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.”
In 1959 John Howard Griffin, a white man, lived as a black man for 6 weeks and wrote a book called Black Like Me about his experience. It's a must read for anyone who wants to understand what it's like to be black in this country. Kudos to Mr. Kurek for teaching himself and others what it's like to be gay in America.
This was the first thing that came to my mind after reading the article. I read the book "Black Like Me" in high school. I grew up in the south and was in high school in the 1990's. While racial relations had improved significantly since the book was published, there was still that "underground" racism. I had some great teachers that thought it was important to understand the struggles that people face from their point of view.
I have not read the book in the article, so I do not know if it is well done or not. However, the premise sounds interesting and promising. I hope that we can get to the point where we can see people for the "content of their character."
I agree, the Griffin book was very insightful.
In contrast, I'm not sure if Kurek didn't just play on some gay stereo-type and in doing so promoted the stereo-type rather than break it. I mean posing with drag queens in a purple tee with huge earrings and a dog tag, that seems to be a bit much. On the other hand, if what he experienced helped him to be more compassionate and understanding, then good for him.
Calling pus gold does not change the basic fact that pus is a sickening ooze. Calling qu eer gay does not change the fact that being qu eer is a dirty disgusting sin chosen and practiced by the morally and physically diseased in a society. Qu eers the people who gave AIDS to the world
One hopes that you are a troll. If not an internet troll, I would suggest an actual troll – a nasty, evil, wretched lump of twisted hate living under a bridge somewhere.
Always a good day when we get to be entertained by the inane and delusional ramblings of the pervert.
Truth is not hate. Qu eers gave AIDS to the world. Practicing qu eer is a dirty disgusting sin that should be criminalized everywhere.
You are a truly sick individual.
Yeh...like straight people never do anything, anyone else would predict was "filthy" or "disgusting". Right Mr. Warren Jeffs?
Ooops, I meant "consider" not "predict"...darn spell checker.
"Qu eers gave AIDS to the world. "
Until recently, the origins of the HIV-2 virus had remained relatively unexplored. HIV-2 is thought to come from the SIV in Sooty Mangabeys rather than chimpanzees, but the crossover to humans is believed to have happened in a similar way (i.e. through the butchering and consumption of monkey meat). It is far rarer, significantly less infectious and progresses more slowly to AIDS than HIV-1. As a result, it infects far fewer people, and is mainly confined to a few countries in West Africa.
In May 2003, a group of Belgian researchers published a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. By analysing samples of the two different subtypes of HIV-2 (A and B) taken from infected individuals and SIV samples taken from sooty mangabeys, Dr Vandamme concluded that subtype A had passed into humans around 1940 and subtype B in 1945 (plus or minus 16 years or so). Her team of researchers also discovered that the virus had originated in Guinea-Bissau and that its spread was most likely precipitated by the independence war that took place in the country between 1963 and 1974 (Guinea-Bissau is a former Portuguese colony). Her theory was backed up by the fact that the first European cases of HIV-2 were discovered among Portuguese veterans of the war, many of whom had received blood transfusions or unsterile injections following injury, or had possibly had relationships with local women.
Given the evidence we have already looked at, it seems highly likely that Africa was indeed the continent where the transfer of HIV to humans first occurred (monkeys from Asia and South America have never been found to have SIVs that could cause HIV in humans). In May 2006, the same group of researchers who first identified the Pan troglodytes troglodytes strain of SIVcpz, announced that they had narrowed down the location of this particular strain to wild chimpanzees found in the forests of Southern Cameroon . By analysing 599 samples of chimp droppings (P. T. troglodytes are a highly endangered and thus protected species that cannot be killed or captured for testing), the researchers were able to obtain 34 specimens that reacted to a standard HIV DNA test, 12 of which gave results that were virtually indistinguishable from the reactions created by human HIV. The researchers therefore concluded that the chimpanzees found in this area were highly likely the origin of both the pandemic Group M of HIV-1 and of the far rarer Group N. The exact origins of Group O however remain unknown.
HIV Group N principally affects people living in South-central Cameroon, so it is not difficult to see how this outbreak started. Group M, the group that has caused the worldwide pandemic, was however first identified in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Repub lic of Con go. It is not entirely clear how it transferred from Cameroon to Kinshasa, but the most likely explanation is that an infected individual travelled south down the San gha river that runs through Southern Cam eroon to the River Con go and then on to Kin shasa, where the Group M epidemic probably began.
