“Therefore, it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. (Acts 1:21-23)
Jesus asked the apostles to be witnesses to Him. Peter decided that meant it was necessary to choose a man who had been living among them from the time of John’s baptism to the time of the resurrection. Peter, perhaps unknowingly, decided they needed an insider. They nominated two insiders, Joseph and Matthias.
God chose a man outside of Jesus’ disciples and outside of the new church, called The Way. He chose Paul of Tarsus to be the twelfth apostle. Paul was a Greek-speaking Jew from Tarsus, Turkey. His parents were Pharisees and sent him to Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel, one of the leading first century rabis. His Jewish name was Saul, and his Roman name was Paul. He inherited Roman citizenship from his father and persecuted Christians. He did not know Jesus while Jesus was living, but Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Later in Acts 9, Jesus says, “This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument (apostle) to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”
We have to read in between the lines to figure out that Paul may have been black and gay. In Acts 21:37-38 Paul was questioned if he spoke Greek and if he was from Egypt. So, Paul was most likely black. Since the Jews were enslaved by Egyptians for many years, it would be likely that some Jews were of African descent.
John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop, who wrote the 1991 bestseller, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, argues that Paul was a gay male. Bishop Spong says, “I do not mean …to suggest something that many would consider scandalous…I see no evidence to suggest that Paul ever acted out his sexual desires and passions….Nothing else, in my opinion, could account for Paul’s negative feeling toward his own body, and his sense of being controlled by something he had no power to change. The war that went on between what he desired with his mind and what he desired with his body, his drivenness to a legalistic religion of control, his fear when that system was threatened, his attitude toward women, his refusal to seek marriage as an outlet for his passion – nothing else accounts for this data as well as the possibility that Paul was a gay male.” (p.117)
In conjunction with Bishop Spong’s evaluation, 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 Paul says, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” At the very least his passion for women was decreased. But, it is very possible when Paul pled with God three times in vain to remove the “thorn in my flesh,” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) he could’ve been referring to his homosexuality.
It appears God, through Jesus, chose a black, gay man to replace Judas. God is love, so He makes it difficult for us to know who of his disciples are black or white or gay or straight because he doesn’t want us to differentiate either. He doesn’t want us to worry about the color of our skin or our sexual preferences, he wants us to love one another and not worry about each other’s sins. Whether we are straight or LGBTQ, almost none of us have been free from sexual sin. That’s why it was important to God not to choose another insider to be his twelfth apostle. It was a lesson to Peter and myself to be more inclusive. It should also be a lesson to churches not only to pursue diversity, but also diverse leadership.
Father, you are a God of love who doesn’t see the color of our skin or separate us by sexual orientation. Help me do the same. Give me the wisdom to look at people’s hearts and not their covering. Please let me seek diversification in the groups I choose to belong to. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.