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.”
Man starting calling for a GOD or Gods when they saw the fire Gods come from the sky aka aliens. The definition of God has changed over the centuries. The bible took over 700 years to write and compile and you believe its the word of God or Jesus. Really ppl. We can't have a circle of 20 people tell the same secret as its passed around the circle. By the time it gets back to the person who started the secret the story is totally different. But people think the bible is pure. How unrealistic! Also if God says to love one another how do you so called good Christians condemn so many ie; gays. I find evangelical Christians to be the same caliber as the Taliban believe what we believe or die or go straight to h*ll.
Man starting calling for a GOD or Gods when they saw the fire Gods come from the sky aka aliens.
You seem to be the delusional here.
So did he even sleep with another man to know what it's like to be even a gay?
No two people are alike. Every one of us has unique outlooks, strengths and weaknesses. That's one reality that makes life interesting. Judging people that don't conform to one's narrow views makes life boring and unhappy, full of anger and resentment.
Okay, so those the befriended Timothy while he was pretending to be gay say they feel betrayed. Now, what about all the gay people that feel they have to pretend to be straight and then finally come out as gay? In this case, Timothy did the opposite–he pretended to be gay and then came (back) out as straight. I would think there should be some empathy there which is what appears to have been Timothy's goal–understanding what it is like to be thought of as gay and some of the struggles and discrimination that gay people face.
gay pretending to be straight
straight pretending to be gay
apples and oranges
You do understand that being openly gay in this society has negative consequences.
Being a free thinking individual in any society has consequences, including the gay community. Most are not willing to walk that path.
I don't think the gay people feel betrayed.. I think they feel they maybe help educate and were successful
Now his Church people might feel betrayed.. His conclusions are a threat to what they believe.
Suuuure he posed as if he was gay. He kissed gay guys. Went down on gay guys. Was poked by gay guys. All just to come to a logical conclusion on its morality.
It doesn't say anywhere in the article that he did those things. Dude, you are totally immature and you epitomize the problems we have in society regarding this issue.
Moron, did you even read the article?
I'll never understand why Christians insist on following Jesus' words, and yet they conveniently ignore Christ's admonition to be careful how they judge others, because they will be judged in the same manner.
Some of the least Christian people I've ever met are those who insist they follow Christ!
If you believe the gospel of Matthew contains an accurate reflection of Jesus's words, then you also have to accept that Jesus believed in the horrible justice of the Old Testament. (See Matthew 5:18)
Jeff, you think you have an excuse for ignoring what Jesus Christ taught? He died for ALL humanity, not just for Christians. You, sir, are without excuse as many so called-Christians are.
My bet is those who profess to be Christians can likely be found at the Mall on Sunday about this time of year visiting Santa
I also bet many of them have at least one family member who is divorced which is also against their bible.
They are Christians when it is convenient
Donald Trump should pretend to be Barack Obama for One Year.
Church is the mind-killer.
Atheism has been killing more then any religious person. We have many churches that gives to the poor. Where is an atheist charity?
"Atheism has been killing more then any religious person"
"Where is an atheist charity?"
Most charities are secular. Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, Goodwill, Amnesty International, UNICEF, The Nature Conservancy, ACLU, Rotary...
Not to mention that among the well off, secular folks are more likely to vote for social programs that support education and the poor, while religious folk are more likely to be republicans voting themselves tax cuts. This is notuniformlythecase, but as a trend ifborneoutby the research.
Yes Church's expect Blind obedience. Never to be questioned as it is a threat to their existence.
Heaven help us if we started to use our brains and sense of Logic.
Churches have become very unhealthy for their dogma and mind control
Meh, all he learned was how it affects "those" people. He always had an out.
If anything he should have learned how religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind.
"Atheism has been killing more then any religious person. "
Bob – Open up your blind eyes and look at the news. We see unbelievers committing so many detestable things and they are killing each other and children.
