Becket Cook has a remarkable story of transformation by the gospel. Before becoming a Christian, he lived as a gay man in Hollywood as a successful set designer. His life centered around celebrity-filled Hollywood parties and he traveled to society hot-spots around the world — until a chance encounter with a pastor at an LA coffee shop one morning changed everything. Sean interviews Becket about his story and his excellent new book.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast. Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Today, I'm here with a special guest who's written a fantastic new book. I want to commend to our listeners and the title is A Change of Affection: A Gay Man's Incredible Story of Redemption. I'm here with Becket Cook. Becket, thanks for joining us.
Becket Cook: Thank you for having me, Sean.
Sean McDowell: Now we're actually recording to this in my home with about 20 or 25 high school students, many of whom are potential Biola students I might add, but if you hear a little excitement in the background that might explain a little bit of the noise enthusiasm. But I want to jump straight into your book. I thought it was really interesting that you began with a brief encounter you had in 2009 with a Christian at a restaurant in Hollywood. Tell us why you began there and why that encounter was so significant.
Becket Cook: Well, I was with my best friend who was also gay and I had lived in Hollywood for 15 plus years as a gay man. I had many relationships with guys over the years and my best friend was gay too. We would go to this coffee shop every weekend. It was kind of our little stomping ground and it was in Silver Lake in LA and that particular Saturday or I can't remember if it was Saturday or Sunday, but we were just having a nice conversation and we noticed sitting next to us was a group of young people with Bibles on the table, actual physical Bibles. Our first reaction was we looked at each other and we're like, "What is going on? What are these people doing?" We were shocked because I had never seen a Bible in public in LA in my adult life.
Sean McDowell: Okay. This is crazy. I live in Orange County and I see people praying with Bibles somewhat regularly. Just seeing a Bible out and people talking about it shocked you in LA.
Becket Cook: It was super shocking to see it. Because my friend group in LA over the years, it was all assumed. We'd never once talked about God and my group of friends, it was just assumed that God didn't exist and that it was all a fairy tale and that Christianity was for people in the flyover states or something. I don't know. That was shocking to us. My friend goaded me into talking to them because he liked to kind of have sort of controversial conversations. So I ended up turning around and I just said, "So are you guys Christians? What's the deal?" They were happy to answer my questions. It's like an evangelical Christian's fantasy, right? An atheist asking them like, "What do you believe?" So they explained their faith to me because I was like, I grew up Catholic. Tell me what you believe because I don't even remember what are the tenants of your faith? They explain the gospel and they explained what they believed. Then I got to this $64,000 question and I said... This is after an hour of talking to them.
Sean McDowell: Oh wow.
Becket Cook: I said, "What does your church in Hollywood believe about homosexuality?" They said, "Well we believe it's a sin." And I was just kind of taken aback a little bit but not... I just kind of was like, "Well maybe... " Because I had had this experience in Paris six months before at Fashion Week in Paris where I felt totally empty after years and years of just living this life and Fashion Weeks and all these parties and stuff. I felt this total emptiness.
So at that moment when they said homosexuality is a sin, I had this kind of instantaneous thing of like, "Wow, what if I'm wrong? Number one, what if there is a God?" Because at that point in my life I was a practical atheist. What if there is a God, number one. Number two, this was all going super fast in my mind, number two, if there is a God, what if homosexuality actually is a sin and I've built my entire life on a false foundation? So I was like, okay. They invited me to their church the following Sunday and so I was like, "I don't know if I'll come, but we'll see. I don't know."
Sean McDowell: You ended up going to the church?
Becket Cook: I did.
Sean McDowell: You had a pretty radical experience at this church. They kind of turned your life upside down, didn't it?
