What if we acted as if what Jesus said and did mattered? Here’s more ways to do it.

The most interesting thing about writing columns dealing with faith and values is the feedback from readers. People surely hold strong opinions regarding spiritual matters.

Sometimes the volume of responses can be overwhelming. But I enjoy reading them, even when I can’t answer them all.

I learn much. I hear from monks and atheists and professors and faith healers. Many readers are more insightful than I am (which isn’t necessarily saying a lot). They’ve had experiences I haven’t had. They’ve been places I haven’t seen. They’ve suffered slings and arrows I haven’t suffered. They’ve studied subjects in which I’m untutored.

Paul Prather
Paul Prather

Recently, I’ve written twice about what it might mean to religion, politics and our culture if Christians would quit trying to browbeat non-Christians into accepting their faith and obeying their rules, and instead went about quietly living the New Testament’s core commandments: that we love God and love our neighbors.

The second of those columns caught the eye of the Rev. Duane Beachey, a retired Mennonite minister who, among other things, formerly served as pastor of small Presbyterian churches in Letcher County’s Isom and Blackey communities. Beachey now lives in another state.

In addition to serving as a pastor in Texas and Kentucky, he had a long career working with the poor and the elderly in Oklahoma City, Okla., and San Antonio, Tex. He’s the author of “Reading the Bible As If Jesus Mattered,” available on Amazon.com.

He and his wife initially came to Letcher County in 2005 to serve with the Mennonite Central Committee’s Sharing With Appalachian People (SWAP) program, which helped bring in 1,000 volunteers a year to help repair homes.

The story of how he as a Mennonite ended up simultaneously pastoring two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations is a tad long, so for reasons of space I won’t go into that.

But Beachey emailed me about my column. He turned out to be one of those readers who knows more than I do and expresses it better.

“Over and over I (have) found by just pointing to Jesus again and again I could challenge some pretty conservative folks to a more inclusive and forgiving, and accepting understanding of the gospel,” he said.

He considers it his “good fortune” to have led those Appalachian churches, which he spoke of with affection. Letcher County was devastated in the recent flooding in eastern Kentucky.

“Some of my members lost homes,” he said.

But he was also a pastor there during a period of social upheaval within Presbyterianism, Christianity and American society.

It’s tricky and unfair to generalize about any church or geographical region. People everywhere are a mixed lot. Still, on the whole eastern Kentuckians tend to lean conservative on social and religious issues, including at least some of the Christians who belong to progressive denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The denomination’s decision to allow ordination of gay people offended many local members.

Of his parishioners Beachey said, “I had the challenge of helping them through the changes in the wider (Presbyterian) church of full inclusion of LGBTQ folks.”

How did he address that issue?

“My message was to look at how Jesus related to the outcasts of his day, noting that although we find no words of condemnation for the ‘prostitutes and sinners’ there were plenty of words of condemnation and ‘woes’ for the religious folks who were judging those people as unfit.”

I’m certain he wasn’t equating LGBTQ people with prostitutes and sinners per se. His point was that all of those groups had been ostracized by supposedly good religious people.

Beachey also addressed the Black Lives Matter movement when it made headlines. That was another controversial development for some people, including, again, some Christians.

Again, he pointed critics to the New Testament—to how Jesus and his followers dealt with those of other ethnicities, including the hated Samaritans and “unclean” Gentiles.

“Racial purity was so much a part of the Judaism of Jesus’ day that Jews were not even supposed to enter the home of a gentile for fear of being defiled,” Beachey said.

The animosities ran both ways, of course. Samaritans and Gentiles despised Jews, too.

In the gospels’ accounts, though, “the woman at the well asks (Jesus), ‘How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan?’” Beachey said.

Jesus had seen past her ethnicity and accepted her. He sent her out as one of the first evangelists of God’s grace.

For Beachey, the central miracle of the early church was its willingness to abolish racial barriers, what St. Paul described as a “dividing wall” intentionally torn down by Jesus.

Too often, Beachey said, although Christians “claim to take the Bible quite literally from Genesis to Revelation, they don’t take the words of Jesus literally most of the time.”

I couldn’t have said it as well myself. I’ll just add: Amen.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at pratpd@yahoo.com.