Despite its slimness, this is a substantial book. Livingston has written an important book that fills a lacuna in the church's pastoral response to domestic and intimate violence perpetrated by one of its members. Physical and sexual violence is a discomforting topic for the church, as it is for the culture at large. Much of that discomfort revolves around the dilemma of what to do with and for the agent of violence. What is the church's response to violent men in her midst?
At its base this is a theological text. Livingston strives to understand the phenomenon of male violence by critically examining the theological intersection of theology of the human person, culture, redemption, reconciliation, and healing. Why do men effect intimate violence? What dynamics do church and culture contribute to male intimate violence? Can such men be redeemed? How might the church be an agent of reconciliation toward the male offender, for the victims, for the church herself? Can authentic healing occur for all involved in this complex relationship? These are no small questions that Livingston raises, but Livingston achieves his aim.
Livingston anchors his text in his experience of working with male violent offenders. Livingston begins by giving a thorough, factually accessible overview of intimate violence. Livingston grounds his analysis in Walker's stage theory of domestic violence and extends this analysis by utilizing the depiction of power and control put forth by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth. Livingston does a solid job of painting the complex landscape of intimate violence in a manner that helps the reader recognize the significance of the issue while not being moved to paralytic inaction. Livingston well lays the task before us when he says, "To heal the wounds of the perpetrator and the survivors of intimate violence, the ecclesial community must realize the multiple levels of violation and enduring dynamics that hinder and limit the potential for successful healing, (p. 24)."
The heart of this text is Livingston's depiction and analysis of reconciliation, which Livingston refers to as a deep symbol. Livingston draws upon the theological resources of the Christian tradition to plumb the depths of reconciliation as a deep symbol. Livingston carefully separates reconciliation from forgiveness. Forgiveness tends to want to put the transgression in the past, thereby lessening the accountability of the violent offender. In fact, as Livingston rightly notes, intimate violence offenders prey upon the notion of forgiveness as a way of insinuating themselves into a greater position of control. Further, forgiveness generally occurs between the offender and the victim and the larger community remains at the margin. Livingston paints an interesting and exciting picture of Aquinas' understanding of reconciliation: contrition, confession, satisfaction, and absolution. Livingston builds upon Aquinas' distinction between attritio (in which fear motivates us to avoid punishment, p.70) and contritio (in which the love of God motivates us to amend our lives and to crush our hardened wills into little pieces so that one can see the love of God, p.71, 72). It is Livingston's assessment that most offenders who are court-ordered into a treatment program exhibit attritio and assiduously avoid contritio because that would involve making themselves vulnerable. Part of the task of the ecclesial community is to lead violent offenders to contritio and not be fooled by displays of attritio, no matter how sincere it appears. Rather than event, reconciliation is an on-going life process that involves multiple spheres: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social.
Livingston recognizes the power of vengeance and our temptation to lust for vengeance as a mistaken act of justice toward the offender. Vengeance eats at the heart of victims and at the soul of the ecclesial community because the demands for vengeance can never be met. If the demands for vengeance can never be met, the satisfaction can never occur and we are caught in an endless cycle of destruction (This is an important line of analysis to explore in light of the current clergy sex abuse scandals). According to Livingston, "[T]he primary goal is not to abandon the perpetrator to the often dehumanizing realities of the criminal justice system. It is instead to bring about a re-humanization of even the most brutal criminals. Re-humanization is a central aim of reconciliation," (p. 88). The desire for vengeance thwarts the healing of both the perpetrator and the victims.
Livingston concludes by arguing that the ecclesial community must take a prophetic stance toward itself and see its own complicity in the cycle of intimate violence. The Christian tradition must critically examine its teaching, its interpretive stance toward scripture, its theology of the human person, its theology of marriage and human relationship, and its structure and see how it lays the foundation, subtly and not so subtly for male dominance and violence. "As a representative of God's liberating love on earth, the ecclesial community must be involved in a never-ending self-criticism and never-ending life of contrition," (p. 93). Livingston calls for the ecclesial community to develop a relational theology and ecclesiology that offers witness to the healing power of God's love while seeking for justice, living toward mercy, and fostering conversion. No small order in the attempt to bring peace to the world one person at a time (p. 97).
This book is an important text. It is highly recommended for persons involved in pastoral ministries.