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My Money's On The Cult

I'M not interested in cults, as a rule.

But for some years I've been following the progress of the little group that calls itself the Jesus Christians. The group has been in the news many times over the years, and in recent weeks has made the front page because one of its members has been accused of abduction in Kenya.

As often as not, when the Jesus Christians hit the headlines they are referred to as a cult. If cult means they are outside the mainstream, the term fits. But if it means they indulge in bizarre rituals and weird, antisocial activities, I'm not so sure.

My first encounter with the group was quite some years ago in Newcastle's Hunter Street Mall, where some members were handing out little palm-sized tracts. I took one and, because it was illustrated with some exceptional artwork, I even read it. It was called A New Economic Policy and it argued that Jesus Christ's teachings could, if applied literally, amount to world-changing economic reform.

This was just one of many very clever little comic books produced by the group, with most of the artwork by Kevin McKay, who happened to be a very accomplished artist in the naive style.

Naive is what many people would have called the Jesus Christians, mainly because their avowed intention was to live to the spirit of the Gospels.

The group was founded by Kevin's American-born father David, who told me he used to work for the Bible Society.

David seems to alternately seek and eschew publicity for the group's activities and, for a long time, I was happy to receive a newsletter which kept me informed of their campaigns, schisms, arguments with mainstream churches and fights with secular authorities, some of which I recall.

The group rubber-stamped the logo "greed breeds mean deeds" on paper currency before putting it back in circulation.

They burned dollar notes outside Parliament House in Canberra, prompting a clash with police who arrested them and charged them with destroying currency. Personally, I thought it strange that farmers could destroy thousands of dollars worth of produce in similar protests without getting anybody very upset. The bizarre overreaction of the police added weight to the group's accusation that money was our society's real deity. A subsequent court case saw them cleared when the judge declared that people owned their own money and could do what they wanted with it. New laws were then apparently drafted, making it an offence to destroy money.

They walked across the Nullarbor Plain, complete with children, to demonstrate that God would provide. This became a matter of some debate when they accepted lifts and donations of food. Their argument was that these helping hands were God's way of providing.

[Note: The walkers accepted no lifts.  They walked the whole way.  But they did accept donations of food by passing motorists.]

Some of them went to India (a few learnt nursing specifically in order to become useful there) where they ran a clinic. They dressed in dinner suits and stood up to their shoulders in an open sewer in a poor neighbourhood, eventually shaming some local rich people into helping cover the drain and turn it into a playground. Some of the members came back with Indian brides.

Some of the group dressed as prophets and drove up the NSW east coast. At various towns they stood with ironic placards outside shopping malls, urging people to repent. Oddly, this aroused many local church leaders and authorities to a pitch of fury and the prophets copped a few beatings before returning home.

Told by Social Security that they had to seek work in order to get the dole, the group advertised that they would do any kind of worthwhile work, free of cost, for anybody. I thought it was a great idea. There were loads of people unemployed at that time and at least this group was doing some good work, painting houses for pensioners and so forth. The authorities, however, felt such ideas undermined the spirit of capitalism. Of course, "work for the dole" is now common.

The group has long since stopped sending me their newsletter. But from time to time like when Dave McKay announced he was giving a kidney to a total stranger (I'm not sure whether he went through with it) and when the arrest in Kenya became public I pay a bit of attention.

Are the Jesus Christians a cult? That depends on what you mean by "cult".

Are they hurting anybody? Doesn't look like it to me.

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