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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. mlg4035

    Another Christian that lies and deceives...what else is new...

    December 2, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  2. ACTS 2 38

    1 Corinthians 6:9 – Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, (NIV)

    Romans 3:4 – God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; (KJV)

    So who are you going to believe?
    God or Man?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Don

      Biblical Interpretation and Theology also change from time to time. Approximately 150 years ago in the United States, some Christian teaching held that there was a two-fold moral order: black and white. Whites were thought to be superior to blacks, therefore blacks were to be subservient and slavery was an institution ordained by God. Clergy who supported such an abhorrent idea claimed the authority of the Bible. The conflict over slavery led to divisions which gave birth to some major Christian denominations. These same denominations, of course, do not support slavery today. Did the Bible change? No, their interpretation of the Bible did!

      Genesis 19:1-25

      Some "televangelists" carelessly proclaim that God destroyed the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of "homosexuality." Although some theologians have equated the sin of Sodom with homosexuality, a careful look at Scripture corrects such ignorance. Announcing judgment on these cities in Genesis 18, God sends two angels to Sodom, where Abraham's nephew, Lot, persuades them to stay in his home. Genesis 19 records that "all the people from every quarter" surround Lot's house demanding the release of his visitors so "we might know them." The Hebrew word for "know" in this case, yadha, usually means "have thorough knowledge of." It could also express intent to examine the visitors' credentials, or on rare occasions the term implies sexual intercourse. If the latter was the author's intended meaning, it would have been a clear case of attempted gang rape. Several observations are important.

      First, the judgment on these cities for their wickedness had been announced prior to the alleged homosexual incident. Second, all of Sodom's people participated in the assault on Lot's house; in no culture has more than a small minority of the population been homosexual. Third, Lot's offer to release his daughters suggests he knew his neighbors to have heterosexual interests. Fourth, if the issue was sexual, why did God spare Lot, who immediately commits incest with his daughters? Most importantly, why do all the other passages of Scripture referring to this account fail to raise the issue of homosexuality?

      Romans 1:24-27

      Most New Testament books, including the four Gospels, are silent on same-sex acts, and Paul is the only author who makes any reference to the subject. The most negative statement by Paul regarding same-sex acts occurs in Romans 1:24-27 where, in the context of a larger argument on the need of all people for the gospel of Jesus Christ, certain homosexual behavior is given as an example of the "uncleanness" of idolatrous Gentiles.

      This raises the question: Does this passage refer to all homosexual acts, or to certain homosexual behavior known to Paul's readers? The book of Romans was written to Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, who would have been familiar with the infamous sexual excesses of their contemporaries, especially Roman emperors. They would also have been aware of tensions in the early Church regarding Gentiles and observance of the Jewish laws, as noted in Acts 15 and Paul's letter to the Galatians. Jewish laws in Leviticus mentioned male same-sex acts in the context of idolatry.

      The homosexual practices cited in Romans 1:24-27 were believed to result from idolatry and are associated with some very serious offenses as noted in Romans 1. Taken in this larger context, it should be obvious that such acts are significantly different from loving, responsible lesbian and gay relationships seen today.

      What is "Natural"?

      Significant to Paul's discussion is the fact that these "unclean" Gentiles exchanged that which was "natural" for them, physin, in the Greek text, for something "unnatural," para physin. In Romans 11:24, God acts in an "unnatural" way, para physin, to accept the Gentiles. "Unnatural" in these passages does not refer to violation of so-called laws of nature, but rather implies action contradicting one's own nature. In view of this, we should observe that it is "unnatural," para physin, for a person today with a lesbian or gay sexual orientation to attempt living a heterosexual lifestyle.

      I Corinthians 6:9

      Any consideration of New Testament statements on same-sex acts must carefully view the social context of the Greco-Roman culture in which Paul ministered. Prostitution and pederasty (sexual relationships of adult men with boys) were the most commonly known male same-sex acts. In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul condemns those who are "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind," as translated in the King James version. Unfortunately, some new translations are worse, rendering these words "homosexuals." Recent scholarship unmasks the homophobia behind such mistranslations.

      The first word – malakos, in the Greek text-which has been translated "effeminate" or "soft," most likely refers to someone who lacks discipline or moral control. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament but never with reference to sexuality.