Just as we do not know exactly who spread the virus from Cam eroon to Kin shasa, how the virus spread from Africa to America is also not entirely clear. However, recent evidence suggests that the virus may have arrived via the Cari bbean island of H aiti.
If you really cared about sin, you'd be concerned about the FAR GREATER number of Christian adulterers. It's all HYPOCRISY.
Some people are begging to be hit in the eyeball with a tack hammer.
they might be gay, but YOU are the c o c k smoker.
"Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
"Salvatore" degenerates to:
"Douglas" degenerates to:
"truth be told" degenerates to:
"Thinker23" degenerates to:
"Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
"another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
"Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
"tina" degenerates to:
"captain america" degenerates to:
"Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
"Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
"just sayin" degenerates to:
"ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
"Kindness" degenerates to:
"Chad" degenerates to
"Bob" degenerates to
"nope" degenerates to:
"2357" degenerates to:
"WOW" degenerates to:
"fred" degenerates to:
"!" degenerates to:
"John 3:16" degenerates to:
"pervert alert" is the degenerate.
This troll is not a christian.
Ok I hate to tell you this, but gay people did not give aids to the world. A monkey in a cage who bit a technician gave aids to the world. It just happened to hit the gay population first in the media.
How much of the proceeds from his book will go to help the LGBT cause?
The "cause"? Could you be a little more specific? Is there a registered charity called the LGBT Cause?
Attack of the 50, are there not pro-LGBT organizations?
In 1961, John Howard Griffin's book, "Black Like Me" was published. That book, along with similar books of a white man posing as a black man, helped to open the country's eyes about their own bigotry and change the perception of African Americans. I applaud Mr. Kurek for realising his own deficiencies and taking steps the steps he did. Immersing himself into the world of LGBTs and then writing a book about it opened him up to all of the negativity LGBTs face every day and then the backlash he is experiencing now. I sincerely hope this book and others like it help to change this country the same way "Black Like Me" did.
Qu eer isn't a race, qu eer is a chosen sin. Race did not give AIDS to the world, qu eers gave AIDS to the world.
Please don't compare my skin color (sacred) to a lifestyle preference.
Race did give us your gross stupidity and inability to be a non-drooling member of society, however.
"qu eers gave AIDS to the world."
@alert – what if it really is a choice? Choosing a religion is a choice, and we don't discriminate against most religions .. well, you xtians seem to hate Muslims more than you hate most other religions – point is, whether it's a choice or not, is not part of the equation. You are a thug.
He and everyone else needs to read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill to learn the truth about the Roman christian myth.
I don't care what anybody says. It is a choice and a disgusing, degenerate lifestyle. I don't know why we put up with it.
But enough about Christianity, let's talk about gays......
Surfing is a lifestyle dimbulb – being gay is innate. Open your trailer door, and try to make sense of the world around you.
Oh man, I am going to store that away and remember it when I need a laugh. Thank you.
I think maybe you missed what Colin was saying.
I wish there was a "like" button for Colin's comment!
Ok now that I laughed at so hard I nearly spewed my coffee all over my keyboard. There are many reasons I dislike religion, but their viewpoints on being gay as a choice and that it's wrong is on the top of the list. It was never a choice.
Ed should finish that first cup of coffee before reacting.
@Colin – egg on my face... I hear that sentence so much, I had a knee-jerk reaction. My apologies to you, everyone else for letting something fly over my head.
No worries Ed.
It's good to know you "don't care what anyone says..." Ignorance is bliss.
I'm guarantee every Gay man that this guy interacted with during his "year" knew he wasn't Gay.
This guy didn’t just “go gay”, by the looks of the pictures offered, he went “club gay”. Just as there are many types of straight people, there is also much diversity within the gay community. The overtly gay cover picture of this guy with earrings on, surrounded by men in hot-pants, makes gay people look like they are all a bunch of strangely dressed, over-aged, go-go boy want-to-be’s – nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know if this experiment was good, bad, or indifferent, but it seems it may have shown this young man only a small fraction of the gay community as a whole.
