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"Why do you suppose so many people dislike you?"

It was the first question (and the last) in a media interview in which I kept feeling that I was not being heard.

"Can you see similarities between yourself and the Little Pebble?" she asked. The Little Pebble is the leader of a maverick Australian Catholic group who is presently in court on sexual assault charges against a 14-year-old girl.

In answer to the first question, I had said that I believe our determination to follow Jesus to the extremes that he taught were "convicting" to people who are not prepared to take the ideals they profess to the same extremes.

"Because they are not prepared to put their love into action in similar ways, they feel almost obligated to belittle our own efforts," I had explained.

"If, for example, you are not prepared to share a kidney with someone who is dying from kidney failure, then you are more likely to believe that our efforts to help the dying in that way come from corrupt motives. It's kind of a natural defense mechanism."

The Little Pebble question was just further proof that this reporter was one of those who felt threatened by our lifestyle. She had, months earlier, contacted us wanting to do a story about our efforts to donate kidneys in Australia. She was gathering information from a beautiful young woman in Queensland, named rachel. Rachel had two small children. Her husband had recently been killed in a car crash. She was desperately seeking a kidney donor, for fear that her two children might be left orphans if she did not find a donor quickly.

We ourselves had just been castigated by the Victorian Minister for Health, because we admitted that two of our members had lied, saying that they had known their recipients for many years, in order to be cleared to donate to them. The Minister for Health promised that no Jesus Christian would ever be allowed to donate to anyone dying in her state because of kidney disease.

"Anyone who would lie to medical authorities about something like this would lie about other things," she said. "These are the kind of people that our legislation is trying to protect the public from."

So we had decided to do things the system's way with Rachel. One of our members, working in Kenya at the time, struck up a friendship with Rachel via email. He would let the authorities know the truth--that he had only known her for a short time, less than a year. And he would ask for permission to donate to her. He would keep on asking until the authorities determined that the friendship had lasted long enough to qualify him for the privilege of donating his kidney to Rachel. ("Long" is never defined in the code of ethics on this issue.)

Eventually he returned to Australia from Kenya, in order to meet Rachel personally and further push his claim for a right to donate to her. Our reporter friend had been sent a powerful and moving firsthand account of what was happening, written by Rachel herself. Like I said, a beautiful woman with a beautiful spirit... and articulate too. The reporter had arranged to meet and interview the young Jesus Christian who hoped to donate to Rachel.

But even as he was preparing for the journey to Brisbane from Sydney, we received the shocking news that Rachel had died suddenly. Prolonged dialysis had weakened her heart and caused a massive heart attack. We were too late.

"Please, can you do the story anyway?" I asked in an email to our reporter friend. "This will illustrate in a tragic and powerful way exactly what we have been saying for years. Real people are dying while hospital authorities drag their feet with regard to making the changes that are so urgently needed, to allow live unrelated organ donations."

But oddly, the reporter completely lost interest. "I'll get back to you," she wrote, but then she never did.

Could it have been because she, like so many others before her, had never intended to do a report expressing our real reasons for donating organs and for trying to get others to donate? Could it be that she wanted only to spread more innuendoes about us being a sick cult, who coerces people into donating out of some perverted sense of religious duty? Could it be that Rachel's death would have spoiled the fun she was going to have at our expense, by forcing people to face the reality that everyone seems so deeply committed to ignoring? the reality that people are dying for lack of kidney donors?

For whatever reason, we did not hear back from her until news broke that one of our members had been abducted by Kenyan police and that he had been held as a hostage for ten days, without charges being laid, in open contravention of Kenyan law. (He was later charged with abduction by police, acting under instructions from the rich and powerful father of a 27-year-old single mother who had joined our community.)

We had posted a powerful video on our website from the woman herself, clearly stating that the dispute was a domestic one, and that her father was targetting the Jesus Christians as a way to get revenge on her. The case for our innocence was overwhelming. Surely this time the reporter would be able to see the injustice of the situation and the rightness of our cause.

