The Cross In The Closet by Timothy Kurek

Take a deep breath.

Breathe in … A bit more … Let it out slowly … And relax.

The gay issue.

I told you to relax, didn’t I? Breathing just that bit faster? Teeth and fists clenched? Tension rising?

Breathe deeper.

The gay issue.

There’s the problem, why there’s so much tension in churches about this. Right there.

The clue is in one of those three words:

the           gay           issue

Did you spot it?

I lied. Sorry.

The clue’s in at least 2 of the words. Maybe a third.

‘The’ – the definite article. Making it, whatever ‘it’ is into something defined, boundaried, something you have to be fixed on. There’s not much room for manoeuvre, debate or questions there.

‘Issue’ – what is an issue, in this context? Relevant dictionary definitions talk of, for example, “a point in question or a matter that is in dispute … ” ( Is there a ‘point’ in dispute here? Well, yes. Maybe. Really what’s at stake is how some people relate to, have fellowship with, receive authority from, interpret the Bible with, other people. If it is an issue, then it’s a relationship one. Relationship, or a word that implies it would work better.

‘Gay’ – who does that include, actually? Those who practice same sex intercourse? Those who feel oriented that way but choose not to? What about transgendered people? We could go on. The frequent abbreviation is LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender). Sounds more like a personality profile type, but there you have it.

I propose something like … I don’t know. The LGBT relationship dynamic.

Or not. Not quite what I was aiming for. At the moment I’m stuck in the problem.

Then along comes a book like Timothy Kurek’s The Cross In The Closet. It helps me; then again it doesn’t. The author lives in the Deep South of the USA, buckle of the Bible belt, where Christian sub-culture is often seen in one of its more conservative and vocal incarnations. He was, by his own admission, raised in and comfortable with it; he imbibed and then expressed a conservative approach to homosexuality. This book tells the story of his journey. A journey where he feels God is calling him, a single heterosexual male, to live as if he’s gay for a year.

We follow his coming out to his friends and his family, the resultant alienation from people he thought loved him, conversations with what he describes as his inner Pharisee, finding Jesus in unexpected places, being ‘re-outed’ before he was ready to his family as not really gay, the experience of what it really means to live in the closet  – as a heterosexual man in a homosexual sub-culture … and much else besides.

It’s a startlingly honest and brave book (occasionally let down by some careless editing – not the author’s fault). He willingly puts himself through all manner of stress and trauma, and ends up realising the issue of judgement runs far deeper in him than he ever dreamed. It’s a prophetic and challenging route to dealing with ‘the gay issue’, by removing the ‘issue’ and definite article, redefining it all as a series of relationships which challenge and stretch and disturb the comfort of all.

If you’re like me, you have a series of questions at this point. Is it fair, ethical, right to lie to people so deeply like this, even if it is in service of something bigger, maybe even just? How were the friendships he formed within the gay community (whatever those last 4 words mean) affected when he came out again as heterosexual at the end of it all? What’s his exegesis of key Bible passages? The first question is danced around, thought about. The second you get walked through what happened. The third – it’s not that kind of book.

Those, and a few more question besides.

The questions reverberate around my head for a time.

Then I’m reminded of a few other things.

I’m reading another book at the moment. It’s a brilliant work of more academic theology called Exclusion and Embrace, by Mirsolav Volf. He talks of the need for truth to embrace and walk in the shoes of the other in order to heal division; and he talks of not sacrificing truth to do so. That says much to those questions, as does the whole of Volf’s book (though it’s a more dense piece of theology set alongside Kurek’s narrative).

The other thing I’m reminded of is something about a man who became sin yet was without sin, and who asked me to take up my cross.

Of course, for some just using the terminology ‘sin’ there is unhelpful. The heart of the issue, you might say.

The Cross In The Closet will probably not shed new light on your understanding of the Bible. It’s not trying to. It won’t make you change your mind, wherever your mind is at the moment. I don’t think it’s trying to do that either. It’s trying to make you think about how you think, which may be a much better place to start.

This book is by no means the last word. There are many, many more words written and not yet written to help us explore and define or redefine or whatever it is we need to do. What The Cross In The Closet  gives us is a very, very important new first word.

I rated this book 4/5 on