Ten years ago, Becket Cook was a gay man in Hollywood who had achieved great success as a set designer in the fashion industry. He worked with stars and supermodels, from Natalie Portman to Claudia Schiffer, traveling the world to design photo shoots for the likes of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. He attended award shows and parties at the homes of Paris Hilton and Prince. He spent summers swimming in Drew Barrymore’s pool.
A decade later, Cook has moved on from that life—and he doesn’t miss it.
What changed for Cook? He met Jesus. On a momentous day in September 2009, while drinking coffee with a friend at Intelligentsia in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood, Cook started chatting with a group of young people sitting at a nearby table—physical Bibles opened in front of them (remember, this was 2009). They were from a church called Reality L.A. (where TGC Council member Jeremy Treat now serves as lead pastor), and they invited Cook to visit the church.
Cook took them up on the invitation and visited Reality L.A. the next Sunday, where he heard the gospel and gave his life to Jesus. He never looked back, trading his gay identity for a new identity in Christ. In the years since, Cook completed a degree at Talbot School of Theology and wrote a memoir of his conversion, A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption, which just released.
I recently met up with Cook at Intelligentsia—the place where his encounter with coffee-drinking, Bible-studying Christians set his conversion in motion. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Take me back to that day, in this very coffee shop, 10 years ago. What was going on in your life that made the soil, so to speak, ready to receive the gospel seed?
It was a moment in Paris six months earlier. I was at a fashion party and just felt empty: I had done everything in Hollywood, met everyone, traveled everywhere. Yet I was overwhelmed with emptiness at this party. It was one of the most intense “is that all there is?” moments in my life. I had already been wrestling with questions about the meaning of life, searching for it in all sorts of ways. But I knew God was never an option, because I was gay. It was off the table. I wasn’t confused about what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. I knew it was clear. But I was still searching for meaning.
So when I came to this coffee shop six months later and saw that group of young people with their Bibles open, I started asking them questions. They explained the gospel, what they believed. I asked what their church believed about homosexuality, and they explained that they believed it is a sin. I appreciated their honesty and that they didn’t beat around the bush. But the reason I was able to accept their answer was because I had that moment in Paris. Five years earlier I would have been like, You guys are insane. You’re in the dark ages. But instead I was like, Maybe I could be wrong. Maybe this actually is a sin. So I was open to it in the moment. And then they invited me to church.
When you showed up to church that first Sunday at Reality, you ended up becoming a Christian. What happened?
Tim Chaddick preached the sermon that day, and everything he was saying basically turned what I knew about religion upside down. I grew up in Catholic schools, and I honestly thought religion was just being a good person, doing good things. I don’t think the priests in my high school once explained what the gospel was. Not once. So when Tim was preaching all these things that were the exact opposite of what I thought religion was, I was like, Whoa. It all really resonated, and it prompted me to go forward at the end of the service to receive prayer. It was shocking and unexpected to me, a Road to Damascus moment. It was so powerful, so all-consuming. I was all-in.
What did discipleship look like for you after you got saved?
Tim and I would meet for coffee each week, and though I didn’t know why, he was discipling me. That was vital. There were so many others at the church who came around me and supported me, recommending books and sermons and praying for me. I would get random “I’m praying for you today!” texts all the time. I joined a community group right away. I listened to all of Tim Keller’s sermons, as well as John Stott and Dick Lucas. It was a process of people discipling me at my church and God discipling me through these other voices. During that time right after I got saved, I had a three-month period of no work, which was unusual. So I had all this time to spend with God, to pray and read the Bible. I couldn’t stop reading the Bible. Every time I’d listen to a sermon or read the Bible I’d end up in tears: “Oh my gosh, this is true! I can’t believe I know God and know the meaning of life finally!”
There are conversations today about whether one can be a “gay Christian.” Is there a way to reconcile following Jesus with having a gay identity?
