Archives For Unitarian-Universalism

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

1892 Lithograph depicting a somewhat exaggerated presentation of the Salem Witch Trials.

1892 Lithograph depicting a somewhat exaggerated presentation of the Salem Witch Trials.

Image of Ann Tuitt and Cornelius Jarvis. Part of a larger photograph of people serving prison sentences for obeah in the Antigua prison, 1905. TNA CO 152/287. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK

Image of Ann Tuitt and Cornelius Jarvis. Part of a larger photograph of people serving prison sentences for obeah in the Antigua prison, 1905. TNA CO 152/287. Courtesy of The National Archives, UK

  • The BBC reports on the abolishment of punishments for the practice of Obeah in Jamaica, and whether this development will lead to a resurgence of the practice. Quote: “Until recently, the practice of Obeah was punishable by flogging or imprisonment, among other penalties. The government recently abolished such colonial-era punishments, prompting calls for a decriminalisation of Obeah to follow. But Jamaica is a highly religious country. Christianity dominates nearly every aspect of life; and it is practiced everywhere from small, wooden meeting halls through to mega-churches with congregations that number in the thousands.” More on Obeah’s history, here.
  • Is Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a favorite to win a Senate seat for the Democratic Party, a stealth Religious Right candidate? Quote: “Cory Booker is very, very tight with the religious right wing — but he’s also very careful about what he says, since he hopes to run for president one day and cultivates strong LGBT support. The problem is, he hangs with the Dominionists […] So here’s the question: Does Cory Booker simply cultivate useful relationships with a lot of un-American, unsavory, pro-corporatist, right-wing religious extremists — or is he one of them? I can’t read his mind, but I’ve had enough of giving so-called Democrats the benefit of the doubt on this stuff.” Is this all mere speculation? Talk2Action has some more background. All I know is that the New Apostolic Reformation is bad news, and some deeper questions should be asked of Booker if he’s truly allied with them.
  • Welsh, one of the surviving Celtic languages, is in trouble. Quote: “Only half of 16 to 24-year-olds consider themselves fluent, compared with two-thirds of over 60s, and only a third of the younger generation use Welsh with their friends In the language’s stronghold of Carmarthenshire there were five electoral areas where more than 70% of the people spoke Welsh in 2001, now there are none. The statistics have led to calls to protect the language, and 84 per cent of people indicated that they would welcome the chance to use it more.” The article notes that living next to a “language superpower” makes preservation difficult. Let’s hope things don’t get as bleak as it once did for Cornish
  • Practicing Witchcraft isn’t actually legal grounds to have your children taken away, no matter how much some would wish it to be so. Quote: “‘Nobody was able to articulate specific crimes associated with the ideology,’ wrote one officer. ‘Nobody on scene was able to articulate specific reasons (to remove the daughter) besides the religious views of the (boyfriend). All parties were advised that religion was constitutionally protected.'” 
  • The Pew Forum asked various religious leaders about the morality of life extension, and while they didn’t talk to any Pagans, they do interview Unitarian-Universalist, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders. Quote: “According to Michael Hogue, associate professor of theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, a Statement of Conscience on life extension ‘would probably come down [against it].’ Opposition would likely stem from ‘ecological concerns as well as concerns about economic justice,’ he says, referring to the environmental impact of faster population growth and the possibility that only the wealthy would be able to afford life-extension therapies.” Hindus, on the other hand, maybe be OK with life extension. Quote: “According to Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal who has written about Hinduism and life extension. ‘The normal blessing in Hinduism is ‘Live long.’ So why not live longer?’ he says.” 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Teo Bishop & Cher

Teo Bishop & Cher

You may remember one year ago when rising Pagan figure Teo Bishop revealed he was also singer-songwriter Matt Morris, a 1990s Mickey Mouse Club alum who has collaborated with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, among others. Well, Teo Bishop may be the first Pagan who can brag that he co-wrote a song for Cher, and that the song, “Woman’s World,” was performed on the season finale of NBC’s The Voice this week. Teo was in attendance at the taping, and has provided photographic evidence. Regarding this song, Bishop says that “the concept, lyrics & melody came from a Druid from Colorado,” and that he’s “a big believer in this message.” As for meeting Cher, and seeing her perform live, Bishop couldn’t hide his excitement, saying that he’s “on top of the world” and “I could just die and go to Gay Heaven.” As for the legendary Cher, this was her first television performance in over a decade, and is releasing a new album, “Closer to the Truth,” in September.

