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.”
I used to have gay tendencies after being abused as a child by another man. Most gays had something similar happen to them and they continue the lifestyle as normal and dont see anything wrong with it. I grabbed the Bible and Jesus showed me my wrongdoing and I was convicted of my sin and turned away from it. It's all a choice, you can choose to be gay or not. I chose not to continue that lifestyle and I am now happily married to a beautiful woman.
I'm afraid your experience is not representative of the majority of gay people.
You speak your misguided opition as if it were fact. Being gay is not a choice. Being stupid is.
Saying most gays have experienced abuse does not make it true.
For the sake of argument let's say it is a choice. So what? You would have to show me why a book that does not condemn actual immorality (slavery, genocide, infantcide) should be regarded as an authority for the question of being gay.
James, where exactly did you get your information about "Being gay is not a choice. Being stupid is". So you're the authority on what's hereditary and what is not? Sorry, it must be true, you must have read it on the internet.
Don't let these idiots get you done. There are still blind. They won't be able to see until God opens their eyes.
@Blessed are the Cheesemakers; "So what? You would have to show me why a book that does not condemn actual immorality (slavery, genocide, infantcide) should be regarded as an authority for the question of being gay."
If you had a clue what you were talking about you might be dangerous. God never authorized the killing of any of His children. Only the enemy's children did ever He order to be eradicated.
"There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."
"Most gays had something similar happen to them and they continue the lifestyle as normal and dont see anything wrong with it. I"
No, they don't. The experts in this country have stated that 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."
Like their heterosexual counterparts, many gay and lesbian people want to form stable, long-lasting, committed relationships. Indeed, many of them do and that large proportions are currently involved in such a relationship and that a substantial number of those couples have been together 10 or more years.
Research demonstrates that the psychological and social aspects of committed relationships between same-sex partners closely resemble those of heterosexual partnerships. Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples form deep emotional attachments and commitments. Heterosexual and same-sex couples alike face similar issues concerning intimacy, love, equity, loyalty, and stability, and they go through similar processes to address those issues. Research examining the quality of intimate relationships also shows that gay and lesbian couples have levels of relationship satisfaction similar to or higher than those of heterosexual couples.
A large number of gay and lesbian couples raise children. Children and teenagers whose parents provide loving guidance in the context of secure home environments are more likely to flourish – and this is just as true for children of same-sex parents as it is for children of opposite-sex parents. Based on research findings, mental health professionals have also reached a consensus that the quality of relationships among significant adults in a child’s or adolescent’s life is associated with adjustment. When relationships between parents are characterized by love, warmth, cooperation, security, and mutual support, children and adolescents are more likely to show positive adjustment. In contrast, when relationships between parents are conflict-ridden and acrimonious, the adjustment of children and adolescents is likely to be less favorable. These correlations are just as true for children of same-sex parents as for children of opposite-sex parents.
Assertions that heterosexual couples are inherently better parents than same sex couples, or that the children of lesbian or gay parents fare worse than children of heterosexual parents, have no support in the scientific research literature. On the contrary, the scientific research that has directly compared outcomes for children with gay and lesbian parents with outcomes for children with heterosexual parents has consistently shown that the former are as fit and capable as the latter and that their children are as psychologically healthy and well adjusted as children reared by heterosexual parents.
@hmmm – problem is you have confused gay with being a pedo. Pedo's continue the cycle of destruction unless they get help. Glad you did.
If you were not consenting then you were not gay, the pedo forced themselves on you.
I think I'll pretend to be a Chrisitan Evangalist for a year – quoting ambiguous biblical passges, scaring people with promises of damnation, judging others – maybe I'll learn something positive in being a jerk.
and what have you learned that's negative since you've become a jerk?
Why is it OK to hate the haters...they don't like you because you represent something they don't like and you hate them because they represent something you don't like. Whos' right and who's wrong? Ignorance is a two-way street...right Evan & Tom!
Don't confuse 'hate' with the opposition of a position.
they don't like you because you represent something they don't like and you hate them because they represent something you don't like.
Wrong. They don’t like you because you represent something they don’t like (in other words they are bigots), and you hate them because they are bigots and being a bigot is wrong.
Ignorance is a two-way street
It's a pretty universal behavior to dislike people who are trying to hurt you. It's best to understand and empasize as muc as you can, but to pick the extreme example, do you really thinkthe Jews in 1930s Germany should have been trying harder to be empathetic and treat the Nazis with respect?
