Sex Without Form & Void by Kendall S. Harmon

Sex Without Form & Void

Scripture, Tradition & Reason on Homosexuality

by Kendall S. Harmon

In the past several decades, mainline denominations particularly have struggled with maintaining official policies faithful to the biblical norms regarding homosexuality. In the early 1990s, the Reverend Kendall Harmon, an Episcopal priest, wrote a paper, “Should Practicing Homosexual Persons Be Ordained in the Episcopal Church Today?” What follows is a lengthy excerpt from that paper—specifically his sections on Scripture, tradition, and reason. (–Ed.)


When the scriptural data is discussed on the topic of homosexuality, it is common to focus exclusively on the few passages that traditionally have been understood to forbid homosexual activity for the people of God. This approach fails to take account of the full biblical theology of human sexuality. When the discussion begins with a thorough analysis of the Creator’s differentiation of humanity into male and female (Genesis 1) and his intention for them to enjoy an exclusive heterosexual marriage covenant (Genesis 2), the larger context for all other biblical teaching, such as Jesus’ witness to the importance of marriage (Mark 10) and Paul’s argument that homosexual activity is “against nature” (Romans 1), becomes evident. The biblical witness is entirely clear in its view of homosexual activity as sinful, and to dismiss this teaching is to dispose of not only a few isolated passages but also the whole biblical theology of human sexuality. So the central focus must be on what Scripture as a whole actually says.

Beginning at the Beginning

Where the discussion starts is crucial. As Don Williams, in his book The Bond That Breaks: Will Homosexuality Split the Church? (1978), writes:

When turning to the Bible for its understanding of homosexuality we must not jump in at any point which we choose. We must begin where the Bible itself begins: “In the beginning God . . . ” This becomes a critical point for us. The modern interpreters who claim that the Bible is not opposed to homosexuality per se start, not with the opening chapters of Genesis, “the beginning,” but with the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is true of D. S.  Bailey, Robert Treese, and John McNeill.

But why not begin with Sodom and Gomorrah? Why begin with the creation narratives? The answer is simple and crucial. We begin with the creation narratives because there the meaning of human sexuality is given. For the Bible, homosexuality is always considered in relationship to human sexuality. It does not stand isolated or alone. To examine specific texts on homosexuality without understanding the biblical revelation on human sexuality is like trying to account for a tree without reference to its trunk or roots. Genesis, chapters 1–3, stand behind all else the Bible says about God and man (p. 47).

The British scholar Gordon Wenham agrees with Williams, explaining that the early chapters of Genesis “are fundamental to the teaching of both Jesus and Paul about sex and marriage. Both make repeated quotations from and many allusions to Gen. 1:27 and 2:24 in particular” (Sexuality and The Church: The Way Forward, ABWON, p. 17).

Given the importance of Genesis 1–3, what do they tell us in this crucial area of sexuality? Two important truths emerge. First, God creates man in his own image as male and female. As Karl Barth comments, “Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female. Hence in humanity, and therefore in fellow-humanity, the decisive, fundamental and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation” (Church Dogmatics, 1961, III.4, p. 117).

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