FishBird

FishBird

Wiccan author and musician Kenny Klein has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new band he’s started with Rachel Maxann, former lead singer of Elemental Groove Theory. The project, entitled “FishBird” is hoping to raise $3,100 dollars to finance a tour and recording their first album. Quote: “This summer FishBird will tour, going to Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York, where we will record several concerts to create a live CD. The CD will be professionally recorded, and well mastered, and will become commercially available as an indy recording. We need your help to defray our travel and production costs in order to to get the whole band from New Orleans to New York. There are great gifts for doing this, including hoolah hoops, original artwork, creepy dolls, and our undying eternal devotion.” They describe their sound as “dark jam-rock” and you can listen to some samples, here.

cuupsThe General Assembly (GA), the annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) started yesterday in Louisville, Kentucky, and that means it’s also time for the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) to have their annual meeting and hold elections. This year, for the first time since 2007, CUUPS will be hosting an official General Assembly Program on Saturday where they will invite GA registrants to a celebration of the Summer Solstice. For UU Pagans interested in attending the CUUPS Annual Meeting virtually, it will be held at 7pm (EDT) Saturday, and can be access via the AnyMeeting service. You can read more CUUPS-related news in their June monthly bulletin.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • A call for submissions has been issued by Beth Lynch to create a prayer and ritual book for the god Odin. Quote: “I am opening up submissions for Prayers to the Allfather (tentative working title), with a current deadline of June 30th, 2014 (though this may change, depending on how many submissions I get by then and how many of them I accept.  Ideally, I would like to have the book out by Martinmas (November 11th) 2014.  I will be publishing it via CreateSpace under the Wild Hunt Press imprint, with a Kindle version available as well.  I cannot offer royalties or free printed copies of the book, however each person whose work appears in it will receive a free pdf (electronic) copy.” You can find guidelines and more information, here
  • The final installment of a wide-ranging interview with Wiccan authors/teachers Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone is now up at PNC-Minnesota (I’ve previously referenced this series here, and here). Quote: “I am one of only five legal pagans in all of Ireland allowed to legally marry people. A legal solemnizer. I am on the health board as a hospital visitor. Ireland is a tiny island, but this is a major break through. Around 1982 Stewart  and I won the first witchcraft case in Ireland and changed the law which had made witchcraft illegal. It went to the high court in Dublin, and was given compensation because when “Eight Sabbats’ (A Witches Bible) came out a journalist called it devil worshiping, porn blasphemy. We won the entire case and were taken out be all the high court judges for a champagne reception.”
  • The deadline is quickly approaching for the matching challenge-gift given to Cherry Hill Seminary. The Pagan seminary announced earlier this month that a donor was willing to match up to $10,000 dollars in donations for a new scholarship endowment that would help students nearing completion of their Master of Divinity, to assist them with the expense of attending their required second intensive. So far $5596 has been raised, and the deadline is July 1st. You can find out more about the gift, including reactions from students and staff, here.  Those who wish to make a gift may do so online, or you can make a pledge of support. For further options, you can send a message to CHS@cherryhillseminary.org.
  • As mentioned in the latest installment of Pagan Voices, Teo Bishop is stepping down from the Solitary Druid Fellowship. However, this new initiative from Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) will not be ending, as Bishop explained in a recent post to the SDF website. Quote: “My stepping aside as the Organizer of the Fellowship allows for a great many other things to occur. There will be new SDF liturgists, and new blog posts about solitude from new authors, and there will be people reflecting on what it means to be part of this congregation in solitude. What has begun will continue, but in a new way. The Good Labor of those who step forward will bring forth new opportunities for reflection, meditation, and contemplation for this community of solitaries.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The traditional narrative has always been that as we grow more secular, more permissive as a society, theologically (though not necessarily politically) liberal religions fade with irrelevance, while theologically conservative faiths that stand athwart history would endure as they always have. But what if that’s not true? What if we were quantifying success in a manner that favored one side over another? That seems to be the topic of an upcoming book by religious studies professor Matt Hedstrom entitled: “The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century.”

181675977

“The story of liberal religion in the twentieth century is a story of cultural ascendancy  This may come as a surprise. Most scholarship in American religious history, after all, equates the numerical decline of the Protestant mainline with the failure of religious liberalism. Yet a look beyond the pews, into the wider culture, reveals a more complex and fascinating story. Here, we see that the defining features of religious liberalism—its cosmopolitanism; its engagement with the latest historical and scientific thought; its ethics; its focus on psychology, mysticism, and individual religious experience—arose among a spiritual vanguard in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but by the middle decades of the twentieth century had become commonplace among the American middle class. This book tells the story of how that happened.”