Becket Cook: Yeah, you could say it was pretty radical. I woke up the next Sunday morning and I was like, "I guess I'm going to church today." I got in my car, I drove there and it just felt my car was a Tesla or something like auto driving to the church. This was 2009 so there weren't Teslas, but I just felt I was just being pulled to this church. I walked in, I sat down in near the front, the pastor came out, he preached. Tim Chaddick, he preached a sermon on Romans chapter seven and I just remember just everything he was saying was ringing true in my mind and my heart and I didn't know why. Every word he was saying was like, "Oh my gosh, that's true. Why is that true?" It was the first time I really heard the gospel in my life, really understood it.
It turned everything I thought religion was on its head and it totally blew me away. I was literally on the edge of my seat, didn't want him to end the hour long sermon. I just was like, "Please keep talking. Whatever you're saying is good." Then after the sermon, this guy, I got prayed with on the side of the church by someone on the prayer team. Then I came back to my seat, sat down and during the worship, the next 25 minutes of worship music, I came back to my seat and was processing the sermon and everything. Suddenly the Holy Spirit was [inaudible] just flooded me. And it was a [inaudible] moment, a Road to Damascus moment where I just... God revealed himself to me and he was like, "I'm God. Jesus is my son. Heaven is real. Hell is real. The Bible's true and now you're in my kingdom. Boom, welcome." And I was like, "Whoa."
It felt Isaiah in the temple when he sees the holiness of God and comes undone, I completely just totally fell apart and started bawling and bawling as hard or harder than I cried as an infant, but it was like I was just born again. So it was appropriate to cry that hard. I was crying over the joy of meeting Jesus, which was crazy because I... and also over my sins. But it was this joy, this incredible joy and sorrow mixed together. But it was also this joy of finally knowing the meaning of life because for so long I lived in this postmodern world where I didn't know what was right, what was good, what was bad, what was up, what was down. It was just there were no answers, no matter where where I went. To the theater, to write novels, all these things I went to for meaning never gave me answers. This was the first time I felt like, "Oh my gosh, this is the truth. This is the answer."
Sean McDowell: This is the part what I wanted to ask you and when I was first reading your book when you sent it to me and I read it, I was so fascinated how connected you were in Hollywood swimming in Drew Barrymore's pool, getting invited to parties with Prince and Paris Hilton. You're really connected, yet you said it ultimately left you unsatisfied. What was it about that world that left you unsatisfied, being ready in that moment of church to hear that truth?
Becket Cook: Well it was really satisfying for a long time. That's the thing. I'm really stubborn. That world was very enticing and alluring to me for a long time. For 15 years I did everything. I met everyone, was friends with movie stars, was best friends with someone who got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I went to all the premieres and the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes and all the after parties and to Paris Fashion Week to New York Fashion Week, like every season. After you do that for 15 years, the law of diminishing returns set in. You start to wonder, is that all there is to life? I still have friends who still live that life and they haven't gotten to that point. But in my life, that happened kind of 15 years into it. I just felt I can't keep doing this. I can't just keep going to these fabulous parties at Prince's house where he would perform for three hours in his backyard. It was fun for a long time and it was really exciting and I felt these experiences are amazing and this is what life is about.
But then after a while you just sort of like, no, they're empty. They leave you feeling empty ultimately. That's when I had that thing at Paris Fashion Week six months before I got saved. That was kind of the seminal moment. The turning point for me was that night in Paris and I was just like, "What am I going to do for the next path of my life?" I mean I can't keep just going to these things and going to dinner parties at Tom Hanks's house or going to Meryl Streep's house. I know that sounds name dropping, but it was like, this is my life. It's fun for a second and it kind of gives you this little high, but then it evaporates. Jesus, I've been a Christian for 10 years now and that high has not fade. I'm still just as excited as I was 10 years ago when I first met him.
Sean McDowell: That's awesome. I want to talk about how radical your life was changed when you became a Christian moving forward and how that's even shaped you today, but if it's okay, let me go back. You have a section in your book where you write about kind of your first sense of same sex attraction and how that played itself out. You say some pretty controversial things in the book. For example, you said, "I believe my sexuality could have developed differently had I been protected from those experiences." A couple that you referenced to in the book. You say, "I may have turned out straight if my early years had been saturated in healthy relationships. I'll never know." Now the narrative today is people are born that way, you can't change. For a while when you were in that community, it sounds you said you pushed that narrative, but now looking back you realize, I'm not sure that I buy it. Would you be willing to talk about that as much as you're comfortable?
