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The first thing people want to know when they hear of media censorship is why was it done? The answers will vary depending on who you ask. The person exercising censorship will usually start by denying that it is happening. He or she will say that the material was not newsworthy, or the letter to the editor was poorly written, or it wasn't topical enough, or that there wasn't room, and there were other stories or letters that were more worthy.

It is extremely difficult to prove censorship, because all it takes is a decision in the secret recesses of an editor or journalist's mind, and the act is done. There are so many excuses that can be used to cover up the decision.

But when the evidence becomes overwhelming, the next defence is that censorship was "necessary". The magistrate who said that religious leaflets should not be distributed in Moore Park (whether or not there was any law against such a thing) justified it on the grounds that it was "necessary" to have laws to protect us against "undesirables".

The argument of "necessity" may be true in some cases. Although there are extremists who would even defend articles teaching people how to make their own anthrax bombs, or people who would defend hard core pornography for children, most people can see the good sense in not making some things freely available to some people. Certainly family newspapers have the right to avoid topics which might be considered in poor taste; and each publication has its own target audience, which largely determines the subject matter that they will accept. But when the media decides to put a name on a particular person or group, and say that nothing from that source (whether relevant, interesting, harmless or not) will be allowed, then this represents the absolute worst form of censorship, and it should be universally abhorred. An article from the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan supporting racism may not be suitable for a woman's magazine. But if the same man contributed a fabulous recipe for pumpkin scones, it should be considered on its own merits.

What is most disturbing about blanket censorship is how it can be used against the very best possible teachings. Bad logic and misinformation can be refuted. But arguments which are overwhelmingly true must either be accepted or censored. All too often censorship is the preferred option. While it is wrong to deny a misguided person their right to have a say, it is unthinkable to deny the same right to someone who is telling the absolute truth, and who is doing so for a worthy cause.

It is almost a truism that if Jesus Christ were to come to Australia today, he would end up as he did in Israel so many years ago, i.e. crucified in one way or another. The reason he was rejected was not because he was dangerous or because he was wrong. It was because of what Owen Salter said about the Rappville Christians: He hit people where it hurt. He spoke "uncomfortable truths". As Herbert Agar once said, "The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear." We all like to think of ourselves as being tolerant people. But there are limits to how much we will tolerate. And most of us stop long before we tolerate anyone telling us that if we don't give up everything that we own, including our families and our jobs, we won't get to heaven. But that is the kind of stuff that Jesus Christ said. And it is the kind of stuff that the Rappville Christians teach. The Rappville Christians say that, if people reject them when they are only echoing what Jesus Christ said, then the people who are doing it are rejecting Jesus Christ. Underneath all of the publicity stunts and media games is a serious message that does not leave anyone feeling very "comfortable". They, like Jesus, are talking about radical changes in the way that people live. Despite all of our talk about tolerance, we soon find ourselves sympathising with whatever it takes to shut up such people when we sense that they are pointing their fingers at us.

And this is how the Rappville Christians explain the fact that virtually everyone (even those who started out defending them) turns on them in the end. "At some point, the penny drops," says one of their members. "We can almost hear it hitting the floor. The entire countenance changes, and the person who was defending us a moment ago suddenly starts to see logic in any argument that is raised against us. It happens because they have just realised that if they continue to defend us, they will eventually have to change themselves to conform with what we have been teaching, and they are not prepared to go that far. What started out as a purely theoretical thing suddenly turned practical, and that was too much."

What the Rappville Christians are saying is not some hair-splitting new theological excuse for a religious division. In simple English, they are saying that the word Christian needs to be re-defined as a follower, servant, student, or disciple of Jesus Christ, i.e. someone who tries to actually obey the things that Christ told his followers to do. For any number of reasons they have been gagged by the religious world for saying such a thing.

Excommunication of such people is only possible because the "community" as a whole (i.e. you and I) co-operates and refuses to "communicate" with the excommunicant. But think for a moment about how it must be for a person who has found something that is wholesome and powerful and true. If such a person cannot get anyone to listen because the price to receive what they are sharing involves too much change on the part of the listeners, then the mental anguish that such a person must go through would be almost enough to drive them insane.

I know, because I have been excommunicated.

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