Virginia Pagan Wins Conservation Post in Tuesday’s Elections

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 10, 2011 — 26 Comments

It was election night this past Tuesday, and while the media has largely focused on hot-button political issues like fetal “personhood” or collective bargaining rights, our faith communities took a quiet political step forward in Virginia. There, local Unitarian-Universalist and Pagan Lonnie Murray won a seat on the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD), a body that provides natural resource assistance for Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson Counties, as well as the city of Charlottesville. Murray now joins the ranks of Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini as openly Pagan/Heathen elected officials.

Lonnie Murray

Lonnie Murray

While Murray is openly Pagan, describing his theological views as Animist, he is also quick to stress that he’s not a “Pagan politician” but rather a “politician who happens to be Pagan.”

“I think working on improving my own community policy is it’s own kind of magic. It is taking our best intentions and ideas and manifesting them in the world. I think the real story here is not that being pagan and running for office is an issue, but rather that it isn’t. The fact the entire campaign discussion is about policy and not my faith means we’ve made progress.”

After his win on Tuesday, Murray sent me the following statement explaining how his religious beliefs were a natural progression towards conservation work, and eventually, running for political office.

“I spent around a decade helping lead the NatureSpirit group in Charlottesville, and during those years I realized how important local community is and that if I really cared about the natural world, then I needed to get more involved in local politics. After all, every endangered species in the United States is in someone’s county, or someone’s back yard. While the Soil and Water Conservation District is a small and rather obscure elected office, how rainwater and erosion is managed can make all the difference in the livability of our neighborhoods and the health of our environment.

It has been a natural progression for me, in terms of starting as an activist, then being appointed to various task forces and advisory committees, to then running for elected office. What has amazed me the most is how much positive change on a local level is really possible. Magic to me has always been about intention, and certainly working in public policy you get the opportunity to use ideas and intention to help improve your own community. Of course, one of the great things about Charlottesville is that we have a long history of religious diversity (going back to Thomas Jefferson) and people here tend to value people on the merit of their ideas. Indeed, there have been many non-Pagans and public officials over the years that knew of my faith, and encouraged me to become more involved in politics and serving the public, because they valued my ideas and experience.

It’s my goal to repay the trust voters have placed in me, to serve my community the best I can, and help empower others wherever possible.”

Murray hopes his successful run for local office will inspire other Pagans to get involved in the daily workings of our political system, noting that democracy itself was a pagan invention, and saying he looks forward to “when our faith(s) will have conversations about climate change and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.” Lonnie Murray’s election may not seem earth-shattering in the current political calculus of partisan hostility and culture-war divisions, but his quiet determination to live out his Pagan values by working to preserve our natural resources on a local level is a perfect example of how our family of faiths can effect positive change in a palpable and immediate way. Here’s hoping more of us follow his path.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Anonymous

    Pretty wonderful. My congratulations to Mr. Murray.

  • Congratulations and thanks to Mr. Murray!

  • Congratulations! Progress begins slowly and locally, but it grows.

  • Kitsune

    Congrats to Mr. Murray! I personally want to get into politics, to actually become a Congresswoman or maybe one day the President of the US. I have a while to go, and must make the steps, but I will strive for it. 🙂

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Two thumbs up!

  • Crystal Kendrick

    Yay! Go Lonnie!

  • Elizabeth Creely

    Yeah! Brilliant.

  • I’ve met Lonnie — he has been working on these issues for a long time and is quite well-informed. I am glad to hear about his election to the conservation district position.

  • Congratulations, Lonnie Murray! From a fellow Virginian.

  • What a positive story to read today! Congratulations and thanks for what you do and for not being afraid to be who you are.

  • Morningdove3202

    I wish our community could move away from fruitless debates about which tool is for air, and which is for fire, and start taking up causes such as saving the bay. One charitable idea I’m working on is hosting a “Offerings for the Land Spirits” table at the next PPD, where anyone can donate something to sell (used or homemade), and we will sell it for them and donate all the money to The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. If we are going to use PPD to do some shopping, we might as well make it charitable.