      The second word, Arsenokoitai, occurs once each in I Corinthians and I Timothy (1:10), but nowhere else in other literature of the period. It is derived from two Greek words, one meaning, "males" and the other "beds", a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Other Greek words were commonly used to describe homosexual behavior but do not appear here. The larger context of I Corinthians 6 shows Paul extremely concerned with prostitution, so it is very possible he was referring to male prostitutes. But many experts now attempting to translate these words have reached a simple conclusion: their precise meaning is uncertain. Scripture Study Conclusion…No Law Against Love

      The rarity with which Paul discusses any form of same-sex behavior and the ambiguity in references attributed to him make it extremely unsound to conclude any sure position in the New Testament on homosexuality, especially in the context of loving, responsible relationships. Since any arguments must be made from silence, it is much more reliable to turn to great principles of the Gospel taught by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do not judge others, lest you be judged. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love . . . against such there is no law. One thing is abundantly clear, as Paul stated in Galatians 5:14: "...the whole Law is fulfilled in one statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself".

      December 2, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • TRUTH BE TOLD

      I believe in God and His word.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Observer

      Corinthians (11:6) also says “For if a woman does not cover her head (while praying), let her also have her hair cut off”.

      So what is your point?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • ACTS 2 38

      Remember God doesn't hate Gays, just thier Sin.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Peter

      "Remember God doesn't hate Gays, just thier Sin."

      That's not in your bible, Gandhi said that and he was a Hindu.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • midwest rail

      The Big Lie as practiced by contemporary Christians – "love the sinner, hate the sin".

      December 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • ACTS 2 38

      Lets look at this way...Gays won't be cold in the winter where they are going.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • 261 Minsters Proclamation

      "Gays won't be cold in the winter where they are going."

      As Christian clergy we proclaim the Good News concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons and publicly apologize where we have been silent. As disciples of Jesus, who assures us that the truth sets us free, we recognize that the debate is over. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a choice, and not a sin. We find no rational biblical or theological basis to condemn or deny the rights of any person based on sexual orientation. Silence by many has allowed political and religious rhetoric to monopolize public perception, creating the impression that there is only one Christian perspective on this issue. Yet we recognize and celebrate that we are far from alone, as Christians, in affirming that LGBT persons are distinctive, holy, and precious gifts to all who struggle to become the family of God.

      In repentance and obedience to the Holy Spirit, we stand in solidarity as those who are committed to work and pray for full acceptance and inclusion of LGBT persons in our churches and in our world. We lament that LGBT persons are condemned and excluded by individuals and institutions, political and religious, who claim to be speaking the truth of Christian teaching. This leads directly and indirectly to intolerance, discrimination, suffering, and even death. The Holy Spirit compels us:

      -to affirm that the essence of Christian life is not focused on sexual orientation, but how one lives by grace in relationship with God, with compassion toward humanity;

      –to embrace the full inclusion of our LGBT brothers and sisters in all areas of church life, including leadership;

      –to declare that the violence must stop. Christ’s love moves us to work for the healing of wounded souls who are victims of abuse often propagated in the name of Christ;

      –to celebrate the prophetic witness of all people who have refused to let the voice of intolerance and violence speak for Christianity, especially LGBT persons, who have met hatred with love;

      Therefore we call for an end to all religious and civil discrimination against any person based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. All laws must include and protect the freedoms, rights, and equal legal standing of all persons, in and outside the church.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Observer

      Acts,

      You don't believe or follow everything from Corinthians or Romans so why not skip the hypocrisy?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Science Prevails

      Well let's start by looking at who wrote that book you are quoting. Man. So you might as well ask what should you believe? Man or man?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  3. Mike

    Probably a self-hating gay to begin with.

    dongs lol.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  4. Dave Harris

    This guy is as gay as a pink tutu on a drag queen. No doubt, he'll need to "research" the gay lifestyle some more.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  5. JoAnn

    I find this to be cruel. He played with his family and friends feelings, how is this inspiring? Pretending to be something is not the same as actually being that person in real life. As far as I am concerned he is a jerk and has no feelings for his family or anyone.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Sparky

      Actually the ones who were cruel were his family who led him into such lies and hate – then wrapped it in God. Thank goodness this man was bright enough to discover reality and how wrong his church really was

      December 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  6. Meehar

    "pretending" Yeah right. He's gay.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • 365daysofalife

