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
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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. glenview0818

    Remember he was "under cover", I heard that he "did not inhale", or in this case should I say "exhale"?

    December 3, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  2. Huebert

    Why is se.xuality such an important issue for evangelical Christians? Se.xuality is mentioned only a few times in the bible, and never by Jesus, so why do evangelicals see it as such a major component of their faith?

    December 3, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Saraswati

      I think it's become a defining chareacteristic of their identi'ty, similar to how not eating beef only became an ishudeal in Hinduism when Islam began to spread.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  3. eclectic8

    Obviously lacked a spiritual mentor to guide him though his confustion. looks like now he is following his heart and has joined the masses of people who live according to their own understanding. That's not evangelical at all.

    December 3, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Kim

      Thank god it isn't.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  4. mickey

    Oh great. They remade Black Like Me. can't wait to read it.....

    December 3, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  5. gladiatorgrl

    He has to leave the "cult" and realize God's imaginary. The capacity for compassion and human kindness is not.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  6. Eric

    "Honey, do you remember last year when I told you I was gay and introduced you to my boyfriend. I swear that wasn't an affair. Really, it's not what it seems. I'm not gay anymore, I promise."

    December 3, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  7. Born again

    My relationship with Jesus, has not ruined my life. In fact I am fulfilled. I can't get that from the world. It has allowed me to see the needs of others and gives me compassion for those in society who others may over look. Jesus is love, I've never used my faith to bash others. The Bible says that if you don't have the Holy Spirit, things of faith will seem foolish, so I don't blame you for thinking we are crazy. I think this is funny that when an article is posted on the internet to promote tolerance, the comments that generally follow are less than tolerant....towards Christians.
    In Jesus' day he couldn't stand the religious elite, the pharisees, they thought they were better than everyone. As a Christian I see the whole human race as fallen and sinful including myself, I'm not better than anyone. including gay people. Jesus came to earth to redeem all mankind, all you need to do is ask. Your choice, no pressure. Best decision of my life. God bless and have a great day!

    December 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Chris

      So if you don't believe the nonsense...the nonsense will seem like nonsense? Yeah that makes sense and pretty much proves it's brainwashing. Religious logic ='s fail

      December 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • serdich

      You should come to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and become Pastafarian...

      December 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Peter

      "As a Christian I see the whole human race as fallen and sinful including myself"

      This is what is so wrong with your cult you believe everyone is broken and needs a god to fix them. Do us all a favor and keep your immature invisible friend in the closet where it belongs. There is no god, you are merely talking to yourself and need your invisible friend to love who you are because your cult made you think you're crap. No thanks your 2000 year old book of myths is bad for our society.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Verbal incontinence.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Eric

      If christ died for our sins, and we are all redeemed, why are christians still acting like we are inherent sinners? Sin should be gone and therefore there is no need to be "saved" from anything.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • say what

      No pressure? Are you kidding? Your God has us at gunpoint forcing us to believe unbelievable things, or else we get to suffer for all eternity. This is insanity.

      But he loves you!

      December 3, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • sam stone

      "As a Christian I see the whole human race as fallen and sinful including myself"

      Can't sell someone the cure if you don't first convince them they have the disease

      December 3, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • steelerguin

      Excellent post. Faith in Jesus seems folly to those who are too hard hearted and hard headed to look beyond themselves. Reaching out in love to those who disagree with you always prompts such ridiculous and insulting responses. Funny how the "tolerant" are far more intolerant of Christians.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Patrick

      "Excellent post. Faith in Jesus seems folly to those who are too hard hearted and hard headed to look beyond themselves."

      Most of the atheists posting are former christians or former ministers, so try again with your insulting comments as well. 😉

      December 3, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      I’m an atheist..and yet.. there is no lack of fulfillment or lack of compassion for others. So.. is this a failing on your part as a human being or am I just a better person than you? Either way I wish you a happy life with our without your spiritual binky.

      December 3, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • sam stone

      "Excellent post. Faith in Jesus seems folly to those who are too hard hearted and hard headed to look beyond themselves."

      Perhaps they have looked beyond themselves and found a different "truth"

      December 3, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • America is Lost

      You are right on! God Bless You and stay strong. I love how everyone on the left preaches tolerance yet wants to bash the conservatives for not applying it. The responses to these posts prove that the definition of tolerance has changed over time. Tolerant use to be that 2 sides could agree to disagree and move on showing respect to each other. Now it’s, if you don't agree with me, there is something wrong with you and such little if any respect is shown. The greatest lie satan ever pulls over mans eyes are getting you to believe he doesn’t exist. The Bible is more applicable today than ever. While there is still time, repent and believe. Not my words, but Christ!

