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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. FC Kaiserslautern

    I actually like what you've acquired here, certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. FC Kaiserslautern http://www.079100.com/read.php?tid=239706&displayMode=1

    March 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  2. Cloud

    hang on a min! i thought it was proven now that Madonna was god?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:25 am |
  3. Joanne

    First of all, if you say God is so undetected and invisble and you should just give up and say God does not exist, then why do we believe in the big bang theory? That is so undetected and invisible. It is only a theory, yet people believe it. Then you say the Bible was written by humans and there are glitches. What are the glitches? Science was said by humans, yet you believe it. Someone said that the Christian past is very bloody. What Christian past? Biblically or like, in history? Because if it's in the Bible, there are wars. Everyone has wars. But if your talking about history, the people who did that were wrong. In fact, the Bible said to love your enemies. Look through the Bible and go to Luke, Mark, and Mathew. Jesus was talking to Jews, who hated the Romans, people who had taken over their land and were forcing people to do their work, like slaves. But Jesus told them, Love your enemies, for if you love those who love you, what have you accomplished? It is very easy to love those who love you because they please you. So, those 'violent' Christians were in the wrong, but not the religion. Seperate the sin from people, as God does. He still loves you but wants you to change your ways. People are so one sided, they don't even read the whole Bible and get the full idea. Do it before you say something, because then, what you say, is invalid.

    January 3, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • Bill katz

      Joanne,
      Electricity anfd gravity are alsojust theories,but you elieve in them enough to pay your light bill and to not go floating off don't you>
      This boy went from one lie to another.
      He could have sved himself a lot of trouble by just reading"Black Like Me" same idea.so it had already been done.

      February 5, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  4. Sean

    "Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fir in with the core belief." ~ Frantz Fanon

    December 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  5. Val

    Today, to be a believing Christian, straight and to follow the commandments and laws of God seem to be wrong. Jesus did say that the days were not far when all of us who follow his Word and law would be persecuted. Amen!

    December 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  6. Z28

    If this guy wasn't gay before my name is Camaro

    December 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  7. zacrum

    Dear aliens,

    I'm sorry. Please be patient. Maybe in another thousand years.

    December 24, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  8. Steve

    This kid is amazing! Took alot of guts to do what he did, when he could have simply spouted the churchs line and not bothered to think outside the box. I wish more people of all ages would have the courage, curiousity, and open mind to examine the facts for themselves, in all things.
    As a gay man, I am perplexed by some of the LGBT community reacting badly to this. They should thank him. I sure do!

    December 19, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Hephaestion

      I agree with Steve. I think what this guy did is great. In fact I have begged my straight friends to do the same thing. Because until you've risked losing all your family & friends you have no idea what gay people go through.

      March 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  9. Contributor

    A lie is a lie, a gay is a gay. There is no such thing as a moral society because every one has different morals.

    December 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Steve Billiter

      That's why God gave us the Ten Commandments for which an in-depth exposition is found in Deuteronomy. God is the only One who sees and knows the end from the beginning, and is qualified to define morality. Sin, iniquity, or more plainly wrongdoing, and lawlessness, is defined as transgressing the Law.

      1John_3:4 "Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law."

      It makes perfect sense that the Creator should define morality and goodness for His creatures, otherwise, men who love their pet sins would conveniently omit those from their own definition of morality. Mass confusion and civil unrest with accompanying violence would be the sure result.

      December 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      The problem is, Steve, that god is so invisible and undetectable as to not exist. What's the difference between an invisible, undetectable Loch Ness monster and the monster not existing? Just admit that god does not exist; it saves the time to explain that.. "well, he really is there, you just can't see him or measure any of his attributes or ever tell whether he really is there or not.'

      December 24, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  10. Randy

    I'm a Christian and the same Bible that he quotes from also says that being gay is a sin, but so is lying, adultery, stealing, gluttony and pretty much everything else. Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead to forgive us of our sins. I have trusted Jesus as my savior and my sins are forgiven. By the way, for those of you who hate Christianity and call us all bigots, just keep in mind that MUSLIMS KILL GAYS.

    December 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      There is no such thing as "sin." It's an invisible, made-up disease that affects and invisible, made-up body part (soul). The sin and the soul are so invisible that they may as well not exist. Unicorns and souls, sins and fairy dust don't exist.

      December 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Carrie

      Saying "Muslims Kill gays" is not going to endear you to the people who call Christians bigots. The Christian past is very bloody, and it was not that long ago that the KKK was big. There are groups of people from all faiths that do terrible things, or have done terrible things. The middle east has some skewed beliefs, and many groups of people that do not follow the Muslim faith as it was intended. But keep in mind that there are Muslims who do not believe the way that the terrorists portray. Also keep in mind that while the Muslims do not believe in Jesus as their savior, they do worship the same God. There is only one God, and even within Christianity, the teachings are interpreted differently.

      And i can understand why people may take offense to how this guy went about his journey, but I think it is more important to look at the intent than it is to criticize him for doing it. If thats what it took for him to come around, then thats what it took, and the Gay community should see it as a small victory rather than a personal attack. Every person on the side of GLBT rights is important.

      December 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • j

      probably not as many as Christians do.

      December 15, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • Steve

      Randy, the bible also says that you should not eat animals with cloven hooves. That includes hogs. So in order to obey the bible, we need to close all the hog farms Goodbye to bacon! Pulled pork sandwiches, sweet and sour pork, pork rinds, ect....
      Bacon for breakfast? SINNER!!