"Open up your blind eyes and look at the news. We see unbelievers committing so many detestable things and they are killing each other and children."
Wow you are as stupid as we all thought. No, idiot, that's religious people.
This was a brave thing to do. He made an effort to see what the LGBT community was really like and what he learned flew in the face of everything he had ever been taught. He is a better man for this experiment. All haters should try this experiment – it may be the only thing that can open their eyes.
Now if he would go live in Palestien for a few years he would rethink his views on the that too....Walk a mile in the other guy's shoes before judging him...
There is not enough miles in the world to help me understand those barbaric islamic terrorists. Good day sir.
Very interesting article. I have always wondered where the evangelicals got their narrow minded beliefs. I'm so happy I wasn't raised in that ignorant and very un-Jesus like environment.
Actually my hom.ophobic, atheist despising friend, you’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists don’t believe for one or more of the following reasons:
The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.
The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.
The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.
Throwing the three together into one being cubes its already dispositive implausibility.
We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe. The idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to Earth to talk to a nomadic group of Jews about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine (while ignoring the rest of the 200 million people then alive) makes no sense to us. We can’t help but ask ourselves, “did God make the Jews or did the Jews make God?”
The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.
The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, the Judeo-Christian god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?
We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.
We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”. Likewise, we know how all faiths evolve, morph and change over time and do not think we were lucky enough to have been born in the one generation that “got it right.”
We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the pre Dark Ages Mediterranean.
Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away,” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more näive, timid minds among us.
We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.
“You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, or even a relevant point, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them, or even evidence for their existence. It is impossible to prove a negative in this context.
When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, a talking snake, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.
It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Mao Zedong was a great man because The Little Red Book says so, and the reason I believe The Little Red Book is that it was written by Mao Zedong, who was a great man.” Do you even have the slightest idea of how your Bible was compiled over the centuries or who decided what to include and what to exclude and on what grounds? Can you even name one of hundred plus authors who contributed to it? One of the many people who decided what got in and what didn’t?
To be bluntly honest, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.
So, before you next proudly proclaim you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, simply because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a child, you might like to reflect upon the overwhelming enormity of the claims you are about to make and the complete paucity of evidence that underwrites those claims.
Or, put another way, stop cuddling your Bible and wallowing in your ignorance and face the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death with a bit of emotional and intellectual courage. If you want to spend your entire life groveling before and appeasing something, at least make it something that exists. You sound like mental lightweight and an emotional coward who needs to lose himself in a book of fairytales.
Your comment is longer than his book.
Its sad because as intelligent as you sound, you are truly lost. You hide behind writing books in comment areas to articles desperately trying to convince others there is no God. You will bow down one day.
I believe that just about sums it up.
Joe, my apparent personality flaws aside, do you have a comment on any point I made?
wow, could not have summed this up better.
Colin is my god.......very well said. Thank you
No, he (joe) doesn't.
Well said BTW.
Actually Colin please be careful not to throw the baby out with the dirty bath water. We are all born with an innate hunger for "something". However, what if that "something" is not religion per se but "order"? The order that all the cosmos follows except for arrogant little us. And what if religion is a clue to what that order is?
What's believable about the emergence of consciousness from inert matter without a guiding force...absolutely nothing. What is sweeter and brings more joy than belief in a guiding creator with insanely, radical love who died for us and to whom we can give praise and worship...for me, nothing. Let the brilliant scientist figure how it all works but do you really want them as the high priest of your soul? If God was manifested on earth by Jesus, who wrote in the sand with is finger then gay people have equal opportunity to rejoice. We can live our lives within a framework of meaning alway seeking further truth or we drown out our existential misery in a bottle and call ourselves strong.
you can say its hard to believe in GOD but no matter what you or anyone else thinks GOD still exists. you cant wish HIM away.same with hell it exists no matter what you think. you want real proof GOD exists commit suicide because anything i say about GOD you will just refute it over and over!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It's not about what you thing, or what you undestood, it's aboutbwhat the "word of God" say about this matter
sybaris – How many gods do you believe in that makes you confused to ask which god?
