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07 June 2013

On Pistorius, innocence, guilt and grace

On Pistorius, innocence, guilt and grace

An interesting week in history. D Day took place on 6 June 1944. The Queen celebrated her jubilee in 1977 (disturbingly I can remember this) and in 1990 Brussels kindly decided to lift the ban on British beef.  We would have to wait 13 years before we had the chance to eat European horse disguised as a beef lasagne.

Fast forward to now and so far this week Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelski, it's reported that the Finns put their babies to sleep in cardboard boxes and that Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was back in court over the death of his fiancée Reeva Steenkamp.

The prosecution has now postponed the trial in order to gather more ballistics data. Most likely the defence will then ask for a postponement so that it can read the reports. Most suspect that the trial won't get underway properly until sometime next year.

The incident is awash with controversy. A detective walked through pools of blood, rendering them useless as evidence. Another was under investigation for attempted murder and some of the defendant's items seem to have been stolen by 'officials' who were called to the crime scene. Of course, the big question is: was it murder? Was Pistorius wearing his prosthetic limbs and therefore acting in a premeditated way, or did he run on his stumps to the bathroom, thinking there was an intruder and shoot through the door? Did he bash the door panel to come to Reeva's aid? Was there a violent row? What was the motive for carrying Reeva downstairs? Scratching the surface, these are just some of the questions that will be discussed in court.

One thing is pretty clear though from Twitter. A great deal of campaigners, many Christians among them, had made up their minds within moments of the news reports. A new Twitter hashtag appeared – #justiceforsteenkamp – and immediately this case was cited as another example of domestic abuse ending in a murder.  I passionately campaign against domestic violence and I am hugely proud to support the brilliant organisation Restored.  The global statistics of male violence against women are horrific.

The reactions in this case, however, make me uneasy. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty and what happened to the gospel?

Now don't get me wrong.  If Pistorius is found guilty then justice should be done. If guilty, he is a very, very dangerous man and in need of serious help. But if he isn't guilty… 

In either case, in the final analysis, Oscar, whether murderer or not, is a man for whom Jesus died. It's devastating that Reeva was killed that night. She was a young woman with her whole future in front of her. If it was a tragic accident then that is truly traumatic. If it was murder then it is truly horrific. Let me be very clear.  It makes me angry in the right sense that domestic violence happens all the time. Two women a week in the UK die through the actions of violent men. It's time for good men to take a stand.

There is however another narrative running underneath this and other similar incidents. If the Bible is to be believed, then Jesus wants to one day welcome Oscar into the Kingdom (Luke 23:33-43). It's a tension.  How do we call out for justice but at the same time reach out to a 'vile offender' with mercy, grace, love and compassion? If Twitter's anything to go by, then we are doing the former better than the latter.  

Carl Beech is general director of CVM and is on the councils of the Evangelical Alliance, Restored, Fusion and the Proclaim trust.