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
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

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. poopmeister

    I think the filtering is heavy on us non-beleivers, I just did a post but God swallowed it and spit it out on me....can't be CNN's fault?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Jesus

      Jesus, not again.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • God

      Don't lie. That was a poop not a post.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  2. bogo

    Sick is sick, foklks. Enough of this bullsift. What's next, live like a scatophile for a year?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Sick is sick"

      The experts have proven you wrong and you're ego can't handle it.

      Heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      December 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • bogo

      Sure, Freud too was right once!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Bob

      How many handles are you going to post under "bogo" you're a troll. Grow up.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Erik

      "Sick is sick, foklks."

      Being gay is not a choice science, in fact, is actually not in dispute on this matter.

      All major medical professional organizations concur that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed, from gay to straight or otherwise. The American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and European Psychological, Psychiatric, and Medical Associations all agree with this, as does the World Health Organization and the medical organizations of Japan, China, and most recently, Thailand. Furthermore, attempts to change one's sexual orientation can be psychologically damaging, and cause great inner turmoil and depression, especially for Christian gays and lesbians.

      Reparative therapy, also called conversion therapy or reorientation therapy, "counsels" LGBT persons to pray fervently and study Bible verses, often utilizing 12-step techniques that are used to treat sexual addictions or trauma. Such Christian councilors are pathologizing homosexuality, which is not a pathology but is a sexual orientation. Psychologically, that's very dangerous territory to tread on. All of the above-mentioned medical professional organizations, in addition to the American and European Counseling Associations, stand strongly opposed to any form of reparative therapy.

      In my home country, Norway, reparative therapy is officially considered to be ethical malpractice. But there are many countries that do not regulate the practice, and many others that remain largely silent and even passively supportive of it (such as the Philippines). Groups that operate such "therapy" in the Philippines are the Evangelical Bagong Pag-asa, and the Catholic Courage Philippines.

      The scientific evidence of the innateness of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism is overwhelming, and more peer-reviewed studies which bolster this fact are being added all the time. Science has long regarded sexual orientation – and that's all sexual orientations, including heterosexuality – as a phenotype. Simply put, a phenotype is an observable set of properties that varies among individuals and is deeply rooted in biology. For the scientific community, the role of genetics in sexuality is about as "disputable" as the role of evolution in biology.

      On the second point, that there is no conclusion that there is a "gay gene," they are right. No so-called gay gene has been found, and it's highly unlikely that one ever will. This is where conservative Christians and Muslims quickly say "See, I told you so! There's no gay gene, so being gay is a choice!"

      Take this interesting paragraph I found on an Evangelical website: "The attempt to prove that homosexuality is determined biologically has been dealt a knockout punch. An American Psychological Association publication includes an admission that there's no homosexual "gene" – meaning it's not likely that homosexuals are 'born that way.'"

      But that's not at all what it means, and it seems Evangelicals are plucking out stand-alone phrases from scientific reports and removing them from their context. This is known in academia as the fallacy of suppressed evidence. Interestingly, this is also what they have a habit of doing with verses from the Bible.

      This idea of sexuality being a choice is such a bizarre notion to me as a man of science. Many of these reparative "therapists" are basing this concept on a random Bible verse or two. When you hold those up against the mountain of scientific research that has been conducted, peer-reviewed, and then peer-reviewed again, it absolutely holds no water. A person's sexuality – whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual – is a very deep biological piece of who that person is as an individual.

      The fact that a so-called "gay gene" has not been discovered does not mean that homosexuality is not genetic in its causation. This is understandably something that can seem a bit strange to those who have not been educated in fields of science and advanced biology, and it is also why people who are not scientists ought not try to explain the processes in simple black-and-white terms. There is no gay gene, but there is also no "height gene" or "skin tone gene" or "left-handed gene." These, like sexuality, have a heritable aspect, but no one dominant gene is responsible for them.

      Many genes, working in sync, contribute to the phenotype and therefore do have a role in sexual orientation. In many animal model systems, for example, the precise genes involved in sexual partner selection have been identified, and their neuro-biochemical pathways have been worked out in great detail. A great number of these mechanisms have been preserved evolutionarily in humans, just as they are for every other behavioral trait we know (including heterosexuality).

      Furthermore, there are many biologic traits which are not specifically genetic but are biologic nonetheless. These traits are rooted in hormonal influences, contributed especially during the early stages of fetal development. This too is indisputable and based on extensive peer-reviewed research the world over. Such prenatal hormonal influences are not genetic per se, but are inborn, natural, and biologic nevertheless.