Becket Cook: Yeah. I mean, of course. Just because Lady Gaga says you're born that way doesn't mean it's true. She's not a scientist and never will be. That's the kind of cultural narrative that we all hear now that you're born this way and that's actually no scientist worth his or her salt would ever say that. There's a chance there's a genetic component to, but it's also there's an environmental component and there may be a hormonal component in utero. So over the years growing up and kind of dealing with my sexuality, understanding it more and more, I kind of went through different phases in my life of like, maybe I was born this way. Maybe it was environmental. Maybe, I don't know. That was really the honest answer is like, I don't know. And no scientist knows either. We can talk about even if they do know it doesn't matter.
I had several experiences as a young kid. I was molested by my friend's father one night. That was obviously a weird night. But I never wanted to admit that that night had anything to do with my sexuality because I didn't want that terrible, disturbing experience to be a part of who I thought I was. I thought I was gay and this is who I am and I don't want that to be attached to my sexuality. But now after becoming a Christian, I realized that night had a huge impact on my life and the way my life went. Also I had best friends when I was really little and it was a weird kind of sexual... They were very precocious sexually. So all that stuff kind of I think had an impact on me in terms of my burgeoning sexuality and then... But when I finally identified as a gay man and fully embraced that identity, I thought it was totally immutable and that this was the core of who I was. This is who I am forever.
Sean McDowell: Now, before you were a Christian, what was your perception of Christians? Did you think about Christians much? Did you care about Christians? Were they the bigots that are harming people? What was your perception of kind of the church and Christians in general?
Becket Cook: I didn't really think about them that much. In LA, it's easy not to think about Christians because there were no Christians around at that time, at least what I was coming of age in LA. But I mean, my family were Christians and my siblings and my parents and I love them and I knew... This may sound strange, but I knew that my family's faith was real.
Sean McDowell: You always kind of knew that, even in college.
Becket Cook: I knew that. When I would go home for the Christmas, I would want to get out of there really quickly because it would freak me out because I'd be like, "Oh my gosh. The way they're talking about God is so real and authentic, but I can't handle this because I know I can't be a part of that club because I'm gay." So I'll never be a Christian, so I need to go back to LA as soon as possible and I'd catch the next flight out. But I didn't have a terrible view of Christians because again, my family, they were super loving. I was in a way envious of my family's faith and how easily it seemed to come to them. But again, I just knew that that was just not going to be a part of my life because of my sexuality.
Sean McDowell: When you came out to your family, all of whom now are practicing Catholics practicing believers, how did that go down when you first came out to them? Did they respond graciously, lovingly, shocked?
Becket Cook: Well first of all, they're not all Catholic. So there was a huge reformation in my family. My brother was the Martin Luther of my family, my brother Damien, and he led this whole reformation in my family. So most of my family are evangelicals now, but they're all believers. When I came out to them, I didn't really come out to my siblings. I never really had conversations with them. I came out to my parents. Because my siblings were all at the time, they were older and already kind of often married. So I didn't sit down with them one on one and say, "I have to tell you something crazy."
Sean McDowell: I don't remember if we mentioned this or not. You're the youngest of eight kids.
Becket Cook: Yes.
Sean McDowell: So that gives a little framework for your story.
Becket Cook: Eight kids. My parents were super lovely when I came out to them. I actually didn't tell them. My sister told them. When I was living in Tokyo after college for a year and my sister during that time told my family that I was gay because she wrote me a letter, I wrote her back. So when I got home from Tokyo, my parents already knew. My parents were so loving and my mother cried. My dad asked me if I was angry at him for anything. I remember saying like, "No dad, this is fine. This is who I am. It's not a big deal. I remember just playing it down." They didn't have a terrible reaction to it and they didn't fly off the handle and kick me out of the house or have some tantrum. That's really important. Part of it was because I was the youngest of eight kids and they'd already been through so much, so they didn't have the energy to have a meltdown.