It's about what you know because you're not stupid an understand who you are and what you are. Not what a book tells you that you are.
God is dead.
TRUTH BE TOLD, again which god?
I wonder how this story would have gone if he felt he betrayed , murderer, theif, liar, or adulterer. Oh wait.. If he was paying attention in church would realize they were all those things we need to repent from son not clean to it and not to beat like it and admire it. were supposed to be separate set apart as Christians.
Good for him breaking out of the smothering evangelical life; hard to do when you have been indoctrinated since the womb.
I think the 1 who created him in the woumb has the right to tell him how to live, kind of like telling your parents I don't want you to tell me what to do I want to live the way I want to live it's called dis obedience.
"I think the 1 who created him in the woumb has the right to tell him how to live"
The scriptures actually say nothing about homosexuality as a psychosexual orientation. Our understandings of sexual orientation are distinctly modern ones that were not present in the minds of Scripture writers. A few passages of Scripture (seven at the most) object to certain types of same-sex expressions or acts. The particular acts in question, however, are sexual expressions which are exploitative, oppressive, commercialized, or offensive to ancient purity rituals. There is no Scriptural guidance for same-sex relationships which are loving and mutually respecting. Guidelines for these relationships should come from the same general Scriptural norms that apply to heterosexual relationships.
Kurek is overweight yet accepted? Wow. Many personal ads show gaymen looking for "height/weight proportionate" and looking for a good time only... go into a bar and such guys are usually shunned as well. I've done my own research in the past as well... But I would have approached Kurek – not for a whizbang time, but to actually get to know the guy. I've always preferred affirming relationships and not casual interactions...
I'm sorry he was taught all of us were HIV positive, ped0philes, etc... at least he's seen how wrong the stories he had been told are. Granted, anyone can watch the StarTrek episode "Day of the Dove" and see Captain Kirk tell Mara that the stories he'd heard of the Federation being cruel were wrong. (Strange how these patterns of intolerance are old, and the story of this article only being a less-traveled scope...)
Liberty University gives all for-profit colleges a bad name, and having attended one or two myself, "for-profit" is increasingly synonymous with 'rip-off that needs to be thoroughly investigated and students refunded from these scams."
I will check out his book when it gets to the library; he probably has a few good things to say. Either way, it will be good read. I applaud him for seeking beyond what he was taught to blindly believe and research for himself.
But if people read the Bible and learned what it had to say about empathy in the first place, and how the only one allowed to judge is God, then antigay hate would only be committed by other religious sorts, or by the nonreligious that claim gays act against nature (despite plenty of examples of hom0s#xuality being prevalent in nature...) But we all know the world is made up of all types.
For anyone thinking this experiment is wrong, read Black Like Me.
You will have to condemn that one as well.
I'll check it out. It will be a fun read as well. Thanks for the namedropping!
No, I don't think the experiment was wrong. As long as he didn't tease people or be unethical in any other form... if he was looking to find information and learn, there is nothing wrong with that. Well, in this case, "teasing" as in "leading them on" for a possible romance that could not have existed, since a Kinsey 0 means zero interest in the same gender. (look up the Kinsey scale for more info... I'm a Kinsey 4, since everyone's definitely taking count of the situation...)
The book black like me. Very scary reading for those times.
Everyone seems to want the franchise on victimhood.
It ain't healthy.
There are lot's of inequities and dysfunction in the law. The inequities should be addressed to remove the inequities not expand them.
Whatever it takes to make a buck, that's how our society currently works.
Blasphemy Does that mean we eliminate the inequalities by including others in equal treatment for all people or does it mean we eliminate things like legal marriage for all people ? Either one would attain your goal but I think it is easier to include than to reject those who already have those rights
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.