From the reaction from the gay community it's been met with mixed reviews. The consensus seems to be that Mr. Kurek could never really know what it's like to be gay and only experienced a small fraction of the guilt, shame, oppression, etc. However on the positive side is that his message that gays are treated unfairly is reaching a group of people that might not otherwise listen. Mr. Kurek doesn't seem like he did this as some sort of political leader, or with an agenda to save the world, but to explore and understand. The media has picked up on it and now it is we that need to decide whether our usage of his journey is good, bad, or neither.
Religion... one of the three great pillars of corruption of the human mind and spirit. Honoring the laws of nature and the golden rule are the only guiding principles a human being needs. All else is mind control designed to benefit the few.
what are the other two? just curious.
Prayer changes things.
Yes, just look at all the terrific things religion is responsible for in the world today – wars, mercy killing, genocide… etc. “Religion” it’s so yummy. “Atheism”, “Reason”, “Science” – BAD!!!
yep.. it changes those who are brainwashed with supernatural hogwash from being a rational thinking human being.
Science builds airplanes, prayer flies them into buildings.
I don't think prayer can do much of anything, let's go with religion flies them into buildings.
He lied and was deceitful to his family, friends and the LGBT community. Perhaps he has another struggle inside he is dealing with.
Riiiiight. He "pretended" to be gay. Stick to that story bud. We all believe you.
So Don, I'm guessing that you don't have the balls to try it yourself? Before making such an ignorant statement of which you clearly know nothing about, try walking in his shoes first.
I don't understand why people who don't know Mr. Kurek personally could feel "betrayed". I'm gay and I appreciate any good-intentioned effort by straight people to try to understand gay people. Would you want the straight world full of people like Michelle Bachmann or Mr. Kurek?
Thank you. It seems strange for someone to say they feel "betrayed" and yet I have gay friends that, outside of our friends, pretend to be straight and are anti-gay in that persona. They come from a background like Mr. Kurek and are virulent in their anti-gay message when outside of their true friends. I try to be understanding but I don't understand the hypocrisy so to have someone say they feel betrayed by Mr. Kurek's story....I think they need to truly understand the word acceptance and know it doesn't mean everyone believes as you do...you just give them the grace to believe in what they do and accept that everyone deals with life in different ways.
CNN and the ability to deceive are on full display- Sorry but this is just progressive propoganda... I believe people are gay and they should be treated with respect but three is also a cultural gay community that has nothing to do with the biological aspect and they are just social deviets
Couldn't agree more. This is an article I'd expect to see from msnbc, not CNN.
Reblogged this on Café Moi and commented:
This story bothers me, and I'm typing these words in exploration of my own feelings on the situation. In a nutshell"
– Buddy is upset at his treatment of a gay friend
– Decides to pose as a gay person for a year to live in their shoes
– Learns and experiences both what teh gay community lives like, to a point
-Experiences what his evangelical community's response is
– Writes a book and presumably sells a lot of copies
When you get right down to it, he lied. He lied to the gay community, to his lesbian friend whom he was sorry he hurt, to his family, and to his evangelical community.
The last I heard, Lying was considered a sin. He has hurt the gay community, he has hurt his family, and he has hurt his evangelical community.
Yes, there are swaths of prejudice against gays that need dismantling. He was wrong, his family was wrong, and his church as a whole was wrong. But you can't fix wrongs with wrongs. Two wrongs don't make a right is not a simple literary cliché. It is truth. In no way do I respect Buddy for lying to everybody.
For his next experiment, I suggest sitting alone on top of a mountain for fifty years.
He learned, and by that learning became a better person. That in and of itself, far outweighs the alleged "harm" of, oh, he lied to this or that group.
Yes, all that is true. It's wrong, but aren't those cracks of daylight coming through as perspective, truth or reality in both communities worth something? Isn't showing his mother what a hateful religion she occupies worth something? It's just wrong, yes, but the perspective....
stop it..... people lie everyday to themselves and to those around them.... A gay person lies to his family and friends every single day until they come out and it is accepted because it is there choice to do so...... This man has done something good for a community that has been victimized throughout history........Eternal victims will lash........ grow up.....
It does seem as though he's learned something about organized religion.
Hey, give this guy a break. He lived the phrase "don't judge a man (or woman) until you walk in his/her shoes.". He did exactly that. No different than thoseeople who pretended to be homeless for a year to understand that concept. I applaud his courage to try to change his core beliefs. Here's a guy who actually was able to break free of the brainwashing of Liberty University and. Evangelical Taliban. He allowed his mind to be opened. Not many would do this.
