Augsburg Fortress

Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities

Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities

Domestic violence is a widespread, though largely invisable, problem, often exacerbated by the pastoral urge to "keep the family together" at all costs. Yet if that is not a solution, how should the church relate to batterers?

"I believe that the Christian community, if it is to be genuinely a community of healing and hope, must attend to both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence," says David Livingston. Addressing the complex phenomenon of intimate violence against wives, lovers, and children, Livingston profiles batterers and battering and traces it to larger cultural pathologies. He explores the ambiguous role of religion and then offers practical advice for pastoral and programmatic efforts to embrace simultaneously the twin Christian imperatives of forgiveness and responsibility.
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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800632519
  • eBook ISBN 9781451405873
  • Age/Grade Range Adult
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 144
  • Publication Date January 18, 2002


"David Livingston treats domestic violence as gravely as any other form of torture and asks, 'What is the path to authentic repentance and reconciliation for the batterer? What is the responsibility of the Christian community?' Livingston has made a serious contribution toward the struggle for truth, justice, and reconciliation in the home."
— Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
President, Chicago Theological Seminary

"David Livingston draws on his clinical experience, the factual record, and theological resources for an impressive study of a topic often ignored in the church and the academy. A factually informed, wise, compassionate, and helpful book."
— Edward Farley
Vanderbilt Divinity School

"This book helps to meet a desperate need. Livingston suggests a radical redefinition of reconciliation that shifts the focus from the victim to the community and sets high standards for what reconciliation might mean for all people."
— James N. Poling
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary


Excerpt from Chapter 1

The Ambiguity of Reconciliation
To discuss the phenomenon of intimate violence, its perpetrators and survivors, and the dynamics involved between these agents, we must first understand how such things are humanly possible. We must also see these dynamics within a larger framework that includes the appropriateness of reconciliation. As I argue below, the human is a relational being who has the capacity to violate and be violated, as well as the capacity to heal and to forgive, and must be open to transformation through a critical praxis. It must also be possible to draw from the many individual experiences and unique relationships some abstractions or theoretical reflections that combine to provide a relatively adequate description of the dynamics present in intimate violence. I maintain that the symbols present in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in spite of their capacity for ongoing dehumanization, also contain resources that can call us beyond violation and toward the formation of increasingly nurturing relationships. ...

Many classic symbols exist within the Christian tradition, including sin, hope, heaven, messiah, and grace. The classic that we will be examining throughout this project is that of "reconciliation." Reconciliation is a fundamental symbol of the Christian tradition. Reconciliation is distinct from forgiveness because it involves more than forgiveness and is a communal rather than an individual phenomenon. Reconciliation has its linguistic roots in re-conciliation, that is, rejoining the concilium or community. This aspect of rejoining the community is distinct from reunion, which is merely re-uniting something that was once a unity or a single entity. Instead we speak of rejoining a community, a community where each member has his or her own autonomy but also needs the support of the others in the community. The question we are asking is whether a violation within the community calls for reconciliation or ostricization. ...

The Dynamics of Domestic Violence
The dynamics of domestic violence must be clearly understood by pastoral professionals working with couples in various contexts. Further, it is the responsibility of the church community to advocate for those who suffer abuse at the hands of their partners. Advocacy for the safety and well being of those violated is an important concern of this work, though not the central one. Many excellent books offer pastoral guidance on the church's relationship to survivors of domestic violence, and many of them can be found in this book's bibliography. I believe that these books have done an excellent job of addressing the needs of abused women, but the batterers are most often discussed only in relation to the women and children they have abused. Here I focus my reflections on the men who are abusive and the relationship that the church should have to these men. This book addresses the cause of the violence and claims that through a responsible, loving response to the batterer, the church community fulfills its call to "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). This is not a simple love but a complex dynamic of disciplined watchfulness and patient encouragement. Men who have been violent with their partners are members of our towns and cities and also members of our church communities. Our communities cannot abandon these men; abandonment will only exacerbate their situation. The Christian community has already done enough to endorse this violent behavior, as we will see in Chapter 3, but to neglect the responsibility to love and serve even the most violent and often unlikable people is unacceptable.