They are irreconcilable. It’s strange to me to see these attempts. I had such a clean break from it, and it was entirely God’s grace upon me to see that it was necessary. Would you call yourself a greedy Christian? Would you call yourself a tax-collector Christian? It seems strange to identify yourself with sin. It’s a square circle. Defining yourself as a “gay Christian,” even if you are celibate and not active in a homosexual relationship, is wildly misleading. And it’s almost like you’re stewing in your old sin, hanging onto your old self in a weird way. It’s not helpful to have that moniker over you and to continually identify as such. Why would you identify with your old self that has been crucified with Christ? So I flee from that term as far as I can. It’s not who I am at all. If people ask me how I identify, I’m just like, “I don’t identify by my sexuality. I’m a follower of Christ who has a lot of struggles, including same-sex attraction.”
Would you call yourself a greedy Christian? Would you call yourself a tax-collector Christian? It seems strange to identify yourself with sin.
The LGBT movement has gained so much ground by framing homosexuality as an immutable, personhood-level identity. What are your thoughts on the state of how Western culture sees “gay” today?
In the last 20 years or so there has been such a huge push to make it sacred. It went from a sin to a sacrament. The book Making Gay Okay does a really good job showing how that happened. Media, movies, TV—it’s all been pushing towards this. When I was coming of age as a gay kid, it wasn’t like this. It was still taboo. There were gay-pride parades, but they weren’t at Macy’s. Every store in the world didn’t have a rainbow on it. But now it’s everywhere, it’s so dominant, and to say anything against the narrative is seen as crazy if not downright harmful.
Everything is inside out and upside down. The idea of the rainbow, for example, is so odd to me now—using this biblical symbol as the icon of the LGBT movement. When I was gay, I felt shame. Instinctively I knew it was wrong. But though I felt shame, over the years you harden your heart to it. I think the driving force behind these choices, like the rainbow flag and pride parades—the word pride, even—is to convince yourself that there’s nothing wrong with it, nothing to be ashamed of. You have to constantly tell yourself that and let the culture tell you that. Because there is shame attached to it, so hyper-emphasizing the “rightness” of it helps people embrace their “identity” more.
The driving force behind these choices, like the rainbow flag and pride parades—the word pride, even—is to convince yourself that there’s nothing wrong with it, nothing to be ashamed of. You have to constantly tell yourself that and let the culture tell you that.
What is it like watching the “de-conversion” stories of Christians who grow up in the faith but then abandon it because of the LGBT issue? In the book you compare it to Esau selling his birthright for a pot of stew.
I see this happen all the time, especially kids who grew up in Christian families and went to Christian colleges. You can see it coming from a mile away. It’s so common, and the culture is so powerful. I’m always like, “Look, if you’re going to be on social media or Netflix for an hour, you need to read the Bible for an hour because you’ve just been lied to and now you need the truth.” So yeah, it’s very sad. Your life is a vapor. You’re here for two seconds. What do you want your life to be at the end, when you’re on your deathbed? Do you want it to be, “Oh, I got to satisfy all those urges and got the things I wanted”? Or do you want to be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You spent your life on mission for the kingdom of God”? I often think about Paul, who was single and didn’t whine about it. He cared about planting churches and getting the gospel out. He was shipwrecked, beaten, jailed, but he didn’t care—he just wanted the gospel out.
To the people who give up, I first and foremost pray, particularly for those I know. It’s so sad to me because you’re literally giving up your birthright for a single meal. Do you understand what you are doing?
It seems for many Christians who move from holding traditional biblical views on sexuality to being LBGT-“affirming,” the thing that moves them over the edge is having someone close to them—a parent, a sibling, a close friend—come out. How should a Christian respond when people close to them come out?