      December 3, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • sam stone

      i love it how people make this a liberal/conservative thing

      December 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      yep, the words of jesus.....or translated, edited iron age hearsay

      December 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • David

      Most people only know enough about God to be dissapointed by him.

      December 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  8. Charles Centers

    I think the guy should be commended on his openmindeness. Not too many people would have tried to reeducate themselves and try to find their own answers. Most people are content with letting other people tell them what they are too believe without thinking about it for themselves.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • FlawedLogic

      I absolutely agree. It is so hope instilling to see christians behaving christianly..a true rarity in today's world. What I do find sad, though it may just be shoddy reporting, that there are people in the LGBT community who are condemning him for his actions. How in any way could someone find it flawed that this brave man was attempting to gain a better understanding of the perils they go through on a daily basis?

      December 3, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  9. weezer

    Hey, I'm just pretending...honest.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

      Leave your GF out of this.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  10. benji

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Too bad these "conservative Christians" don't follow that line.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  11. Jesse

    While I think that this guy had genuinely good intentions when he set about this project – II still find it to be incredibly offensive. I enjoy that he wanted to see how it felt like to be a gay man living in a very harsh and unforgiving world, but I find his "pretend to be gay" experiment to be no different than someone "pretending to be African American" by eating fried chicken and watermelon for a year. He's done nothing by embrace stereotypes are, for the most part, very untrue and actually harmful to most of gay people who are really no different from anyone else.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • DC1973

      And he didn't learn anything. All of talk about "longed to tell the truth."

      He could have walked out anytime he wanted. Being gay isn't something people can just turn on and off whenever they want. Only straight people have the privilege of being able to do that. That he not only "played gay" for a year, but that he wrote a book about it and thinks anyone really cares what it feels like to be a straight person pretending to be gay is more than offensive.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Most gay people and black people I've met conform to stereotypes. They wouldn't be stereotypes if they weren't highly representative.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I find it a bit odd that you think gay people can't "turn off" their orientation, but straight people can.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • HotKarlMC

      hmmm I don't think I agree with you Jesse...in fact it seems you brought out the only stereotypes in this case.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • sam stone

      "Being gay isn't something people can just turn on and off whenever they want. Only straight people have the privilege of being able to do that"


      December 3, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Greg

      Rational Libertarian...I'm very curious what the stereotypes were that the gay and black people you have met fit. I see the rationality in what you are stating, but you have to be VERY careful with what you are saying. You have to completely follow through with your rational examination. You have to ask when and how the stereotypes originated. At one time, black people were stereotyped as having a very low intelligence. Furthermore, the stereotypes we learn come from (or are at least filtered through) the people and media we are exposed to...our parents, members of the community, TV (e.g. the Trinity Broadcasting Network). In the end, the supposed "highly representative" stereotype can be skewed or even outright incorrect. Finally, you also have to be VERY careful in how you use (interpersonal interactions, public policy) the "information" that stereotypes provide.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Saraswati

      Where did you get that he only was interested in sterotypes? To meet a significant gay population he took a job in a gay cafe, this was obviously going to be a lot more efficient than getting a job at IBM and just hoping a few hundred gay people floated his way. So no, this probably was not where the average 45 yr old Log Cabin stockbrokers hung out, but other than that it would be pretty typical for an environment where gay people cluster (and clustering is, for pretty practical reasons, more common in the south). He challenged himself by being open to even the slightly less familiar aspects of the culture. Big deal. I've never marched in a gay pride parade and don't own a rainbow flag, but it someone was trying to learn the culture I'd expect them to meet a few people who did.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  12. Lisa

    I think what this experiment should have been about was proving that he can't be turned gay anymore than a gay person can be turned straight...which is what he considered doing to the friend who confided in him originally. Still interesting, and I think his intentions were good but to the majority of us who are moderates on this topic and always have been... it seems bizarre that someone would have to go to such lengths to understand something so basic.

    December 3, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      He had many years of believer cult indoctrination to shed before he could get to the basics.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  13. Namec Nassianer

    This guy really is gay (not that there is anything wrong with that).

    Who does he think he is kidding?

    December 3, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  14. Rational Libertarian

    Would anybody else bang the two trannies?

    December 3, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      From a hetero's perspective, that would be irrational.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Hetero is just a useless label. You can't define human s.exuality so easily within such constrictive boundaries.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Ok, my answer is No! then.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Maybe I'm just desperate.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Probably not as desperate as pope-a-dope.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  15. Zak Sawyer

    This guy is an A**HOLE.