      How narrow-minded you are. This is a beautiful story. Take it for what it is and take your comments elsewhere.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  7. bill

    Many of the coments regarding the article condemn this young man for his pretending to be someone he is not and therefore a liar to everyone. I think there is not a human on the planet that doesn't pretend to be something he or she is not and we spend alot of energy trying to keep up our portrayal of the person we want others to believe we are. It seems to me that this young man is trying to figure out who he is by questioning what he has been taught to believe about other human beings.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • TMC

      What a powerful statement.....and so sadly true.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  8. Colin

    I believe that an all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire cosmos and its billions of galaxies, watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty" like protect myself from disease with a condom. I am

    (a) A victim of child molestation

    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover

    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions; or

    (d) Your average Christian

    December 2, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • TRUTH BE TOLD

      You are A through C.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Bob

      More lies from "TRUTH BE TOLD."

      December 2, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • TimothyTallow

      Why are you so worried about what others believe? Is it not enough that you live a sad lonely life, why must you try to bring others down to your level?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  9. colliersf

    No such thing a pretending to be gay.. A straight guy or a person who stands firm in the bible does not bend. Sorry stupid article and you were a flamer to start with. Cnn always promoting one side.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Observer

      colliersf,

      There aren't any Christians who "do not bend" from the Bible. Get serious.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • TRUTH BE TOLD

      Well said, Colliersf.

      Observer – You are so wrong.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • ATLmatt

      The problem with religion is that it does not bend. Fortunately, Christianity wont be around in about another 100 years or so.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  10. ATLmatt

    Help control the zealot population. Please have your devout spayed or neutered.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • ATLmatt

      I got neutered in public skool. Mow Im reel schmart.

      kant you tell?

      December 2, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • ATLmatt

      I am glad you see this blog as a safe place. Where anyone can post using any userid or everyone can use the same userid...

      I am also glad you can share the trauma you experienced using my identification. Next time, you should try being an individual and use a different ID. I am sure your god will love you no matter what.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  11. Tom Hunter

    Now he should pretend to be a fitness instructor and drop 50 pounds. Obesity isn't funny.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • ATLmatt

      I am surprised anyone thought he was gay. Gay church = GYM.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  12. James

    Those two first pics are all you need to know about this story. They speak for themselves. Priceless.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Bob

      Based on your comment you must be a real idiot.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  13. scotty501

    Most gays i know do NOT look like the effeminate guys in these photos. The media promotes stereotypes and likes dramatic photos. My opinion

    December 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  14. Mr. Big

    I think Kurek realized coming out of the closet was to much of a hassle & went back in !

    December 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  15. Colin

    I have convinced myself that being gay is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am

    (a) A failed psychologist

    (b) A fraudulent geneticist

    (c) A back alley sociologist; or

    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • TRUTH BE TOLD

      You are F An Atheist with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • .

      @TRUTH..Pray tell, what are the facts?There are MANY religions in the world,there are gays,there are atheists.There are good people there are bad people.Some people just like to judge others I guess it makes people's lives more interesting,and they somehow get to feel superior.Very sad.I see it all day every day.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  16. Patricksday

    Wow! The Lord does move in Mysterious ways! Its certainly not a lifestyle one would choose. Who would choose to be hated and despised by supposed followers of Jesus, risk violence, property damage, and abuse at work. Sometimes you need to walk in anothers shoes to see what is really going on. Good for this Guy who sees with new eyes.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  17. J

    Like Trevor said below, this is essentially "Black Like Me", but for gay people. That author - a white Episcopal priest - disguised himself as black and experienced prejudice in the deep South, before the civil right era took off. His book was influential amongst white people, but he was never really accepted by black people, who preferred to appoint their own civil rights leaders who looked like them.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  18. Name: (required)

    In a strange twist of coincidence, I, too, hope his mother gets cancer.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Hmm

      That is a very Christian thing to say.

      December 2, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  19. Flesh Wound

    Is that man in the photo really toasting with a urine sample ?

    December 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  20. GetReal

    He could have saved himself a year....took a walk down Castro Street in San Francisco and been done with the entire idea in a few minutes.. This year of lying is just that....A Year Of Lying! And to knowingly take a friend through his madness and subject his family to his "experience" is even worse!

    December 2, 2012 at 9:27 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.