This season leading up to Christmas is such a special time. We prepare our hearts for the coming of the newborn King and we can check our hearts as well. Scriptures have such a clear way of speaking to use.
When it comes to our neighbors in need, scripture is pretty clear. Consider the Proverbs:
“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31)
One trend that’s been all too clear in 2017 has been to mislabel those who struggle in this country. People call them dependent on the government, lazy, and mostly responsible for their own problems.
But this is not who they are in God’s eyes. They are simply our neighbors in need. Whether it’s because of health or job circumstance, family difficulties, or personal ones, many Americans need some additional help and support.
Our policy makers should be leading the example on how we talk about our neighbors in need and indeed, some are. As leaders accountable to God, our policy makers should set the tone both in words and deeds. The poor aren’t fundamentally abusers of the system, criminals, or the lawless. Instead, they are hard-working but struggling Americans that for reasons of health, family circumstance, job loss, or life circumstance have fallen on hard times.
These challenges produce a lot of anxiety and shame for the poor and while people certainly can misuse the system and should be held accountable, all of us need to remember that this is not the vast majority of our neighbors.
All of us have a responsibility to do more to help transform the lives of those in need. Consider the word of Jeremiah to us:
“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)
Here’s two areas that we offer that can strengthen the social safety net:
Expanded Flexibility for Mental Illness: Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion should look to states, which are allowing at home care for mental illness like is starting to happen in North Carolina and long-term impairment. The cost of at home care and prevention is substantially less than institutionalization.
Expanded Stability for the Medically Fragile and Complex: States should be given additional funding for the medically fragile and complex. Especially given the long waiting period for the medically complex in North Carolina, more is needed to help these families who are waiting for better care. Additionally, the CAP-C program is working well in North Carolina. Let’s continue to protect it and make sure it offers flexibility so parents can continue to work and receive adequate care.
2018 will be a year where people talk about the need to reduce the deficit, but we cannot reduce the deficit by simply cutting off those Americans in need. Whether it’s CHIP health insurance for children, or Medicaid, the goal should be improvements and tools needed to help our fellow citizens, not ways to make their lives even harder.
So our Christmas prayer is that the coming of Jesus might remind us of the inherent dignity and worth of all people, and might this Christmas season encourage generosity of heart and a more careful use of words and a deeper understanding of the scriptures when it comes to our neighbors in need.
James Brigman is the pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Rockingham. Alexei Laushkin is the executive director of the Kingdom Mission Society based in Herndon, Virginia.