Earlier, on Twitter and Facebook I asked whether calling gay relationships 'sinful' and 'unwholesome' counts as 'homophobic'. The responses were - given the kind of people I'm friends with etc. - hardly surprising. The mood of the 'poll' were an almost unanimous 'yes'.
The stimulation for the question were reports of Bishop Richard Inwood's comments at the public Employment Tribunal into the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham's treatment of Canon Jeremy Pemberton. Inwood apparently described marriage between two people of the same gender as 'sinful' and 'unwholesome'.
Anyone who's ever read this blog will know I have a particular interest in words and the way they play off other words and representations. Words/word choice, as I'm fond of saying, do(es) matter.
The word 'unwholesome' is striking. I decided to go off and check my (paper) thesaurus and dictionaries. The root for the word 'wholesome' seems to be part of our broadly Germanic heritage. It's a word with implications - unsurprisingly - of health and flourishing, both physical and moral/ethical. Some of the synonyms include 'salubrious', 'beneficial', 'virtuous' and so on.
'Unwholesome', then, has implications of ill-health, decay, and the insalubrious. It is suggestive of vice. It is a striking word. It is a word that almost seems drawn from another era.
I am struck by the way 'un/wholesome' reads itself into a discourse of health. Health is one of those discourses that has often been used as a way of marking out the margins between virtue and vice. Think of how 19th century discourse about 'fallen women' was often framed in terms of public health and led to a series of laws that meant women who were even slightly 'questionable' in the eyes of a patriarchally-shaped legal system could be open to summary health checks of the most intrusive nature.
This kind of moralism is enacted on the 'questioned' and 'questionable' body. In other words, on those who are characterised as 'the other' of the Normal, the Good, and the Righteous - usually white, middle-class powerful & heterosexual masculinity.
It is intriguing that the panic around male homosexuality in the '80s took place in the theatre of public health. The 'other' of gay men was constructed as a danger to public health in the AIDS panic of the '80s.
It strikes me that Bishop Inwood's remarks may be read as a kind of echo of the way moral, spiritual and physical health - wholesomeness - is enacted on and against the bodies and lives of those designated as 'Other'. Insofar as it represents a position within the C of E it represents how far the C of E has yet to travel in order to see 'The Other' as fully human, fully respected and fully loved.