Cheese...sometimes "hate" is too strong of a word but many times it is not, the point I was making should have been clear enough without symantics nudging its way in to try and override my point.
Jesus, you said the same thing I said, you bonehead!
Even using 'dislike' would be too strong. I can disagree with someone and their position to the point that I get angry and emotional, it still does not mean I "hate" them or "dislike" them. Too often people want to equate disagreement with personally disliking in an attempt in my opinion to discredit their argument as 'bias'.
Le sigh... what some people won't do for a quick buck these days. Yeah, let's marginalize the plight of a group of people, "pretend" to be gay, write a book about it, and profit from it. Gotta love America.
I think what he did is very admirable. There are many people who say they want to relate to people. This young man took it to an extreme and learned a lot through it. I think if more Christians did this there would be whole lot more love and far less hate, arrogance, and anomosity. I haven't attended church in about 4 years due to many of the things that Timothy saw. The church has become a social club of overly pious people that worship the celebrity of the senior pastor. It has become a blunt force instrument of people that want to impose "family" values that are nothing more than their personal bias wrapped in a few scriptures. Scriptures that they throw around like the words of some cheap gossip rag. The scriptures are about love and understanding, I see none of this in most churches today. If you are in the "club" then, yes. Outside of it, forget it. You are a dirty heretic. It's time more people stepped outside the walls of the church and stop blindly swallowing everything the senior pastor talks about on Sunday. Get out of the building people. Live your life. Love others. Be free.
I guess I will consider gays on the same moral level as Christians the day I hear of a group of gays bashing a Christian for being that way, gays organizing political action groups to deny Christians the right to marry or gays disdaining Christians as "immoral" or "perverted."
Until that day, the gays have the moral high ground.
I am deeply moved by this, as I am a gay Christian man. Thank you for doing this, and I plan on buying this book.
A gay christian man? How does that work? Don't imagine you found your "mate" at a church....
Before you make this article a source of truth make the book your religion is based on the source of truth. It may convict you to change your lifestyle.
Timothy a gay Christian is just like a Christian that steals, gossips, etc. Sin is sin and he is just admitting he sins like everyone else...
jay – "sin" is just a made up word used to try to control the lives of others. nothing more.
With the People voting for more Republican power in the last election and a greater level of gridlock, I see hope for America.
It is a sick, degenerate lifestyle. It should have died out years ago. And don't tell me it's genetic, it isn't. It's a choice.
But enough about Christianity, let's talk about gays......
Being gay is a glandular malfunction.
Being Christian is an intellelctual malfunction.
It is not a choice, it is genetics as has been determined long since to everyone but the willfully ignorant and determinedly stupid religious reich. Your religion is a choice and an obviously abysmally stupid one.
You're right. Let's just let YOU dictate to everyone else what's acceptable to believe. All I see is a despot-wanna-be...
During the 1990s I evangelized many gays and truely believe many of them came to Christ.
i don't see why that would be surprising.
Did they evangelize you back? It's only common courtesy!
about 25 years ago when i was in the military i was vocally anti-gay. not because i had any real reason, but it was just part of the macho military mentality. one day my wife came to me and informed me that a very close friend was gay and was afraid to tell me for fear of being rejected. i was ashamed and i knew right then that the stigma of gays being sinful or deviant was simply untrue.
i think the opinion of many people would instantly change if faced with the situation of a longtime, trusted, close friend or family member coming out.
Or, they could be proactive and actually try making friends with someone who is gay. Almost everyone has someone close to them just waiting to be approached. Why not be brave?
Had to laugh at the last line; “I want to tell more stories,” he says “and humanize the people who Christians always want to look at as labels.” Nothing like labelling the people who are christians and dehumanizing them. The writer displays very nicely human natures tendency to generalize and label and he also displays how difficult it is to escape it even when you understand it. Very funny ending.
But not all Christians are bigoted against gays. That's the point. There are some hedonistic gays out there, but there are also many involved in or looking for long-term, committed relationships. The Christian background he came from labeled all gays the same, and worse.
Hee hee! That is funny. Wait... i don't get it...
The bigger question is why does it take someone to go undercover in order to reveal that gay people are just the same as everyone else when they've been telling and showing people this for decades?
Religious hatred requires drastic change to punch through.
We are all just like everyone else on some level but we are also very different. Depends on the item/behavior of focus. It is human nature to build the differences in order to find one sde just and the other not. Look at Democrats and Republicans- they are all the same too at some level. :)
Just a continued decline in our country's moral. You know maybe we should allow people to marry animals or grown men to marry 7 year old girls. Sounds crazy right? I'm sick right? That's the way people viewed gay marriage 50 years ago.