But that's such an important moment in someone who comes out to their parents. That moment you never forget when you come out and if your parents react badly to it... What's weird the dynamic of that situation is the child has had years and years to deal with his sexuality internally and finally come to this understanding. So when you come out to your parents, it's probably the first time that they're understanding it or hearing about it. So it's a shock to them, but the child who has been wrestling with this like I did for years and years and years, when you come out, a lot of kids expect their parents to be on the same page immediately. If you don't understand me, if you don't accept me fully, I'm leaving this house. There's this kind of moment of like, parents and children need to give each other grace and time to process everything.
Sean McDowell: What advice would you give? We have a number of parents who listen to this, probably some who have kids struggling with their sexuality or may come out to them at some point in the future. What advice would you give to parents who have kids come out to them?
Becket Cook: Well, I would say... I'm sure it's really difficult, especially if you're raising your kids in a Christian home. I'm sure it's extremely difficult, but again, the key is to not react but to show grace and love because quoting Bible verses or grounding someone or taking away their phone is not helpful. It's not going to make them become a Christian. It's just going to push them further away. I think that the best advice is just to go into... Because you need to grieve, you need to go through this grieving process, but kind of go through the grieving process and kind of adjust to it and then try to love your child as best you can and love them through what they're going through as well.
Sean McDowell: That's great advice. One of the things my dad did is he would try to think through ahead of time every conceivable situation that could happen with me and my three sisters. If my sister says, "Hey, I'm pregnant." Or if I said, "Dad, I'm gay," or my sister, whatever it is, thinking through ahead of time how he could respond graciously. I think it was really, really good advice. I've tried to do that with my own kids. Let me go back to your story a little bit. Talk about how your life was turned upside down that night. Because in the book I read it, I'm like this not a slow conversion experience. This is like a radical, dramatic change.
Becket Cook: Yeah. It was very instantaneous. I had a second experience the same day. I went home after the church service got in bed to take a nap because I was so overwhelmed and so exhausted from crying for 30 minutes, and I got in my bed and it was Moses in the cleft of the rock when God passes by with his glory. God was like, "Here, let me show you some more of my glory." I was like, "Whoa." And I jumped up out of my bed and in the middle of my bedroom I was like, "God, you have my whole life. That's it. I'm done. I am done." I knew in that moment that being gay, homosexuality was no longer part of my life. I knew that dating guys was a thing of the past. I didn't care because I just met this new guy named Jesus who was amazing. For me, it wasn't a difficult choice because it was because I encountered God's presence so strongly that to me I was just like, I'm done with that. Good riddance to that old life because I love this new life in Christ. Yeah.
Sean McDowell: One of the narratives or arguments we often hear is that with somebody, same sex attraction, we cannot possibly expect people to live single, fulfilled, meaningful lives. What would you say in response to that?
Becket Cook: That's a lie. Well, here's the thing. People always say this to me. Even Christian say this to me. They're like, "Isn't it unfair or don't you feel cheated that you have to be single for the rest of your life and celibate?" And I'm like, "What? Not only do I get to have this relationship with the creator of the universe and the person who created me, but I get eternal life thrown in. How is that unfair?" When people say, "Isn't a terrible that you have to be alone?" I'm like, "I'm not alone. First of all, I have a relationship with Jesus Christ that is all consuming." I have the body of Christ, people in the church that are super close with me and we're friends and are super supportive and pray for me. So I never feel alone or cheated.
