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.
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.