Even more interesting is the idea that modern Paganism could be included in the modern classification of “liberal religion,” especially if you compare and contrast liberal religion’s “book culture” with modern Paganism’s.

“The Rise of Liberal Religion attends especially to the critically important yet little-studied arena of religious book culture—particularly the religious middlebrow of mid-century—as the site where religious liberalism was most effectively popularized. […] by the post-WWII period the religious middlebrow had expanded beyond its Protestant roots, using mystical and psychological spirituality as a platform for interreligious exchange. This history of religion and book culture not only shows how reading and book buying were critical twentieth-century religious practices…”

There seems to be an argument that post-WWII American religious book culture helped create space for modern Paganism, very much spread by its own culture of books (“people of the library” as the old adage about our faiths go). Indeed, Unitarian-Universalism, which seems to be on a recent upswing in numbers, and the de facto poster child for liberal religion, explicitly lists nature religion as a source that it draws from.

“Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”

As a result, Pagans have a strong presence within the UUA, and liberal religion often gets tarred as “pagan” by its critics. In addition, I think that talking about the success of liberal forms of religion can’t be complete without mentioning those with no religion, the “nones,” and their recent (and ongoing) growth. Many, including myself, have pointed out that “nones” aren’t without beliefs or spirituality, they simply have abandoned formal religion in the sitting-in-pews sense. Author Brian D. McLaren, writing for the Huffington Post, sees that many “nones” are simply tired with the choices theologically conservative, specifically monotheistic, forms of religion present them with.

Later in the evening, two young women, current college students, told me the same thing. “We grew up in the church,” they explained. “We’re still followers of Christ, but we’re not attending church any more. We can’t find a church that doesn’t load a bunch of extra baggage on us. We tried, but they all had this long list of people we had to be against. It’s just not worth it.”

So long as success of a theological stance, or religion, is measured by how many people sit in chairs on Sunday, evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, and other related traditions, will be seen as “winners.” However, a broader look at our culture, and the varieties of religious experience within it, may tell a different story. I’ll be very much looking forward to Hedstrom’s book, and I think that like another recent book about religion in American history“Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise,” it will reveal a lot about our communities, even if never mentions us.

[Don’t forget, we’re in the midst of The Wild Hunt’s Fall Fund Drive! If you want to support this service, please help spread the word, or make a donation today! Thanks to everyone who has donated already!]

There’s a certain truism that’s been adopted by commentators and analyzers of religion in the United States (and more broadly in the West), that liberal Protestant Christianity is in a demographic death spiral, and thus liberal forms of Christianity itself are in danger of winking out of existence. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat, author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” made waves this past Summer by asking if liberal Christianity could be saved.

“…if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves. […] Liberal commentators, meanwhile, consistently hail these forms of Christianity as a model for the future without reckoning with their decline.”

Andrew Sullivan recently declared that Christianity itself was in crisis, and several scholars and writers have read the demographic tea leaves to see what happens as the “nones” grow and the generational shifts start to change the makeup of religious bodies. So it is within this atmosphere that I read about how the decidedly post-Christian Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has actually experienced growth in congregants over the past ten years.

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

Unitarian Universalists at Pride in Washington DC

“De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8% from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Although they remain small in total numbers with about 211,000 adherents nationwide, Unitarians believe their open-minded faith has a bright future as an alternative to more exclusive brands of religion.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise since, according to UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, the UUA is perfectly situated to appeal to those apprehensive of traditional Christian religious organizations, especially those claiming “no religion.”

“The great irony here is that these “nones” are very much aligned with Unitarian Universalist values. They are accepting of ethnic and sexual diversity. They are open minded. They also seek spiritual community. They present a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for us.”

Also of note is that the UUA is experiencing a lot of their growth in the South, not just the traditionally “liberal” coasts and open-minded campus towns.

“The denomination, which started in New England, has been growing more in the South than in other parts of the country, said Rachel Walden, a public witness specialist from the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association. […] In Tennessee, Unitarians grew by 20.8% from 2000 to 2010. During the same time frame, they grew by 22% in Georgia and by 42.5% in Colorado.”

Religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, author of “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening,” recently said in an interview that she feels that America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening, one that isn’t necessarily centered on Christianity or even monotheism.

