happened in many people's minds.

      December 3, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  12. Casey

    Timothy Kurek is absolutely right. God loves all of His children as they are, g a y and straight.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Susie T. Bean

      Oh *NOW* god loves gays. How frigging convenient.
      Secular society is constantly having to teach the invisible super hero how to behave. That's our burden and we're stuck with it.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • ralph

      susie: go suk a kok

      December 3, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • CJA

      Yes, as society changes so does society's god(s) That is the advantage of fiction: You can write it any why you like

      December 3, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  13. realcon

    "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." – Grover Norquist

    December 2, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Stella

      if you dont agree with something, just kill it. Brilliant

      December 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Stella

      "if you dont agree with something, just kill it. Brilliant"

      That's what your super-hero supposedly did - all over the dang place!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  14. Susie T. Bean

    Bummer! I have theater tickets for the 24th.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Athy

      Wow, Ralph. You're so sophisticated. You must really shine at parties. How can I be suave and debonair like you?

      December 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • ralph

      you can't. you were born a loser

      December 2, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Athy

      Aw, shucks!

      December 3, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  15. shawbrooke

    It is not okay to lie to people to get your book out. Neither is it okay to lie to justify a decision that you have already made, that was to leave the church. It is not a Christian belief to lie, and certainly not to the parents that you are to honor. The LGBT community's comments reported above are completely understandable. Where does the lying end? Is he being truthful now? Why not just write novels and forget the experiential stuff that hurts people.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Casey

      Shawbrooke – The Bible does not condemn h o m o s e x u a l i t y when it is put in historical and cultural context and is read using reason, as Jesus did.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  16. redzoa

    "Now, anti-theists can go around preaching saying "Treat other people the way you want to be treated" and such, but in the end – none of that matters."

    So...you're saying the second greatest commandment doesn't matter? Seems to be a generally successful framework for both an individual's morality and societal functionality.

    "In fact, I believe that the logical conclusion of atheism is nihilism – the belief that life is without any meaning, value, or purpose."

    As any determination of "meaning, value and purpose" is necessarily subjective, It is no stronger or weaker if one chooses or chooses not to include notions of eternity and divinity in their personal calculus. Whether or not I live forever and whether or not there is a God does not detract from the "meaning, value, or purpose" I find in my life.

    This line of reasoning appears little more than projection. The unimaginable situation that others do, in fact, live happy and fulfilled lives absent a constant worry of whether or not they've sucked up sufficiently to the correct deity to warrant some eternal existence...

    December 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • redzoa

      Oops. In response to "A man" on page 33 . . .

      December 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  17. zus

    Judgement Day is December 21, 2012. The End of the World is Coming on 12/21/12

    December 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Sure it is. Just ask Harold Camping.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Alphonse Snifflesuckerupper

      Oh goody! I love End Of The World parties! I've been to quite a few.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  18. Susie T. Bean

    Pls explain. On what authority do the people here reject the mandates in the old testament?...the WORD OF GOD!
    I'd guess rational thought and how embarrassing it would be to invoke all the stuff male supremacy about a woman's menstrual cycle being unclean. Rational thought....I see the exit sign to freedom.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Adelina the Carnal Dentist

      Saint Paul told you you were free from the old law. Remember. Oops.
      Oh yeah, you kill your disobedient children, and sacrifice your goats.
      Right.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  19. Stella

    The Great day of Judgment is coming! Are you ready?
    It seems most of you are not.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • redzoa

      Repent! The Fiscal Cliff is nigh!!!

      December 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Susie T. Bean

      Neither are you Stella. You sound like you've never left JC Disneyland in your life. Ask Santa Clause for brain. He's just as real your invisible friend in the sky.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • *

      * Claus (not Clause - darn that Tim Allen!)

      December 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Stella

      I stand ready.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Adelina the Carnal Dentist

      Ya ya ya. Stella. We've heard that before. Even Jesus was wrong about that.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  20. realcon

    I am a real conservative. The government has no business telling who can mary who. It also has no business running a retirement ponzi scheme (social security) or a healthcare (medicare) or telling me what kind of toilet I should have.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Athy

      And they shouldn't tell you how to spell "marry."

      December 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      This country is changing... it is becoming more socialist, like Canada and Denmark. If you don't like what is happening, you can either adapt or die. By the way, your president bush tried to privatize S.S., which would have put my retirement money
      out as sheep for the wolves (read WALLSTREET) to devour. Funny how conservatives view anything that helps the 98%
      as socialist.

      December 3, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • TeaPatriot

      realcon@ abs-o-lutely right about the economic side of things. dunno how you can tolerate unborn human murders and deviant 'marriages'. asuming based on yr statement you dont want govt to step in re ab0rt1on also.

      lucifer@ you are right. thats why we have this socialist president called Obama.

      December 3, 2012 at 7:52 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.