Sounds like you haven't yet broken free of the brainwashing of the liberal media. "Evangelical Taliban"–come on! You actually equate evangelical Christians who live by their faith as the same terrorists who destroyed Afghanistan and engage in armed conflict with our troops? Sounds a little far-fetched and awfully emotionally charged!
Here is the problems with this experiment.- – its all a deception.
1) A true Christian beleives what God says in his word......
2) A true Christian would not deceive everyone – this is living a lie.
3) His experiences were positive in the gay community because they thought he is gay.
4) I have seen very hateful gay people hating straight people.
5) God does say to love others......and we can love gay people by not deceptively pretending to be one of them.
6) Kurek is not a Christian and does not beleive the Bible.
Read Romans 1: 16-32.
To God be the glory
Whoa there...you don't get to judge his place with God. You go too far.
No. A t true Christian understand that the Bible its not a literal text.
I think most Christians would agree with what you have written with exception to point 6. I don't know very evangelicals that openly label people as Christian or not.
Oh please do tell us the many stories of hateful gay people hating on straight people. Wait, let me get comfy.... almost.... had to make some popcorn... ok, I'm ready. Go!
Oh, that's awful "christian" of you, pronouncing somebody else as "Not a REALChristian(tm)" because they don't fit into the mold of what YOU see in the mirror every morning.
I don't understand the hostility towards Kurek.
The "No True Scotsman" logical fallacy
Thankfully, you don't get to judge anyone.
I applaud your bravery. It took incredible courage to do what you did in an attempt to unwind the indoctrination you received growing up. Breaking free from concepts you were taught as a child that you once held to be absolute fact is the most difficult struggle in ones life. Religion can in some ways be likened to a human virus that once you get it can never be completely gotten rid of. Our programming makes us susceptible to this sort of error. I would be willing to bet that even for all you have learned there is still a part of you, maybe in the back of your mind that wonders if these people might still be going to Hell regardless of how sympathetic you are toward them. After all this is what you have been taught from a very young age.
Another example is the Chain Letter. The worst parts of all religion have one thing in common. They function exactly as a chain letter. And even the strongest of us give a second thought, even if just for a second as to whether should delete a chain letter or send it along to others. The human brain is just hard wired to say "what if"? It's the very thing that makes us open to all the possibilities that also makes us hold true to the worst of the teachings we were subject to while growing up.
So again I applaud your courage to choose to find the truth and shed the lies. You are better than most of us.
It is amazing how hypocritical folks are with regards to tolerance. The LGBT community wants tolerance, but are not tolerant of the religious community. Odd how LGBT's seek out acceptance by the religious sector.
As for Mr. Kurek, there is a certain sadness to his deceit and manipulation of both the community he "studied" and his family. One will never know if he was truly driven by concern, a quest for monetary gain, or by a deep-seated latent tendency.
Yeah, it's so wrong of people to not be tolerant of those who rant and rave that they are going to some hell that a deity supposedly made to punish them for being the way that deity made them. I mean, what the hell is wrong with them, right?
Ben: Many gay people could care less about “acceptance” from insane religious followers; what we do expect and demand are equal rights under the law for our tax dollars – you can keep your religion.
I'm really tired of the doublespeak that people use when LGBT folks ask for tolerance. We are asking for equality and civil rights that are equal to straight people and, yes, tolerance to be accepted into the society in which we live. Fighting back against discrimination, hatred and bigotry is not being intolerant of who people are, it's demanding equality. Would the Jewish people have been cast as intolerant of the Germans when they tried to protest what was happening to them? Should black people or native Americans have just accepted their treatment by their oppressors? If you discriminate and oppress people, you don't get to expect acceptance of that behavior and guess what? You always lose in the long run and are viewed harshly by history and society.
"We are asking for equality and civil rights that are equal to straight people and, yes, tolerance to be accepted into the society in which we live."
Certainly, however, being gay will never be something that people want to be. It will never be something that parents want their children to become. Let's be honest and admit that it will never be "equal to straight people" if only because it is a deviance from the norm.
Personally, I don't think it will ever be something totally tolerated. It will always be something laughed at or made fun of, and it will always be something that parents fear, if only because of that reaction by most people.
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.