    • You can earn up to $5,000 as a non-profit church before you must pay taxes on proceeds under the principal person’s name, or have a 501-c-3. Please check into that with a tax adviser. It’s a great idea, really, but it’d be a shame if this were counted as personal income. H & R block will often give initial consultations free.

  • Tom Gordon

    Nice to see a kindred spirit as a conservation district official. I’m the chairman of a soil & water conservation district in Maine!

    • Tom, we should stay in touch and share ideas!

      • Tom Gordon

        Will do! I’ve been on my District Board for about 10 years now – and I’m presently executive director of our state association of conservation districts. It’s a challenge because conservation districts are — well, conservative!

        I’ll get in touch soon!

  • Great news!

  • Ednawindes

    My congratulations to Mr.Murray as well as to Charlottesville and surrounding area. They all win.

  • Crick

    I would be suprised if Neo Pagans even knew what an Animist is. Since Neo pagans erroniously believe that Wicca, which is the new kid on the block, is the learning curve for paganism. Neo pagans, especially in America, tend to ignore the old school pagans of the world. The Australian Aborigine is a excellent example of Animist beliefs in todays world…

    • Your ignorance of Wicca and modern Paganism generally is phenomenal. Congratulations.

      Far from ignoring “old school” Pagans, modern Paganism has a strong affinity for, and is strongly influenced by, ancient religious and magical traditions, including those ancient traditions that continue to thrive today.

    • Anonymous

      Animism is a major topic of study in nature spirituality classes at Cherry Hill Seminary, the American Pagan seminary

    • It’s also worth pointing out that “animism” is a term concocted by white anthropologists and Christian missionaries in the 18th century.

      • While in the media, Animist is a socially acceptable synonym for “Pagan”, I take it in its theological sense which is that all things in nature have a spirit unto themselves. This means that instead of praying to a generic god of all rivers, that I would honor the spirits of a specific river, like the Rivanna. It is fundamentally the idea that place and spirit cannot be separated.

        In regards to Native people, I think we have much to learn from them, but we also need to learn some things for ourselves, and form our own relationship with the land. Often, we may come to the same conclusions, and that’s okay, but it should come from somewhere authentic and rooted in an understanding of the place we live and the plants and animals we share it with.

        • Whatever the “theological sense” of “animism” is, this has been defined by academics and/or missionaries, not by those who are themselves categorized as “animists”.

          • When referring to a specific group of native people, it’s always best to use their own name for themselves; however, we generally lack another collective term for place/ancestor-based non-Christian faiths and Animist lacks the negative connotation that “pagan” does.

            Anyway… for me that debate is generally irrelevant, since I’m applying the concept to myself, just as Aristotle and other people have for quite a long time

    • BHG

      I’d really dispute that characterization, which tends to come more from those who claim to be ‘better than’ ‘Neo-Pagans:’ I’d characterize myself as having been ‘born animist,’ myself, only really coming into contact with much Neopaganism somewhat later in life. Just because a lot of us don’t put a name to it until connecting with modern ways and the Gods doesn’t mean that sort of point of *view* doesn’t seem very natural to a great many of us long before.

      If anything we’re pretty strongly-identified with peoples who’ve kept aboriginal ways. ‘Ignoring’ isn’t the right word, though in America there’s the problem that there’s a tremendous lot of cultural friction between Native traditionals and the New Age commercialism that trivializes them: for their part, a lot of them don’t think there’s any distinction between, say, Wiccans and people who ‘play Native American:’ a lot of Native activists themselves have something of a history of buying into the missionaries’ claims that white people have no magic or natural spirituality and everything must be either hostile or ‘appropriating,’ (Where did missionized peoples ever get *that* idea, I wonder…) And that’s sometimes put some distance between us that would probably be better served by simply being more respectful.

      I do think some interfaith efforts are improving matters, but there’s still a long way to go.

  • Great to hear this kind of news!