      Having said that, in the realm of legal rights, partnership rights, and anti-discrimination protections, the gay gene vs. choice debate is actually quite irrelevant. Whether or not something is a choice is not a suitable criterion for whether someone should have equal rights and protections. Religion is indisputably a choice, but that fact is a not a valid argument for discriminating against a particular religion.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • bogo

      According to the APA, sxatiphilia is "normal", too. Proves they know what they are talking about.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • bogo

      "Scatophelia". Had my fingers on the wrong keys! LOL!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Babe

      bogo is a troll – yeah!

      Bogo is a toll – yeah!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Bob

      "According to the APA, sxatiphilia is "normal", too"

      Please supply the exact link.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • bogo

      Go eat some shift for a year and then write a book about it!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • God

      bogo. I know that's what you've been doing your whole life. Even though it is obvious from your comments. You will suffer.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • I'm 45 and live with my parents

      You hit the nail on the head there bogo.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  3. sqeptiq

    The majority of people commenting here seem to be proudly judgmental and self-righteous. Is that something to be advertising to the world?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Brian Smith

      No, people here are usually moderate/conservative, so they call things as they see them.
      In this case, he lied to everyone he knew for a full year – and last I checked – a Lie, under any interpretation is still ethically wrong. He'll need to settle with that later, but regardless, this entire stunt appears to have been done for his own profit from his book, which isn't good either, and he still doesn't actually understand what he had hoped to when it's all over.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Roger that

      'this entire stunt appears to have been done for his own profit from his book,'

      I would be surprised that someone would go through this experience and not write a book or make a film. What would be the point of going through that if you aren't going to share your story with others? There are a lot of books like this out there.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  4. okiedale@live.com

    Perversion is still nothing more than perversion no matter how hard he tries to mask as a Christian. Just because he attended Liberty University does not make him a Christian. However, the perverts at CNN will try any means to justify the end.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • want2believe

      and no matter what you say or do, it doesn't make you a true "Christian" either

      December 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  5. Nietodarwin

    Why can't I post? What is wrong with this machine. ???? Is there an atheist filter???

    December 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • TimothyTallow

      we can only hope.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Lame-o

      You do realize there is a delay from the time you type your response, to the time its posted right? Stop acting like you're so oppressed.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Consti-tutional Peasant

      Help, help! I'm bein' repressed!!

      Bloody peasant!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Jesus

      Jesus! Here we go again.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Romnesia

      Filter throws out posts with "bad" words. The t-it in superst-ition for example

      December 2, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  6. GAW

    But still isn't what he did called.....lets see know....I know Hypocrisy?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Engleesh speech much?

      December 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Lame-o

      CONGRATULATIONS! you missed the whole point of this article!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  7. Clouds 9

    Silly christians.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  8. Marvin

    I remember a book in the 1950's "I passed for black" where a white man died his skin with walnut oil and moved into the south as a black man just to experience what racial bias was. Very good reading.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      "Black Like Me" (Thought of it before I even read this article) Thought provoking in its day, just like this today.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Marvin

      Make that dyed.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Zee705

      Black Like Me

      Good book.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  9. Jim in PA

    Kudos to this guy. His mission was to open people's eyes (including his own) to their own intolerance. Of course, many people are angry at him. The crazy fundies hate him for humanizing the enemy, and many gay people hate him for being a "poser." Intolerance comes from both ends of the spectrum.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Jim in PA

      Well said.


      December 2, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Lame-o

      Sadly true, but very well said.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  10. Anne

    Well for you self proclaimed and super righteous "Christian" contributors who are condemning Timothy for pretending to be gay, all I can say is – you are pretending to be Christ like. If I understand correctly, Christ was a tolerant person who mostly showed disdain for greedy self righteous people, but showed love and tolerance the down trodden least of his brethren. (Atheist here, so correct me if I'm wrong) You point your righteous smug condemning fingers at everyone who doesn't share your view. You "pretend" to take the high road, but you are the cruelest most spiritually challenged and most intolerant bunch of hypocrites out there.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      As a person who tries to be Christ like, I mostly agree with your post.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Jim in PA

      Remember, the conservatives in Jesus' time are the ones that nailed him to the cross.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • therealpeace2all


      Rock on, sister ! Christians aren't all that way, however.

      But... pretty good overall generalization.