    I hope he finds nothing but unhappiness for the rest of his life.

    December 3, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • Cody Parker

      I'm not so sure on that. Maybe he did not go about this the right way. I can't excuse his actions as being totally right. But... it took a strong man to lie to his family and friends for a year like that. I just feel bad for the LGBT community in that area. I would feel betrayed too.

      December 3, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • AmericanSam

      Seems to me his intentions are much more noble than someone who takes cheap shots on the Internet.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • SB1790

      He's doing the same thing I've seen other people do to get a feeling of what it's like to be handicapped. People go around blindfolded or hobbled for days or weeks on end to get a feeling for the life of a person with a particular disability. He didn't do it to make sport of gays or lesbians. He seems genuine in his intent and maybe he can use the experience to make some inroads in the evangelical community towards more tolerance and acceptance. It wasn't all that long ago that evangelicals thought slavery was perfectly in accordance with God and made blacks sit up in balconies. My how times have changed.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  16. Attemptress

    This man, and his book are no different than a writer, and book from the 60's, that was considered mandatory reading in High School. Anyone read, "Black Like Me"? One more supporter on the road to rights, and freedoms should not be negated, or critcized for revealing the prejudices, and injustices in the World. Congrats to him for being brave enough to take the drastic measures necessary to get to know the issue, and to make it a game changer in his own life.

    December 3, 2012 at 6:26 am |
    • MCGH1


      December 3, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Interesting

      That completely came to mind for me too.

      December 3, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • kho

      Yep, this book sprang to mind as I read this as well. I read "Black Like Me" 7th grade (1995). When our teacher summarized the book to the class, we were all fighting over who could take it home first, a bunch of white kids in the breadbasket of PA simply wanting to relate.

      December 3, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • huhb

      Another recent on was "The Unlikely Disciple" in which Brown U. student Kevin Roose did his junior year at Liberty U – he also did the last interview with Jerry Falwell before he passed. And while Roose let people think he was an Evangelical, he never actually told anyone he was.

      December 3, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  17. Brian Mouland

    I grew up in an ultra-conservative bible punching home. What I found out is that zealots exist in every group Christians,Atheists ,Gays and Muslims the saddest thing is they speak the loudest and often are heard while those in the middle stay muted

    December 3, 2012 at 5:49 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I've never met a zealous gay person.

      December 3, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Saraswati

      I agree – zealots everywhere and they are the loudest. They often do the most harm, but sometimes too the most good. In politics they're usually considered a necessary evil.

      December 3, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  18. RDM

    This guy is in the closet.........case closed, period, end of discussion.........

    December 3, 2012 at 5:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yeah, he was a closet moderate living the life of a fundie.

      December 3, 2012 at 5:51 am |
    • Burz

      How cute, did you rub all two brain cells together to come to that definitive decision?

      December 3, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  19. James

    A lot of you are commenting that what he did is horrible. I see nothing wrong with someone trying to make a change in not only his views but others. The majority of you lack enough intelligence to see that. Everyone commenting is missing the point.

    December 3, 2012 at 5:24 am |
  20. footpowder

    Anyone read the book Black Like Me? I haven't read it in years, it was required reading some where along my educational career. I remember the gentleman writing from his point of view on how he was treated by others...I think the author suffered health problems/death from the medication he took to change his skin tone. Does any one remember that book more clearly and if so – do you see a relation here?

    December 3, 2012 at 5:00 am |
    • MarkinFL

      First thing I thought of. I also understand the sense of betrayal to an extent. Yet I also see the value in what he did. Not just for himself but to the larger community. "Black Like Me" also elicited a similar response, especially in the black community. Basically an entire minority is treated like an experiment. However, their is value to these experiments. Sometimes it is the only way to open the eyes of people living in total denial to reality.
      Anybody remember Eddie Murphy's satirical take-off on Saturday Night Live when he spent a day "living white"?

      December 3, 2012 at 5:50 am |
    • pendrew

      right as I started reading this article I thought of the book "Black Like Me"... that book should STILL be required reading in school... full disclosure, I'm not black or gay, so I can't speak to many in those communities who felt betrayed by the experiments... i think that Kurek's year points out how so many Christians don't follow what Jesus said- "love your neighbor as yourself"... Jesus didn't add – except for gays, blacks, democrats, people of another faith or dozens of other ethnicities and cultures... I can simply hope that this book will open the hearts and minds of some people to be more accepting...

      December 3, 2012 at 9:00 am |
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