Friday, November 20, 2009

Gay Liberation in DC

City Council v. Catholic Archdiocese

The DC City Council is moving toward legal recognition of same-sex marriages that are officially recognized in other jurisdictions. Many observers believe that if the council passes such an ordinance, the next step will be authorization of same-sex marriages performed here in the district.

Such actions are political dynamite when they occur elsewhere. In DC they are that and more. The district is the only place in the country where Congress can intervene directly in what would otherwise be a local governance question. And the symbolic importance of the nation’s capitol recognizing same-sex marriage in any form raises the political temperature further. Adding the DC area’s socially conservative black churches to the mix challenges the council further. But to date, the majority on the council has been more than clear. They have been courageous.

Christian right legal foundations and political groups have been very active in opposing the council initiative. Local black churches, some from suburban areas, have been the spearhead of the opposition, primarily because it would be unseemly for outside organizations to lead the way, but these groups have provided the local opposition with funding support, legal advice and tactical guidance. Lately the opposition has taken the form of petitioning the council to put the matter, if it passes, on the ballot for a public referendum. But the council has been clear: Human rights issues ought not and should not be subject to a popular vote. The logic of civil rights, the council majority says, mandates that all individuals should be treated equally and are entitled to the same social benefits, regardless of the opinion of the majority. Therefore, says the council, there will be no referendum.

Not surprisingly, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington also has had something to say on the matter. It has opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriages legalized elsewhere and has supported the call for a referendum. Most recently, the archdiocese has said that if the measure passes, Catholic Social Services will have to stop providing services to low-income residents of the district. But more surprising, the Washington Post published an editorial stating its alarm over the prospect of Catholic Social Services pulling out of DC and calling on the council to reconsider its proposed ordinance and to modify it in order to accommodate the archdiocese.

But on the 19th, to the Post’s credit, it ran a letter from Rick Rosendall, vice president for political affairs at the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. Rosendall makes it clear that this is not a question of the church’s ability to sustain an appropriate theological line in the face of government stepping over some church-state dividing line.

“The archdiocese does not pretend that providing benefits to divorced and remarried employees violates its teachings. This is not about forcing religious entities to violate their doctrines but about an organization throwing its weight around out of a sense of an entitlement to discriminate. District legislators cannot be expected to submit to blackmail, nor should the Post be making ill-supported excuses for it’” Rosendall wrote.

As all this unfolds, and the likely prospect of a majority of councilmembers actually standing on principle develops, I can’t help thinking of Richard Cleaver, a gay man, who was also Catholic—Richard and I worked together at the American Friends Service Committee in Michigan for much of the ‘80s. He is the author of Know My Name, A Gay Liberation Theology. He is also one of the people encountered in my lifetime who has taught me much about both radical political perspective and human decency.

In the preface to Know My Name, Richard explains how he came to be a Catholic, (which he more than once described in acknowledging the church’s evident homophobia as the largest, organized hate group in the world): “ I knew myself as a gay man before I knew myself as a Christian. This priority of commitment remains at the heart of my life as a member of the body of Christ. I joined the church not in spite of my gayness, but because of it. The church, when it is most fully church, is a community where the word of liberation is spoken and acted out in terms of the wholeness of body and spirit…”

I confess that I do not have any personal experience of what Richard is talking about. But because I have known Richard and have direct experience of the earnestness and diligence with which he sought and seeks the truth, I have no doubt that the church, at its best, is the community of which Richard speaks, and that he struggles for the soul of the church with great faith and love. Because I believe this, I can’t help but turn to Richard for some understanding of how a Catholic ought to act when big questions arise.

Richard’s book is a lengthy exploration of the ways in which gayness and solidarity with all excluded peoples is a fundamental expression of Christ’s message. There’s no possibility of quoting a passage, however long, which can fully illuminate his argument. But because Richard’s guidance has led me here, it has always seemed to me that a church, fully rooted in liberation theology—whether it be Latin American, feminist or gay—would be the true Christian church.

“There is a problem of method we must deal with before we can fully reclaim [the God of erotic love and the God of universal love]. I have alluded to it. Not only have men dominated theology, not only have straight people (at least, people we would now call straight) dominated it, so, too, people vowed to celibacy have dominated it, at least in the Roman, Eastern, and, to a certain extent, Anglican traditions. Working from their own lives, as is proper, but claiming to represent universal principles, they planted in our theological thinking a habit of treating sexual affection as part of our ‘fallenness.’ It is long past time to question this premise. Not only gay men but the whole church will benefit.

“I say this because we must keep in mind that a gay male liberation theology is not just for us. It is a gift to the whole church. Sheila Rowbotham’s reminder that ‘we are going to have to take them with us’ is not just for self-protection. It is inseparable from the outward spiral I describe in this book. It is solidarity.” Pg. 140.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where Do Ideas Come From?

The surface is a lonely place.
There’s no air,
no water, nothing erodes.
The rocks are sharp.

The interior’s hot. Wet.
Air’s too thick.
Water drips, pools.
Swamps abound.

Shades and silhouettes,
weightless, multiply.
The lonely places are not private places.
Nothing’s fully realized in the hot interior.

But when the striving stops,
the clamor, the cleaving,
the thunderous dividing stops,
then the lake breeze blows,

babies cry delight,
communities spring up to dance,
and great ideas come from
all their hiding places.


A voyager’s soul,
an incomparable gift.
Wrapped in layers of longing,

trembling with these powers,
the dream beckons.
Come on, then.

This wondrous possibility
of no return stirs the heart,
dog whistle to the brave.

Deficits attend the first step,
fears plague the interim,
defeat closes the journey,
but, man, what a ride.