      December 2, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • You need help

      First,you need to read the bible in context and not just take passages and manipulate them to fit you agenda. Secondly, there appears to be a strong correlation between the course of demise of the United States and the acceptance of perversion (which is also refrenced in the bible) along with several other things. It should be evident no matter how hard anyone tries to mask or cover the truth the truth will always remain, but those who manipulate the truth to perversion are even more accountable for leading those who dont understand or who dont know better. Be carefull what you say, fear of the Lord is the first step to wisdom.

      December 2, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  11. john

    If he only "pretended" to be gay for a year then I'm Jesus Christ.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Probably you're not, but you are supercilious priiiick!

      December 2, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • john

      @sqeptiq.....WOW! You have a gift. Right on both guesses 🙂

      December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Absolutely

      To wit: "Kurek was struck by what he had in common with the protesters at Liberty."

      December 2, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  12. MsBee

    NO. STOP. You CAN pull your head out of your ass and become a decent human being without resorting to such nonsense.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Bob

      Really troll how many handles are you going to use to spread your bigotry. Grow up.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  13. Jason

    This dude is playing with fire...and that fire happens to be an STD in his genital areas.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • ShannonCT

      Gay or straight, unprotected intercourse is playing with fire.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • therealpeace2all


      LOL !! W T F ?!? 😀


      December 2, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Your Mom

      It was He who said "Hate the Itching, Love the Burning."

      December 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • sqeptiq

      His problem is a lot less severe than yours.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  14. Ralphael Buffalo

    Everyone needs to calm their jets...it is what it is...WHATEVER.....You all need to stop taking life SSSSOOOOO seriously.....b/c one day its OVER. WHATEVER!!!!!!!!!

    December 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  15. Blasphemy

    Christians are well trained in the art of pretending.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  16. janemutiny

    He recognized a contradiction between his indoctrination and his conscience and he went on a quest for the truth. This is someone's attempt at critical thinking and I hope he keeps at it.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Critical thinking seems to take a backseat to hateful commentary here.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • rlkoontz

      I agree. I think it takes courage to pretend to be gay, and to subject yourself to the discrimination that a gay person faces on a daily basis. If his quest was to merely write a book about the experience, he really didn't have to do it for a full year. He had a moment where he questioned his religion and beliefs and set out to figure out why it felt wrong for him to condemn people. He figured out why. And in figuring out why, has changed his own life.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  17. c'mon now

    Dude is Gay... and a coward.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • FlamingSwordOfTruth

      And who would know better than you? Um, no one. HAHAHAHA

      December 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  18. Clouds 9

    What? The so called "christians" have hearts? Far fetched!!

    December 2, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  19. david0296

    I don't think you need to pretend to be gay to be empathetic to the discrimination that gay people face every day. That's just common sense. Everyone knows that gay kids are kicked out of their homes by bigoted parents, or that gay people are beaten up by hateful straight people. If he had a makeup artist cosmetically turn him into a black man so he would know what it's like to be black, that would be incredibly offensive to black people.

    December 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • bogo

      No it wouldn't be. It's been done before (I had to read a book "Black Like Me" in high school).

      December 2, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • gayla

      You say that" Everyone knows that gay kids are kicked out of their homes by bigoted parents, or that gay people are beaten up by hateful straight people", however that is not true. There are people and families that have never been to the movies even. It all depends on your experiences and your way of life and what you grew up with.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • D987654321

      I can't, for the life of me, see what in the heck any member of the LGBT community would be upset about. He walked and lived among us, learned our stories, saw as a human beings and benefited from the unique insight members of the LGBT community could provide him. Sure, it's easy to knee-jerk react to the news that Kurek isn't really gay as a form of betrayal, but it's really at the heart of investigative journalism. He didn't want the story to be about him but more about his beliefs and to challenge preconceived notions he had based upon his secular life.

      I think it was brave. If his family truly wishes to live up to Christian ideals, they'll come around.

      Bravo Kurek. Well done.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • sqeptiq

      You just proved that "common sense" is rare, even among those who think they have it.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  20. proudmemberofglobalzero

    I am sorry I could not stomach reading the article. I have a "Gay" son that looks nothing like the gay man he is trying to show here. He looks just like his brother, except for the dark hair color. Why do you think GLTBlook like the stereo type you show here?

    December 2, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Joxer the Mighty

      He's the chunky one in the middle that doesn't look feminine you goob. If you had looked at the other pics you would have realized that.

      December 2, 2012 at 10:37 am |
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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.