“…when I talk about the fact that we’re in an awakening, I believe we are in a period of intense cultural reorientation or revitalization, and that during an awakening, politics, worldviews, religion, education—the whole way a society approaches being community, and connecting with one another, and understanding their God or their gods—it all changes.”

So what does this growth auger? What I think this means is that liberal, New Age, and Pagan faiths are perfectly positioned to benefit from the growing distrust and disillusionment of rigid one-true-way monotheistic forms of religion. They no longer care to wait while church organizations grudgingly admit the humanity of their gay friends, or litigate birth control yet again. Liberal Christianity is diminishing, yes, but what we’re seeing now is almost a slow-motion alchemy as these adherents search, seek, and often find a home with faiths outside the dominant Christian paradigm. So we see Buddhists grow, and Pagans grow, and yes, we see Unitarian Universalists grow.

The long-mocked theological flexibility of the UUA, which allows Pagans and Humanists alike in their pews to worship alongside the UU Christians  may turn out to be a secret strength that allows it to weather the post-Christian cultural transition that many Christian religious bodies seem unprepared for. Indeed, just a year ago journalists were questioning whether Unitarian Universalists would survive far past their 50th anniversary, with three years of “dips” in membership. Now the narrative has flipped, and suddenly we’re talking about their growth. While the UUA may never become a dominant demographical heavyweight as some denominations are today, their very nature may allow them to thrive and survive while other falter. They may even turn out to be a natural nexus point for liberal religon as it grapples with what the future holds.

Top Story: Indian Country Today reports on a new documentary, “Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White,” that looks at the case of a Lakota medicine man who was accused of abusing his two grandchildren. Jennifer Jessum and Simon Joseph, a husband and wife duo who produced and directed the film, knew White through a member of his family, and were shocked to hear about the charges made against him. After White was convicted and sentenced to prison, they investigated the matter and uncovered several “holes” in the prosecution, and eventually, saw one of the grandchildren recant his testimony.

[Roy Helper Jr.] met the film crew at a hotel in Rapid City, and he confessed on film that he had lied about the alleged abuse. He said that he and his brother, Lloyd, were under tremendous pressure from lawyers, judges and “people in suits,” and he said the experience was frightening. He also indicated that they were coaxed to say certain things. In return, they were told they would get money, toys, even a horse. (They received none of those things.) “We were just little, dumb, stupid Indian kids, being tossed around,” Helper says in Holy Man, his voice choked with emotion. “Eventually it’s going to come out. Like today.”

Despite a cascading series of events that proved White’s innocence, the U.S. Attorney’s office engaged in stalling and delaying tactics, and White died in prison in 2009 before he could be exonerated. There is now a petition to have President Obama posthumously exonerate Douglas White, apologize for his wrongful conviction, make reparations to White’s family, and initiate an investigation into the agents who pursued the case against White. The filmmakers are now working on issues of Tribal sovereignty, and the epidemic of teen suicide in Indian country. DVDs of the film are expected to be available this Summer.

In Other News:

  • Actress Lynn Collins, one of the stars of the new Disney film “John Carter,” tells an Irish reporter that she studied “mysticism, paganism, everything” and that ultimately “they’re all the same thing.”
  • Pagan and political scientist Gus diZerega has a new article published in The Independent Review entitled “Spontaneous Order and Liberalism’s Complex Relation to Democracy.” Here’s the abstract: “American and European liberalism began to take different paths in the nineteenth century, particularly with respect to their views on democracy. This divergence stems in part from the fact that liberal principles give rise to different types of spontaneous order, each of which generates unique patterns of social coordination.” You can download the article for free. For diZerega’s Pagan work, check out his column at Patheos, and his blog at Beliefnet.
  • Archaeologists in Norway have apparently uncovered a “unique” and “unparalleled” pre-Christian temple site. It is believed the temple was built around 400AD and that “the last people who used it over 1,000 years ago did their utmost to hide the entire system with an unusually thick layer of soil.” Despite the historic nature of the site, the land is scheduled to be cleared for a housing development. Applications are currently being made to have the site preserved.
  • Rev. G. Jude Geiger, a Unitarian Universalist minister, writes about the concept of religious freedom in our highly polarized political atmosphere. Quote: “By requiring citizens to follow the religious teachings of certain faith traditions, we in essence are asking our country to follow and abide by those particular traditions.”
  • The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear an appeal to a 9th Circuit Court decision that upheld a California state universities policy requiring all student groups, including religious groups, to not discriminate in membership on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. More on this, here. You’ll be hearing a LOT about this decision in the coming weeks, and I expect I’ll put in my two cents sooner rather than later.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed. Oh, and if you’re in the Oakland California area, be sure to drop by Hexenfest on March 9th!

