Peace Circles

RM asks: “Can you tell me what you know and think about “Peace Circles”?  Everything I am finding looks to be a very feminist-based program (and not of the true feminism that John Paul II promoted).  When reading what I have found (by googling “peace circles”), some of it sounds on the “up and up”.  Who doesn’t want peace? But the program is being incorporated in my daughter’s high school French III class with no connection to French at all. We have met with the teacher and administration about our dislikes of the use of this in the classroom, and met head to head with much opposition. Every one of them lauded the use of Peace Circles. Our daughter has not been comfortable with the use of the peace circle especially because of the use of the lit candle, rain stick, rock and ‘talking piece’. Your insight into this matter is greatly appreciated.”

Your daughter’s spiritual instincts are well-honed. These circles are very problematic. Not only are they derived from indigenous pagan practices, but they’re being used for everything from facilitating respectful communication to discovering a “place of mystery from which synchronicity, magic and healing arise.”

According to the New England Literary Resource Center, “Peace circles draw directly from the tradition of the talking circle, common even today among indigenous people of North America. . . . The concept of a peace circle draws on the Native or First People’s concept of the medicine wheel. The medicine wheel reflects natural phenomena that occur in fours; for example, seasons, phases of the moon, and stages of life. The peace circle aims to promote a balanced approach to individual and community health with an equal emphasis on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual growth and well-being. The assumption is that if any one of the four components is neglected or violated the individual will be out of balance, and not “in a good way” with herself or her family and community.”

They go on to say that these circles are being used in the criminal justice system, education, human service organizations “and others interested in alternative processes for conflict resolution, decision making, community building, healing and support. . . . The goal is to promote healing, harmony and a sense of connectedness. ”

The way the circle works is described by Mark Umbreit of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. A group sits in a circle and a facilitator manages the conversation by the passing of a “talking peace” – an object that has special meaning  to the circle facilitator, who is referred to as the “circle keeper”. After opening comments about the purpose of the circle, the keeper says a few things about the talking piece, than passes it to the person to his or her left. Only the person with the talking piece can speak. If others jump in with comments, they are reminded of the rules. No one has to speak if they don’t want to because this would cause “pressure” in the circle. If a person doesn’t want to speak, they simply pass the talking piece to the next person.

Umbreit credits feminist author Christina Baldwin (Calling the Circle, The First and Future Culture) as being one of the people responsible for introducing the circle into modern use.

Referring to herself as an “Episcopagan,” she describes God as “what happens in the space between. God is what is happening between the whirling atoms that create this whole universe. God is what is happening in the space between you and me when we are in heart space. God is when I really see creation and am moved to tears by beauty and courage.”

This Circle group, which uses Baldwin’s method, explains that the “center” of every circle is “Spirit” and that each participant “has her own understanding of what “spirit” means. It may be God, Higher Power, Mother Nature, Energy force¸ or the special feeling that comes from what is right and good.”

Another group has its own take on the use of Christina’s circles: “In this culture we highlight all kinds of cultural spirit medicine, Indian, Indigenous, Asian, South American, but we have left out African. Which is the birth place of all of us. It is time to lean into the gifts of African Spirit medicine.”

The non-Christian roots of the circle are also clearly stated on this website which states that Baldwin and her friend Ann Linnea “deliberately began looking into their own Celtic and Nordic lineages searching for pre-patriarchal ways of being. They studied prehistory goddess cultures and researched material available through work such as Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, which explores pre-Roman European cultural influences.”

While no one can argue with the promotion of more effective communication, facilitators can easily infuse this group session with pagan practices and rituals that are not compatible with Christianity.  Judging by RM’s description of the lit candles, which upset her daughter, I suspect there is much more to the circle being conducted in her classroom than teaching people how to wait their turn before speaking.

If you’re getting resistance from the school, write a letter to the superintendent of schools. Explain how upset your daughter was with the circle and ask him or her why the Native American roots of this practice are not being fully disclosed to students so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to participate. Students should be informed that if the circle facilitators are using candles or other objects to build altars of worship to “group spirits” or any “Spirit” or power other than God, this is a violation of the First Commandment.

Because of the religious overtures in the use of peace circles, you have every right to insist that the school respect the “separation of church and state” and stop introducing children to pagan practices under the guise of learning how to communicate better.

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