Faith is on the minds of many in this week of Easter and Passover. There are as many flavors of belief as there are colors in a basket of jelly beans. If it's possible for a non-Catholic to have a crush on a Pope, then I do. If that's a sin, forgive me.
Pope Francis is unlike a number of his predecessors in that he apparently has read the owner's manual to his faith. This week he washed the feet of 12 inmates in Rome's Rebibbia prison. He broke a Vatican tradition by including six female prisoners. Historically, popes only wash the feet of men, supposedly because the apostles were all men. One of the women had her infant son with her. The pope washed and kissed his little foot too. The mother wept.
This is the third Holy Thursday on which Francis has washed the feet of people, as Jesus did for his disciples in the week before his death. Inmates, non-Catholics, the poor and the sick -- all treated with dignity, respect and affection by the boss Catholic. Last month, Francis had lunch with gay and transgender prisoners during a visit to Naples.
Though I attended a Jesuit university, I'm a Protestant. As a Christian, I see the actions of this pope as those of a true Christian, as I understand the meaning of that word. He regularly acknowledges the worth of humans who have been devalued or discarded by society.
When I was growing up near Nikolaevsk, an Old Believer Russian village on the Kenai Peninsula, there was an elder named Vasily Basargin. I remember that he was terribly scarred, like someone who had been chewed up. Millions of his Russian countrymen had been put to death during the first decades of communist rule there.
Mr. Basargin was one of those who had refused to renounce his faith. Instead of being herded into a barn, locked in with his family and neighbors and burned alive, he escaped to China. My father, the principal of the village school, would invite him to talk to students about their history. While in China, Mr. Basargin told the kids, he had a job catching bears and tigers. That's right: catching, not killing, because a live tiger or bear was more valuable.
The Old Believers ended up in America because President John Kennedy announced that Russian dissidents anywhere in the world would be welcome here.
The tyranny of communism drove the Believers from one continent to another. Religious persecution wasn't an abstract idea in Nikolaevsk. It was real, and it included a body count. Mr. Basargin wasn't interested in a state that banned religion, and neither am I. But I also don't believe in religious beliefs enforced by law.
Think about that and then think about the cynical actions of the Republican leaders of Indiana last week. The "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" was pushed by right-wing bigots in response to the growing recognition that LGBT citizens deserve the same rights as the rest of us. The act was a tool intended to enable discrimination against LGBT citizens under the guise of religious freedom. I wanted to ask Mr. Basargin what he thought about the horror of being forced to sell pizza for a gay wedding reception, but he's no longer with us. (The pope, by contrast, chose to share a meal with LGBT people.)
It's a shame that the small fraction of Indiana's people of faith, people who feel their peculiar brand of "Christianity" requires them to discriminate against LGBT citizens, tar every Hoosier. There are many places in the world where people of faith -- including Christians -- are persecuted to the point of being killed. Indiana isn't within a thousand miles of one of them.
If your idea of exercising your religious freedom is denying someone else the ability to buy a pizza or rent an apartment, then you haven't read the Christianity manual and you've certainly failed to grasp the lesson the pope is trying to teach. No matter what you believe, you aren't better than anyone else. If you can't tell the difference between "love your neighbor" and "turn your back on your neighbor," then you aren't a Christian.
Mike Pence, Indiana's panderer-in-chief, backtracked on the anti-rights bill this week. Why? Primarily because people from all walks of life and all faiths spoke up, loudly, in protest. His reversal reminded me of someone apologizing for telling a racist joke: "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that!"
Pence didn't reverse himself because of some epiphany that gay people are people. He flip-flopped because it turns out that legislated discrimination is bad for business. Walmart, Apple, the Disciples of Christ, the NCAA and NASCAR (among many businesses and organizations) made that crystal clear. The governor of Arkansas was smart enough to avoid the same mistake.
Meanwhile, here at home, the Alaska Family Action club has said, in an email sent this week, that it expects the Alaska "legislature to pass a similar bill." The Alaska Family Action folks claim to be working "in His name." I assume they mean Jesus. Apparently they didn't read the manual either.
For the benefit of the Alaska Family Actioneers, and Alaska legislators, Alaskans already have all the religious freedom they need to:
Aid the sick and poor. Feed the hungry. Love the unlovable. Forgive those with whom you don't agree. Treat your neighbor the way you'd like to be treated.
You know, practice their faith, like Pope Francis.
Rest In Peace, Vasily Basargin.
Happy Easter, Alaska.
Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.