Today the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The case heard by the Supreme Court involved a teacher at a Lutheran school who was fired due to a sleep disorder. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, backed by the Justice Department, felt that her role at the school was largely secular in nature, and shouldn’t fall under the exceptions usually given to clergy within religious groups. However, the court, in a rare unanimous ruling, sided with Hosanna-Tabor Church, and for the first time, acknowledged that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist.

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

“Closing the courthouse door much of the way, but not completely, to workplace bias lawsuits by church employees who act as ministers to their denominations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously gave its blessing — for the first time — to a “ministerial exception” to federal, state and local laws against virtually all forms of discrimination on the job.  The Court’s ruling, which only Justice Clarence Thomas said did not go far enough, did not order courts to throw out all such lawsuits as beyond their jurisdiction, but it left them with only a narrow inquiry before the likely order of dismissal would come down.  As soon as the denomination makes its point that it counts an employee as a “minister,” within its internal definition, that is probably the end of the case.  And the employee could be anyone from the congregational leader, on down to any worker considered to be advancing the religious mission.”

In short, ministerial exception involves not only ministers, but any employee who is performing religious work within a faith group. This was plainly expressed in the concurring opinion of Justice Alito and Justice Kagan, who noted that many religions do not use the term “minister” and that “courts should focus on the function performed by persons who work for religious bodies.”

“The First Amendment protects the freedom of religious groups to engage in certain key religious activities, including the conducting of worship services and other religiousceremonies and rituals, as well as the critical process of communicating the faith.  Accordingly, religious groupsmust be free to choose the personnel who are essential tothe performance of these functions. The “ministerial” exception should be tailored to this purpose. It should apply to any “employee” who leads a religious organization, conducts worship services or important religious ceremonies or rituals, or serves as a messenger or teacher of its faith. If a religious group believes that the ability of such an employee to perform these key functions has been compromised, then the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom protects the group’s right to remove the employee from his or her position.”

This concurring opinion will no doubt be very welcome to a coalition of minority faiths, the Muslim-American Public Affairs Council, United Sikhs, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, O Centro Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, and Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha, who filed an amicus brief in this case  warning that they were particularly susceptible to judicial encroachment, and that their faiths often categorize what might be seen as “secular” work within a sacred context.

“…many seemingly secular activities take on deep religious significance within specific faith traditions. For Sikhs, for example, operating a community kitchen and providing meals (langar) to the needy and vulnerable is an indispensible element of religious worship. For some temple-centric religions, the actual process of constructing a temple carries deep religious significance. Hindu temple architects and artisans follow ancient religious traditions in their work. For others, temple overseers may be tasked specifically to ensure that construction workers follow religion-based standards and refrain from profane acts that might desecrate the temple. For other religious organizations, meditation is a form of worship, distributing aid through prescribed means is an essential sacred ritual, and counseling and healing are acts inspired by deity. But because such religious functions – at least from the external view – may be indistinguishable from the same activities carried out for secular purposes, courts trying to parse the sacred from the profane jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their own sacred missions.”

The court agreed with this view, noting that the “amount of time an employee spends on particular activities is relevant in assessing that employee’s status, but that factor cannot be considered in isolation, without regard to the nature of the religious functions performed.” Justice Roberts went on to say that the lower court’s ruling “placed too much emphasis on Perich’s performance of secular duties.”

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that this is a landmark ruling, enshrining the concept of ministerial exception in our highest court, and all but eliminating workplace discrimination suits if the plaintiff performs a significant religious role within an organization. That said, the court did stress that this doesn’t protect religious organizations from criminal investigation or other kinds of litigation, and should only be applied to the hiring and firing of “ministers”. How broad or narrow the understanding of “ministerial” duties will be is something that will no doubt be settled in the courts for years to come. For minority faiths, it seems to signal that the ministerial exception isn’t isolated to traditional minister-congregational models, and can be applied to any number of religious situations. What the ramifications might be for adherents to non-Christians models of worship and work remains to be seen.

You can read my original post regarding this story, here. For extensive links to documents and analysis of this case, do check out the information-packed SCOTUSblog.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Happy 2012 everyone! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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.