But, as I said, she started (and ended) her interview with that same ridiculous question: "Why do you suppose so many people dislike you?"

Because she had nothing better to throw at us, she was using the stoning itself as proof that we must deserve what we were getting!

"I used to ask myself, 'Why did people kill Jesus, when all he did was try to help others?'" I had begun.

"Surely you can't compare yourself with Jesus," she had shot back.

But now she was comparing us with the Little Pebble, a man who was apparently a sex offender against a 14-year-old girl. That was okay, when comparisons with Jesus were not?

"So why did you pick the Little Pebble?" I asked her. "Why not Jim Jones? or Hitler? or Attila the Hun?"

"I don't know about Attila the Hun," she blushed, "but Jim Jones is a good illustration."

"And what do I have in common with these people?" I asked.

"Well, they believed that Jesus is going to return, and that the world is going to end," she volunteered.

"True. But, for that matter, so does the Pope." She went silent at last, giving me a chance to make a further point.

"You see, if there is anything wrong with the Little Pebble, or Jim Jones, or David Berg, the founder of the Children of God..."

"Yes, I wanted to talk about him. Thanks for bringing him up," she interjected as she glanced down at her clipboard. She had raised the spectre of the Children of God and their notorious sexual practices in her second question, but now she was trying to say that I was the one bringing it up. And something told me that no matter how much the story needed to be trimmed down back at the office, the Children of God were still going to get a mention. After all, I had spent a few months in one of their communes a quarter of a century ago! (Reporters never say that I left them specifically because that was the time when they started preaching sexual promiscuity as a way of winning converts.)

But I pushed on with my point.

"If there is, or was, anything wrong with these men, it is, or was, that they failed to question themselves. They failed to realise that there is in each of us the potential to do evil, to even become axe murderers under the right circumstances."

"Nonsense!" blurted out my interviewer, overcome with a spirit of defensiveness without realising that in the context she was actually defending Jim Jones, David Berg, and the Little Pebble.

"How can you say such a thing?" she asked incredulously.

"Look at it like this," I replied. "Almost the entire population of Australia has calmly accepted a decision by our government to slaughter thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians."

My interviewer almost leapt out of her seat in defense. "That is not a fair comparison at all!" she shouted. "That nothing to do with axe murderers!"

"I'm trying to show how evil comes in stages," I said. But my opportunity for rational discussion had passed. She was not listening again. She glanced at her clipboard and blurted out the next name on her list.

"What about David Koresh? What do you think of him?"

"What do you mean: what do I think of him?" I responded. "I have tried to model my life on Jesus, Gandhi, Sister Teresa, Martin Luther King. Wouldn't it make better sense to consider how well or poorly I am measuring up to those goals?

No reply. She veered off into something else, eventually coming back to the question with which she had begun the interview. It seemed to represent the be-all and end-all of her case against me.

"So why DO you suppose so many people dislike you?" Like I said, the woman was NOT a good listener.

"You're a stubborn one," I said. "I already told you that it's because they feel convicted. Jesus convicted people. Gandhi convicted people. Sister Teresa convicted people."

"So are you saying that I have to live the kind of life you live or I'm going to hell?" asked her partner, the one with the camera. "I'm not perfect, but then I'm not an axe murderer either. So is God going to send me to hell just because I don't live like you?"

He seemed to be asking the question a bit more sincerely than his lady friend, so I tried again.

"I don't think anyone knows where God draws the line between pass and fail," I said. "I think it's different for each person."

The photographer smiled, apparently happy with that reply.

"I don't know what happens after we die either; but I do feel that we should do all we can to aim for perfection in this life. That's why I try to follow people who set high standards."

"That makes sense," he agreed.

But then the interview was over, and I was left to await once again the publication of one woman's assessment of my worth as a human being. Would I be depicted as some kind of unreal saint? as an axe murderer? or as I really am, just an ordinary person trying to do my best to make a better world?




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