A Paralympic and Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius rose to fame during the 2012 Olympics becoming the first double leg amputee to compete.
In 2013, Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. During his original trial in 2014, Pistorius maintained that he thought an intruder was in his bathroom and shot a number of 'exploding bullets' (designed to cause maximum injury) through the locked bathroom door. Reeva Steenkamp was in the bathroom and died after Pistorius shot her.
Throughout his career Pistorius was very open about his Christian faith, he is quoted as saying 'God is the most important person in the world to me…if I’m on the right patch spiritually, it helps with everything else.' His public faith gained him credibility within Christian culture, with various Christian media outlets celebrating the ways he championed Christianity and gave glory to God and Jesus.
What emerges from other testimony about Pistorius is that he was angry and could be aggressive; that he was controlling and abusive in his relationship with Reeva Steenkamp, who was also a committed Christian. However, it was not evidence about his relationship with Steenkamp that led to the appeals court to convict Pistorius of murder, but rather they 'ruled that the lower court did not correctly apply the rule of dolus eventualis - whether Pistorius knew that a death would be a likely result of his actions'.
Since news emerged about Reeva Steenkamp’s death, many Christians across the world have sought to support Oscar Pistorius. Some within Christian culture have seemed unwilling to suggest he could be guilty, believing that his public statements of faith provided ample evidence that Pistorius could not have killed Reeva intentionally.
Support for Pistorius from those across Christian culture are not unusual. I have worked with many Christian women who have been subjected to abuse by their husband or partner. I have heard stories of Christians and Church leaders expecting women to submit better, pray more and forgive harder while the man who professes to love them is decimating them emotionally, tormenting them spiritually, controlling them financially and/or torturing them physically and sexually.
It has been left to feminists to stand up for Reeva Steenkamp. Soon after she was murdered by Pistorius, women created the hashtag #HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp in response to the majority of media outlets reporting her as 'Pistorius’ girlfriend' referring only to her career as a model; displaying large photos of her in revealing clothing. In being slow to relinquish our claim on Oscar Pistorius as 'one of us' Christians have been quick to diminish Reeva Steenkamp’s death and her family’s pain, preferring to sit on the fence, waiting for a verdict before we reluctantly admit maybe he wasn’t all that we put him on the Christian pedestal to be.
We must pray for Reeva Steenkamp’s family as they mourn her loss yet again. Thankfully the South African system has finally dealt justice, but for those who loved Reeva Steenkamp the cost in waiting for this will have been great.
As individuals and as a culture we must be willing to learn from this. Perhaps it starts by dismantling the pedestals that we erect for famous people who declare they serve God. We are all sisters and brothers, part of the same body, the Olympic athlete no better or more worthy than anyone else.
We need to get our house in order when it comes to abuse. Though little formal research has been done in the UK, all indicators suggest a similar level of abuse perpetrated towards women within Christian relationships as in wider society; approximately 25% of women in the UK will be subjected to abuse by a male partner. Much of the teaching on forgiveness, repentance, gender, divorce and remarriage and sex can leave women and girls disabled from making good choices in relationships. Each of us needs to realise that abusers exist in many of our church congregations, and there are women and girls in our Christian community whose husbands, partners or boyfriends are subjecting them to abuse.
We must no longer remain silent. Let us dismantle the pedestals and bring freedom to women and girls, boys and men in our churches as we recognise that abuse is not a problem 'out there' but within our own communities.
If you are currently concerned about your own partner’s abusive behaviour, or know someone who is being subjected to abuse contact: nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk 0808 2000 247. If you are a man subjected to abuse by a partner, contact: www.mensadviceline.org.uk 0808 801 0327.