Was the Apostle Paul a homosexual? An inflammatory question to be sure and one that’s been debated in contemporary theological circles for quite some time. Of course, there is no way to be certain of Paul’s sexuality as he lived long before the Internet and social media existed. If Paul were living now, he would have left behind a digital footprint. And who knows, maybe we’d find a cache of salacious messages he may have exchanged with young Timothy. But alas, Paul’s sexual predilections have died with him.
Arguments presented for Paul being a gay man are often based on his discussions of unidentified temptations plaguing him. (For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells nothing good for I have the desire to do what is fine but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good that I wish, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. If, then, I do what I do not wish, I am no longer the one carrying it out, but it is the sin dwelling in me. I find, then, this law in my case: When I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me. I really delight in the law of God according to the man I am within, but I see in my body another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin's law that is in my body. Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body undergoing this death?Romans 7:18-24; To keep me from becoming overly exalted, I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan, to keep slapping me, so that I might not be overly exalted.2 Corinthians 12:7b) They were also based on his strong recommendations related to celibacy. (Indeed, I want you to be free from anxiety. The unmarried man is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he may gain the Lord's approval. But the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife, and he is divided. Further, the unmarried woman, as well as the virgin, is anxious for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in her body and in her spirit. However, the married woman is anxious for the things of the world, how she may gain the approval of her husband. But I am saying this for your personal advantage, not to restrict you, but to move you to what is appropriate and to constant devotion to the Lord without distraction.1 Corinthians 7:32-35) But what I find as a more compelling argument is not some of the more well worn theories, but one I call The Apostle Paul Complex.
It’s a rare disorder. But it is one I’ve seen afflict many closeted gay Jehovah’s Witnesses, including myself.
Choose One. Choose Wisely
From the time Saul arrives on the Bible scene there is no mistaking that he is the textbook religious zealot. Violent, fervent, obsessed. Then, after a blinding flash of light and a new stage name, he carries that same work ethic from Judaism to Christianity. He travels extensively spreading his new faith. As a side gig, he makes tents. He works tirelessly, with seemingly little regard for his health; and in his spare time he writes more books than any other Bible writer.
This hectic pace would have been difficult for any man to manage even with a supportive wife or two. But Paul had no one. He never once mentions a wife – not even a deceased one – or children. Not only was this unusual, it was extremely rare in the Jewish community. “[B]achelorhood was unheard of for Hebrew males, so much so, that there was not even a word for bachelor in the Hebrew vocabulary,” says the reference Wesley Study Bible Notes.
And that’s what brings me to this idea of the Apostle Paul Complex.
The Apostle Paul Complex Idea
Being raised as a one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, while simultaneously coming to the realization that you are attracted to the same sex, is an event that inspires some of the deepest of panic, helplessness, stress and self-loathing. This cauldron of ills bubbles forth because one is forced to choose between two relationships that are diametrically opposed to each other but each greatly desired:
- One is a close relationship with the Supreme Being. For a kid this is a pretty appealing thing as you’ve been told that this person can fix your problems and give you the superhuman ability to cope with any harsh realities you may face in life.
- The other very desirable scenario is having an intimate, lasting relationship with a human being. Something that nearly everyone longs for and obsess over from puberty through death.
For most Jehovah’s Witnesses, they win the lottery and get both. Then there are the unfortunate losers: Gay Witnesses. They must choose one over the other. And worse yet, one of the choices will result in everlasting destruction. Period. End of story. So given those stark choices a gay Witness has two basic paths:
- Follow Nature. Leave ‘The Truth,’ lose your family, forsake your friends and hopefully find love. I know a number of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who have taken this path.
- Follow the Apostle Paul. Bury your homosexuality in tireless service to the Organization. Don’t stop until, like Paul, you’ve ‘poured yourself out like a drink offering.’ (For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my releasing is imminent.2 Timothy 4:6) I know a number of current Witnesses who have taken this path. This is the Apostle Paul Complex.
The Curse of Singleness
The most significant issue that steers a gay Witness into the Apostle Paul Complex is forced celibacy. The Catholic priesthood is probably the most egregious example of what can happen when one attempts to bury his sexual identity behind devout acts. And although taken to an extreme, the Vatican is loosely following both the inspired admonition of Paul and Jesus Christ. (He said to them: 'Not all men make room for the saying, but only those who have the gift. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs on account of the Kingdom of the heavens. Let the one who can make room for it make room for it.'Matthew 19:11, 12) It’s the source of the same blithe and uninformed ideas occasionally espoused on the pages of the Watchtower. “Jehovah, the Originator of marriage and the family, wants all of his servants to be happy and fulfilled, whether they are single or married.” (The Watchtower, October 1, 2011 p. 25)
From experience though, long-term forced celibacy is not fulfilling. It is probably not healthy and it is certainly not desirable.
The truth of that statement can be seen by doing a simple mental tally:
- How many long-time elders are single by choice?
- With the example of Paul before them, how many circuit overseers chose to accept this gift?