How does domestic violence occur, and what are its recurring characteristics? I draw on my own personal experience working with batterers as well as the social-scientific research of the last two decades to outline the basic features and to move from understanding to structural change. It is only after one comes to understand how men choose to be violent and why there remains a sense of desire to stay together after the violence, that one can move on to an appropriate response to intimate violence. I begin this analysis with a portrayal of a violent man. His story is not unique; in fact, its banality is what is most disturbing. ...


Excerpt from the Preface

This project arises as a theological response to working with men who have been violent with their wives, lovers, and children. Having spent several years challenging the beliefs and confronting the denial of violent offenders, I have heard men tell their stories and have seen their victims' bruises, as well as their children's anguished and often futile attempts to "understand" the violence between their parents. The broken lives and bodies of these women and children, along with the confusion, arrogance, and despair of these men, are the concrete foundation to which this project will return as its final referent and judge. ...

I have ... confined my reflections to the preponderance of literature in the field, which supports the proposal that men, even if they are no more likely to strike their partner than are women, are far more likely to inflict harm and to intimidate their partner. I have also focused on male violence toward women within intimate relationships, because I have worked with these men. I believe that it is my role as a white male theologian to reflect on the potential for violation and reconciliation. I assume a decidedly pro-feminist orientation, which I believe is also pro-male, when I attempt to understand and ameliorate, if not eliminate, the violence that occurs through the hands of men on the people they claim to love.

The first step of the analysis is to engage the phenomenon of intimate violence itself in all its complexity and diversity and attempt, through a careful examination, to pull out of this phenomenon certain modes of relationality that are violated. For this reason, the analysis in the first chapters progresses from an extended reflection on the phenomenon of violence itself and specifically of intimate violence (chapter 1), through a reflection on the nature of violence and its cultural underpinnings (chapter 2), followed by a sociocultural analysis of the symbols of marriage, and reconciliation and the impact these symbols have on the lived experience of both perpetrator and survivor (chapter 3).

The second portion of the project occurs in two chapters that draw upon this phenomenology to reconstruct the doctrine of reconciliation in terms of "re-conciliation," that is, a re-admission to the ecclesial community. Reconciliation focuses on a sense of primary relationality that is grounded in responsibility, rather than a desire for reunion of those separated by the violence. Chapter 4 proposes that reconciliation may be understood as a deep symbol of the tradition. It holds in tension a call for unending responsibility and therefore a refusal of simple reunion, on the one hand, and a Christian demand for forgiveness and love that requires all to be reconciled to the ecclesial body, even if not to the violated partner, on the other. The book concludes with the application of the conclusions of chapter 4 into practical approaches to serving violent men both in the parish community and the larger society. ...

Table of Contents


1. Violent Men in Our Communities: The Dynamics of Intimate Violence
The Ambiguity of Reconciliation
Encountering Violent Men: Revulsion and Hope
Working with Violent Men
The Dynamics of Domestic Violence
Power and Control
The Possibility of Healing

2. Violence: Destruction of the Mysterious Human Center
Cultural Influences on Violent Men
Are Men Inherently Violent Creatures?
The Hydraulic Model
A Girardian Interpretation of Violence
Ready to Snap like a Mousetrap
Gender and Violence
Media and Violence
Interpreting Violence as Constructive or Destructive
Crime and Punishment: Constructive or Destructive Violence?
The Warnings Offered by Violence

3. Does Christianity Throw Gas on the Flames of Violence?
The Classic Symbol of Marriage
The Marriage of Hosea
Historical Christian Interpretations of Marriage
Wives Be Submissive
Rape in Marriage
The Theodicy Question
Marriage as a Symbol of Hope
Images of the Divine
God in Control
God as Omniscient and Omnipresent
God's Vulnerability in Christ

4. Reconciliation: A Model for Addressing Male Violence
The Biblical Logic of Reconciliation
Reconciliation in the Early Christian Tradition
A Thomistic Interpretation of Reconciliation

5. Reconciliation: A Responsible Approach to Intimate Violence
Scarring: An Important Metaphor for Understanding Violence
Healing the Individual: Reconciliation in the Individual Sphere
Contrition: The Recognition of the Face
Confession, Satisfaction, and Absolution
Healing the Interhuman Sphere
Healing the Community: The Social Level of Reconciliation
The Dialectic of Reconciliation

1. Indicators that a Man May Kill His Partner
2. Accountability
3. Control Log: Men's Education Groups
4. An Annotated Website Bibliography

Selected Bibliography