I can perhaps understand your inability to distinguish between a relationship between two consenting adults and other relationships, but why advertise your inability on the internet?
Ah the good old Slippery Slope Fallacy. Tell me, do you have any arguments worth anything?
Are you arguing that if one thing people thought 50 years ago was wrong then everything people thought fifty years ago was wrong? If you follow that logic then because people thought autism was caused by distant mothers (and were wrong) then we're obviously wrong in thinking dogs have 4 legs. Seriously, that's the most off the wall arguement.
tim – when my mother was in school the nuns would tie her left hand behind her back to try to force her to be right handed. sometimes ignorance that well ingrained is difficult to overcome.
A gay RN I'm guessing
timothy: you're not sick. you're just a moron
Timothy you are right it is a slippery slope,
I would argue in the same should be argued for why we should outlaw Christian Communion (symbolic cannibalism)....it will lead to actual cannibalism.
Yeh, they did that to my dad and his sister too. Aunt ended up with a life-long stuttering problem - my dad managed to pretty much overcome his stammering though. I'm not absolutely certain that those conditions are related, but dad and aunt always blamed the hand-tying.
That's also how people used to view interracial marriage.
Here in Canada, gay marriage has been legal for nigh on a decade.
There is no talk whatsoever of legalizing pedophilia, beastiality, corprophilia, polygamy or any of the other "sliipery slope" nonsense. No straight marriages have suddenly dissolved. Nobody's children have caught the gay virus and suddenly switched se.xual orientation.
Gay couples are routinely married in Anglican, Universalist, Unitarian, Quaker, Jewish and Sikh houses of worship and no divine wrath has befallen any of them, nor has a single clergyman been forced to perform a ceremony that goes against their beliefs.
In November of 2009, the study "Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences" found that gay marriage has no no impact whatsoever on overall divorce rates – they have been steadily declining since the 1990's.
The only thing that has happened is that a traditionally maligned minority group has been granted their civil rights.
It is time for him to go beat his wive (does he have one?) and beat his slaves just like the Bible tells him so.
Good times. Guy gets caught and claims to be working on a year long project.
But it was just the tip, I swear
ANYONE that can't see how selfless and heroic this guy's actions are is part of the problem.... ignant cowards and fools cause ALL the problems of the world... smart, courageous, selfless heroes try and fix them... tragically there a way more of the former...
I am a gay man. Assuming Mr. Kurek's story and motives are honest, it's rather humbling to think that an evangelical christian decided to walk around in my shoes for a year. He has experienced first hand the second-class citizenship that GLBT people experience. I feel Mr. Kurek is very brave for doing this. I don't know that I could go for a year pretending to be an evangelical christian.
I wouldn't consider a Christian who thinks being gay is right a Christian. The Bible says gay isn't okay, but people who are gay are people, and Jesus loves them just as much as Billy Graham. That's where the problem is, some Christians can't see past what was the social norm to how the Bible says people should be treated.
That'd be an interesting experiment. I'm with you though. I don't know why people would be offended that he pretended (in order to understand) to be gay. If he had pretended to be gay and then tried to convert everyone i could see being angry.
Yes Jay... /pat pat/
And most southern baptists 20 years ago would have told you that they believed that any Catholic or Mormon was the anitchrist. And now look at Billy Graham's endorsement of Romney.
Change happens. There are Christian denominations who are accepting of gay members, and that is not going to regress.
The Bible says a lot of things. It has 25 verses that say being left-handed is wrong too, but somehow modern day Christians have come to accept "sinister" people as good.
Interesting really interesting!!!
I think I'd rather have cancer then have a gay son also....and I have had cancer twice already.
than not then
You don't need to have cancer, you are a cancer
I for one, hope you get your wish...and may it be malignant this time.
How very sad for you. You might want to work on your Karma.
Prejudice is a cancer which is why you've gotten it twice, education is key to stopping it.
That is a horrible thing to say. Idiot.
Well I hope you get cancer then.
TOO BAD IT WASN'T TERMINAL. I WILL DEFINITELY BE PRAYING FOR A RELAPSE. AS AN RN, please come to my clinic so I can point and laugh while you cry in pain!!!
How compassionate, timmy.
That's cruel. You're going to get cancer a third time as a payment from karma now.
You don't need cancer. You need a brain transplant.
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.