Poetry Comes Next

Publish Before Perish

Having imagined myself a writer for most of my adult lifetime, I feel compelled to admit that my catalogue of published pieces is pitifully small. I've no particular interest in beating myself up here--in fact I am reasonably pleased with my writing over the last couple of years--but the truth of the matter is that I've never reached a very large audience and I haven't tried hard enough to do so. I don't have a comprehensive solution for that, either, but I have decided to collect some of my poetry and publish it in a single volume that I will market myself. Obviously, it will be a vanity effort, but it will still be a book by Jeff Epton and will have a chance of falling into the hands of others who may then discover something of value to them personally. And, though I've no immediate plans to shuffle off this mortal coil, it will happen before I am too old or too feeble or too dead to complete the project.

I've started focused work on the effort, selecting 30 decent poems that together seem a cohesive and coherent reflection of my capabilities, good, bad or indifferent. Though some of the poems have been finished for some time, I find myself revising many of them and enjoying the process. In revising, I'm trying to accomplish at least three things: One, make the poems more accessible to readers, even people who do not consider themselves audience for poetry. Two, sharpen the point of each poem, especially eliminating complexity that doesn't serve the look, sound or meaning of each poem. And three, simply use fewer words; the biggest advantage poetry has over other forms of writing lies in compression. Vivid images and powerful phrases can be compact on paper and still explode in a reader's mind or imagination. I am trying to achieve such an effect.

In the meantime, I'm going to be posting some of the revised poems that will be part of the book here on this blog. I would dearly love to get feedback from readers, but I will be proceeding with the project regardless. I would also be happy to mail hard copies of the collected poems for the project to anyone who asks. Just e-mail your address to me at jeffepton07@comcast.netand I will send you a packet of poems.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Economic Justice and Military Spending Cannot Coexist

The Fight We Must Win

Our next door neighbor's adult son has moved in with her. Two years ago, just before it was clear that the economic poop had well and truly hit the fan, he had moved out to a place of his own. Now, having lost his job, he's back. They're being careful with each other right now, as opposed to two years ago when we would hear them arguing almost nightly and it was clear that he had to move on and that they were out of patience with their shared living arrangements. I presume that it is only a matter of time before they begin finding the same old faults with each other.

Another friend has been having difficulties with his pre-teen son who suffers from a variety of emotional disorders and learning disabilities. He lives in a state that has never fully funded the service his son requires, but in the last year those services have been rationed more thoroughly than before and he finds that his family cannot get all the help that his son needs. He is considering moving to another state, but which one is flush with cash and fully funding the array of mental health, educational and social services he is seeking?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 26 states that had plugged deficits at the beginning of this fiscal year, have discovered that they haven't plugged enough. New gaps have opened up and new cuts must be made before the end of this fiscal year. Almost all those states and at least a dozen must make further budget cuts in the next fiscal year, as well. (See CBPP's report here).

Given that federal stimulus spending helped many states fill recent deficits, and that there is no new stimulus spending on the horizon, it seems pretty obvious that state spending for health care, education, highways, public transportation, housing and emergency services for the poor and the unemployed will drop, even as the demands increase.

The $787 billion stimulus package passed in February has saved or created 640,000 jobs, CNN reported in October. But the economy has lost 7.3 million jobs since December 2007 (read the report here). With $1 trillion+ federal budget deficits, steady right-wing criticism of the first stimulus (second, countin the even more feeble Bush stimulus package), and uncertainty over the cost of health care reform, it will take a great deal of political courage for Congress and the President to propose and pursue further stimulus spending large enough to help.

But there's the rub. At this point in time, in a country with significant unmet social needs that is also fighting two (long) wars, any effective political leadership will have to be courageous. So, assuming the existence of such a quality, I once again offer military spending as the pot of silver (if not gold) to be placed on the table and redistributed according to the real needs of Americans, rather than the needs of empire.

As frequently happens, I cite the ever reliable Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) for some of the facts that best support an argument for cutting military spending. "... the standard economic models that project job loss from efforts to stem global warming also project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to 2 million jobs in the long run," Baker wrote in a recent column that appeared on-line at

The calculations Baker references are based on projections covering a 20-year period, so the actual current job losses from the military spending increases since 2000 are certainly lower, in the area, say, of half to three-quarters of a million jobs. But if the US had been saving those jobs over the last seven years, rather than bleeding them away, it would have had the impact of another stimulus bill; and likely a timelier and more effective one.

Unfortunately, President Obama has recently signed a defense spending bill that increases the military budget by about five percent. Though it is the accumulating, down-the-road impact of such spending increases that do the most harm, even a one percent decrease annually in the next three military budgets would have a small, positive and growing impact by 2012 and beyond, providing new stimulus to the domestic economy in the amount of, perhaps, $90 billion (the estimated total of annual one percent cuts, plus three to five percent in avoided annual increases). But the longer-term political impact of such cuts matters more than the immediate social benefits.

Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will involve serious political fights. Resistance will come from members of Congress with large military bases and large numbers of workers in military production living in their districts. Weapons manufacturers and military contractors already spend huge and corrupting amounts of cash on lobbying and political contributions. But as the costs of empire and war erode our domestic economy and our manufacturing base, there is nothing to be gained by avoiding political fights about the direction of spending and everything to win.

The federal budget picks winners and losers and has been picking the military-industrial complex and corporate interests to win since the 1950s. Beginning the fight to pick new winners now--American workers, the domestic economy, social justice, et al.--is a surer way to reelect Obama and progressive Democrats in 2010 and 2012. Small gains now in cutting military spending will set the stage for bigger fights, larger cuts and, ultimately, peace dividends and economic justice in the years beyond 2012.