I’ve seen this happen to several of my friends, and I understand the motivation behind the phenomenon. But the Word of God doesn’t change based on our feelings. In terms of responding to those close to us who come out as gay or lesbian, it’s important to love them unconditionally without compromising your convictions. As Christians, we are in exile. And just as Shadrach and friends refused to bow down to the golden statue in Babylon (Daniel 3), even though the consequences were potentially dire, we have to resist the temptation to bow down to the culture we are in—no matter the cost. I’m not saying this is easy. Some who come out will be super offended when you hold to your traditional biblical views. The issue is now so deeply tied to identity that it can feel like you are rejecting them. I certainly felt that way whenever I remembered that my family, even though they loved me, believed homosexual behavior is a sin. Though it wasn’t their intent, I felt alienated by them. So I think the key is to love your friend unconditionally no matter what, and to pray for them. That’s what my sister-in-law did with me. She was an evangelical Christian and knew that I knew what her beliefs were on sexuality (she held the orthodox view). But I never felt an ounce of judgment from her over the years. She just loved me and prayed for me . . . for 20 long years. And it worked!
The Word of God doesn’t change based on our feelings.
A new California legislative resolution (ACR 99) is the latest progressive attempt in our state to enforce universal affirmation of LGBTQ sexuality and to condemn any suggestion that it’s something one should want to change about themselves. Books like yours may well be banned one day, since they say homosexuality is sinful and must be left behind in following Christ. Your book hints at the notion of change in its very title. What does change look like for the gay person who becomes a Christian?
When we are regenerated, our affections change. Not just in the area of sexuality, but in everything else: our attitude toward money, success, relationships. In terms of so-called conversion therapy, I don’t think it’s something we should force. I still struggle with same-sex attraction (even though it has greatly diminished and no longer dominates my thought life like it did before God saved me). But he can do anything. He created the universe, so he can reorient our attractions. Sometimes I pray that God would heal the sexual brokenness in me, especially given that I was molested when I was a child by a friend’s father (which I think had a larger effect on my sexual development than I used to admit). Who knows—God may change my desires one day. We’ll see. But for now, I’m happy to just be single and celibate for the rest of my life. I’m happy to deny myself and take up my cross and follow Jesus.
What have been the biggest costs to you in choosing to follow Jesus? What’s been the biggest gain?
God had a lot of grace on me the day he saved me. Giving up the gay life wasn’t that difficult; it was actually quite easy. I had just met Jesus and the relationship with him was so overwhelming and wonderful and all-consuming. Oddly enough, I was relieved I didn’t have to date anymore. When you’re in that life, you’re constantly pressured to date. My friends were always trying to set me up. If you’re not in a relationship, people think something’s wrong with you. So I was really relieved to not do that anymore. Like I say in the book, all my ex-boyfriends cheated on me, which is common; it’s like de rigueur for this world. But in my relationship with Christ I felt so safe. I didn’t have to perform. It was all quid pro quo with my ex-boyfriends. They were all artists. One was in a band that was super successful. One was a major writer in New York. It was always this thing where, if you’re not achieving enough or at this certain level, then you might be out. You also had to be in shape all the time! You couldn’t be out of shape for two seconds; otherwise you were kicked out of the club, or had to move to Palm Springs.
In my relationship with Christ I felt so safe. I didn’t have to perform.
It was such a relief to be in this relationship with Christ. It didn’t feel costly, because I was so full of joy. But it did cost me some friends, some really deep, lifelong relationships. A lot of my friends were semi-supportive, but some of my closest friends were not. That was painful, but at the time I was so euphoric I didn’t care. Once the book came out, some of the friendships that were lingering and semi-alive vanished for good. I was cut off from several people, some of the closest friends of my life.
The gain is like Paul said: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Malcolm Muggeridge has that famous quote about how all the fame and money and success of the world is nothing, less than nothing, compared to knowing Christ. The gain is this relationship with God through Christ. Eternal life. It’s this impenetrable joy because of not only knowing Christ, but knowing the meaning of life—where I came from, what I’m doing, where I’m going. It gives me such peace.