- How many long time ‘eunuchs for the kingdom’ exist in the Bethel homes around the world?
- What about current members of the Governing Body?
Surely some of these men must have chosen to eschew the burdens of marriage to be in “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7:35) Nope. Not one of them.
And the reason is pretty obvious: Being single beyond 30 years of age, leaves a considerable emotional hole in one’s life. And no matter how many Christians you stone, no matter how many gentiles you baptize, no matter how many congregations you start, no matter how many books of the Bible you pen, that thorn in the flesh gets increasingly painful with each passing year, in a host of different ways.
Again gay Witnesses endure the pain by assuming the Apostle Paul Complex, desperately clinging to the hope that ‘The End’ is right around the corner. I know I did. I thought that if I just gave Jehovah and his Organization everything I could – suppress my desire to have someone who was my own, with which I could share special moments in my life, that at night would fall asleep beside me – before I knew it this painful existence would be over. Armageddon would be here and Jehovah would ‘fix’ me.
Of course as the years grind on, one’s pace on the Organizational treadmill begins to slow and the rosy glow of youth fades causing something peculiarly sinister to happen. In the eyes of fellow Witnesses you are no longer lauded as a ‘eunuch for the kingdom.’ Instead you become that ‘weird’ single brother or sister. Surprisingly nowhere is this phenomenon more prevalent than at the supposed bastion for singleness: Bethel.
Gay At Bethel
Even besides the more well-known tales of past gay shenanigans, homosexuality is alive and well at the world headquarters. During my stint I knew of at least 10 brothers who were gay. And I know of several others who were highly suspect. I personally knew of two brothers who were dismissed for having a gay affair. I personally know of an incident where a Bethelite made a pass at another member who he had mistakenly thought was gay. They both got dismissed but not before the entire family found out about it. Another long time single brother, whose affected speech and mannerism put him on the ‘suspected list’, was notorious for regularly making his way down to the all-male sauna to salivate over the younger brothers who were sometimes there.
Now there is one question that proves dumbfounding for most JWs: “If a person is gay, why would they subject themselves to the temptation of being around a lot of handsome single guys?” Well, it’s that Apostle Paul thing again. A common sentiment among the gay Bethelites I was acquainted with was that they were trying to serve Jehovah to the fullest. Bethel was a calling where their forced celibacy could actually be advantageous.
The only problem is that the ‘Animal House’ days of Bethel, where single guys ruled the roost, haven’t been around for probably a good 40 years. So the longer one remains single the more one begins to stands out as odd. Slowly it sinks in that, as a gay Witness, you don’t really fit in anywhere.
Gay Bethelites were able to find other gay members of the family because they often detected the same aura of quiet desperation. They had taken on more and more responsibility but didn’t feel happier or more fulfilled. They had come to the realization that an endless list of Organizational responsibilities do not fill the need for an emotional connection with another human.
It is with that realization that life become increasingly lonely. The single friends that you came in with slowly join the ranks of Bethel couples. You wake up one day and find that you’ve become too old to hang out with the newer single brothers. And you come to realize that the ‘New System’ that you were assured was ‘right around the corner’ is absolutely nowhere to be found!
As The Curtain Draws
One of the things that Witnesses pride themselves in is taking care of their own. And in the case of emergencies and natural disasters that’s more or less true. However as a person ages, the process of living becomes a string of small emergencies. It’s the point where gay Witnesses realize that the chosen option of forced celibacy was perhaps not a good one. Without a mate they must do everything themselves, already having expended a great deal of their energy on an Organization that has largely forgotten them.
Now they need more than the occasional visit from the elders asking them how they are doing. They need more than a friendly group of kids coming by their usual seat at the hall and saying “hello.” They need more than the solitary entry in the JW songbook extolling the virtues of single living. They need what most everyone else has: someone who is their own. They need someone with which they can share special moments in their life. They needs someone that will fall asleep next to them at night.
Long term, forced celibacy, regardless of how noble one’s lifelong actions were, is deleterious to happiness. In Watchtower publications it’s certainly possible to find cherry-picked examples of single individuals who believe that they have lived full lives. But usually they have no frame of reference with which to make such statements. If they have been single all of their life they really don’t know how having a mate and children and grandchildren may have enriched their lives. And if pressed, certainly most would admit that if given the opportunity, they would eagerly relinquish their ‘gift’ for the chance at a relationship. Ask a person who is living with a cancer that is in remission. They learn to live productive, positive lives despite the fact the cancer may return. At the end of the day though, they’d rather not have the cancer.
So that brings us all the way back to the first question: Was the Apostle Paul gay? I certainly hope he wasn’t. It’s not something I would wish upon my worst enemy. Well at least not most of them. Having suffered with a bad case of the Apostle Paul Complex, I now know that all the spiritual busy work in the world does not replace what is missing when one does not have a mate.
Come to think of it, it’s strange how the Bible record goes silent in relation to Paul’s final days on the earth. It’s almost as if he met the same fate that many gay JW have and will: dying alone, largely forgotten, desperately waiting for the Paradise.