I always say this, what's unfair is Jesus Christ had to die and be crucified and tortured for my sins. That's unfair. My life isn't unfair. I mean, Paul never thought his life was unfair. He was running around the Mediterranean. He was single. All he cared about was planting churches and spreading the gospel. He was shipwrecked, beaten, thrown in jail, all these terrible things. But he didn't care. That's kind of the mindset I have. As believers, we should have that mindset of like this life is a mist. It's a vapor. It goes by really fast. I was your age yesterday. Trust me, and I'm old now even though I look younger than I am. But it goes by so fast and it's so important to understand like, okay, what is my purpose here? Why did God create me? Why did he put me on this planet for 70, 80 years? Why am I here and what is my purpose? If you understand that fully and you grasp it, then nothing is... You're just like all in and it's great.
Sean McDowell: One of the most common claims is that gay people are driven to abuse alcohol and drugs and suffer because of the narrative that homosexual behavior is wrong. You describe in the book how you subscribed to that, but that you see it a little bit differently now. In other words, gay people suffer because the society and family's rejection of them. Is there some truth in that? Is there no truth in that? What do you think about that common claim that's so often made in these discussions?
Becket Cook: Yeah, it's like the chicken before the egg or it's that kind of thing. Yeah, I mean I think it's different now in culture now because homosexuality is so celebrated obviously and so encouraged in every TV show, every movie, every play, everything. Everything has positive gay characters. So I think it's different now for gay culture. Growing up now if you're gay now, I think it's totally different from when I grew up. But I think back in the day, when I grew up there was that sense of rejection from society and maybe that did lead to a lot of gay men, a lot of friends of mine... And to lots of drugs and lots of one night stands and casual sex and a lot of dark stuff went on. So I think that that is a component of it, but I think now it's different because of how celebrated it is in our culture.
Sean McDowell: That's fair. I got a ton more questions for you, but one I do want to ask is related to what writing this book and speaking on this topic has cost you. It interests me as a believer, but I also did my PhD dissertation on the fate of the Apostles, so studied closely, especially in Acts and beyond, what their propagation of the gospel cost them in terms of being threatened and being thrown in prison. Some of them being put to death for their faith. Now obviously that hasn't happened to you.
Becket Cook: I'm scheduled to be crucified upside down next week.
Sean McDowell: There you go.
Becket Cook: So it's fine.
Sean McDowell: Exactly. Well, there is a sense that the Christian faith is when you sign up, it costs you something and this is such a volatile issue today that your willingness to speak up. You obviously knew this going into it, chose to do it. How has that affected you? As much as you're comfortable and willing to share that.
Becket Cook: Yeah. I mean, I was talking about that with Aaron before. I never felt like it was... It's very costly, but I never felt that I was courageous because I was just being who I was always. I've always been very kind of vocal and expressive and expressed my feelings about things. But it has cost me. I lost my career when my book came out. I had been a production designer, set designer in Hollywood for many, many years. When my book came out, my agency suddenly dropped me. So I knew that was coming and I knew that that was a part of it. You can easily lose your job and your livelihood. If you're vocal about your faith or vocal about especially this topic is the most volatile one. But I'm happy to... To me, I count it all his rubbish compared to knowing... it's like if Paul says, comparing to Jesus Christ my Lord. Yeah, who knows what's going to happen in the future. I mean jail, whatever it is. I don't know. I hope that doesn't happen, but that's the cost of following Christ.
Sean McDowell: Becket, your story is really inspiring. There's so many more questions that I want to ask you, which gives us a excuse to have you back on the podcast again in the future and also for me to commend your book to our listening audience. The title again is A Change of Affection: A Gay Man's Incredible Story of Redemption written by Becket Cook. Now before we wrap up, we've got a bunch of students here who I know want to loudly express their appreciation to you. So go for it. I know they want to say thanks.
Thanks for writing a great book and just for your courage. You challenged me to think, gosh, am I willing to sacrifice for what I believe? How far would I be willing to go to proclaim truth? Your story is really, really important today. So be encouraged if you're listening, if you're a pastor or run a conference, think about inviting Becket into speak because you can tell he's very articulate, very thoughtful, and just has a much needed message today. Thanks for coming over for dinner, for hanging out with these students, hanging out with me, and for coming on the podcast.
Becket Cook: Thank you for having me.
Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest Becket Cook and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.