10. The Religious Media
A book written from the diaries of the Nullarbor walkers managed to get a couple of reviews in the religious Press. And On Being magazine in Victoria gave its cover and several pages to an in-depth report on the group in 1985.
The reporter who prepared the On Being report, Peter Christopher, confided that his attempts to find out something about the Rappville Christians by asking Alan Gill, Religious Affairs Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, drew a complete blank. Alan pretended to know nothing about them, and he clearly did not want to know anything about them either. Such an attitude from a journalist, who is supposedly always looking for something "new" in the religious world, struck Peter as strange at the time. But it did not strike the Rappville Christians as strange.
They had come to know that the people most unanimously opposed to what they were saying were religious people. And even those professing Christians who might agree with them for a while, would always turn on them when they saw that agreement threatening their own wealth and livelihood.
Owen Salter, editor of On Being, wrote of the group: "When maverick Christians take extreme steps, we find it easy to condemn them outright as heretics or blasphemers. Dealing with them in love is much harder." He was referring to a statement by the Anglican Dean of Sydney, who was quoted in the media as having said the Nullarbor walk was "almost blasphemous". Owen was also commenting on the idea of the Rappville Christians burning money as a demonstration against idolatry (greed). Owen noted that a Christian protest in Melbourne in support of homeless youth at about the same time received much more favourable media coverage.
"Perhaps," he says, "it was that they belonged to a 'respectable' Christian organisation, FusionŠ [but] I think it was that their action dealt with a more respectable issue. We're all happy to nod our heads sagely, agreeing that youth homelessness is a terrible thing. But very few of us are prepared to say, 'You're right. Money is my idol; and I'd better remedy the situation.' The Sydney Christians strike people where it hurts." (On Being, July, 1985, page 13)
Unfortunately, something must have struck Owen Salter where it hurts as well, for a few months later, he wrote to one of his readers privately, commenting on a single statement from the diary of one of the teenage Nullarbor walkers, in which Robin Dunn wrote, "Churchgoers can get to heaven by showing love, even if they've missed the rest of what Christ said, because anyone who loves is born of God." The learned editor said of the youngster, "My fear is that Robin's position is one which Christian orthodoxy has always labelled problematical, if not heretical."
Would it be too simplistic to suggest that Owen may have been deluged with complaints from respectable readers and (more importantly) respectable advertisers, and thus had to distance himself from the uncomfortable issues that the group had raised? Whatever the reason, here he was suggesting that they were heretics, after having said that people find it too easy to dismiss their message by suggesting that they are heretics. Certainly if young Robin was a candidate for the heretic's stake, then John the Apostle, whom Robin was quoting (I John 4:7), must also have been in danger of hellfire!
At any rate, with Owen Salter's retreat from the issue, excommunication from the religious media was pretty well unanimous once again.
How could any one group antagonise so many different people from so many different points of view?