      December 19, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Brian

      I think it is a huge sin to judge people. I really respect this guy because he found himself judging his friend and instead of subconsciously being unaware of it it motivated him on somewhat of a spiritual journey.

      Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth

      December 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Rabidmob

      @Moby Schtick, You could look at it this way, Sins are acts that pass suffering on to other creature and your soul is the legacy you leave when you die.

      December 24, 2012 at 4:52 am |
  11. mo

    @ midwest rail

    "There is no such thing as being "ex-gay". Try again."

    And yet I know one. Guess I'm lying, or that person is.

    How unbelievably arrogant to say something like that – as though you know someone better than they know themselves!

    December 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • infidelbob

      Gay people living in a christian communities are highly motivated to hide their true selves in order to avoid being ostracized. Even to the point of lying to themselves.

      December 19, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  12. One day

    One day...and it will probably be a few centuries from now human kind will finally wake up to the truths that each and every one of us contemplates

    a.) same gender relations
    b.) the existance of a diety/life after death.

    It is true of all people and I am very sory I will not be alive when we evolve to the point where it stops being such a big freakin deal.

    December 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  13. Barr

    As a gay man, I read the book and thought it was completely wonderful. People who have a lot of negative criticism about his experiment make it painfully obvious that they haven't even read the book.

    December 11, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  14. slobo

    How could one "play gay" for an entire year and not be found out by real gay folks unless he really is gay, and wrote the book to cover it up? Gay people recognize other gay people for what they are. To pretend to be gay is impossible! I say this guy is BS!

    December 10, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Brian

      "How could someone play gay for a year and not be found out"??? Seriously? what a stupid question! LOL People play "Straight" for MANY YEARS w/o being "found out".

      December 19, 2012 at 5:55 am |
    • infidelbob

      Many of us have gay friends who played straight for years, even decades. Surely it can be played the opposite way.

      December 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  15. Zebula

    “He was welcomed under false pretenses, acting like someone who understood the struggle that his LGBT friends faced,” she wrote. “He did not.” Duh! Now he does. That was the point. What this guy did was remarkable.

    December 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • thisdesertlife09

      I totally agree. He changed his life and let himself be condemned by almost everyone in his life, to understand the struggles of others. I admire that.

      December 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  16. Kunst

    Jesus and Christianity have nothing in common.

    December 9, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  17. midwest rail

    correction – There are...

    December 8, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  18. wes

    there's nothing wrong with pretending to be gay. The criticism that this guy is lying to people in his life is hypocritical considering many of us have closet gay friends who lie to us constantly too. It's disrespectful to a friend but not a huge deal...

    December 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • don'tyoulabelme

      It most certainly IS a big deal and totally unethical. He is a white, middle to upper class, straight, christian male. When he is done misrepresenting himself, he will get to return to the dominant position on the social hierarchy. Anyone in the GLBTQ community doesnt get that right. He CANT identiy as one of them because he isnt one. To claim that he can now empathize with "gay people" after his deception demonstrates an utter lack of ability by the evangelical Christian community (of which he was a part) to resonate with the pangs of human suffering more than it reveals a novel method of intersubjectivity.

      December 8, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • KC

      @don'tyoulabelme -

      Yes, it would be easy to feel violated and upset, but consider what Kurek has done with the experiences he had. He's out there, advocating for the LGBT community, where once he made judgments. While his methods may be unethical, his motives were pure of heart, and at the end of the day, he's trying to make a change in this world instead of just exercising his white Christian male privilege.

      Cut the guy a little slack, huh? He's doing more to bridge the gap than most.

      December 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Krestov

      @don'tyoulabelme
      I am a white, middle to upper class, christian male, we can then stick gay onto the side of that. We all misrepresent ourselves in some way. Its a shame you can't see what he was doing, he was not trying to be gay but trying to understand our blight.

      Of course he can empathize with what we go through to think otherwise insults his intelligence. I can spend a year living on welfare to see what it is like and boy I am sure I would be able to empathize big time even though i know I get to go back to my white, middle to upper class, christian male life.

      He has seen people as they are and learnt the issues without the reserve he would have experienced if he told people hey I'm straight and Christian.

      December 11, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  19. The clean truth

    I'm not a religion expert, but I do know that if you read about brain structure orientation is biologically determined by the brain itself. Although I like the idea of life after death and I like many aspects of Christianity I personally find the lack of support for the GLBT community to be inappropriate.

    December 7, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  20. MACDONALDBANK

    Being black, left-handed or being gay is just as natural. It is a sometimes rare occurrence to fall in Love and to hold that person in your heart and be loved in return ... it is something that should be celebrated! If it’s between two guys or two girls - all the better. It takes even more courage to defend that LOVE!

    December 7, 2012 at 5:18 am |
    • The clean truth

      well said.

      December 7, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • New Father

      quick question...are you black or left handed?

      December 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • H Tillinghast

      There are those lefthanders that have become right handed.
      There are those LGBT who have become straight. (Ex-gays)
      I have never heard of anyone who has become ex-black.

      December 8, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • midwest rail

      False. There left handed people who have become ambidextrous. There is no such thing as being "ex-gay". Try again.

      December 8, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • David

      I believe Michael Jackson became ex-black 😛

      December 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
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About this blog

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.