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Forget ‘Happy Holidays.’ Let’s talk about Congress this Christmas.

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The following is a guest post from Cheryl Bridges Johns and Alexei Laushkin

The season leading to Christmas can be so busy and bustling that we overlook the staggering invitation to peace and tranquility. But Advent is a reminder that God stands ready to invite us into his kingdom. And this should be good news for all people, especially our neighbors in need.

That’s why we believe that Christians should set aside time amid the Christmas bustle to reflect on Congress.

Talking about public policy may not seem like a festive activity, but it is sorely needed. In 2017, many in the halls of power misrepresented and mislabeled those in need. People who struggle were often painted as lazy, dependent on the government, and responsible for their own problems.

But Christmas reminds us that this is not how God’s sees those in need. They are simply our neighbors and we are called to care for them. Whether it’s because of health or job circumstance, family difficulties or personal crisis, many Americans need additional help and support.

Policy makers should be leading by example on how to talk about our neighbors in need. They set the tone of these debates both in word and deed. Poor people aren’t fundamentally abusers of the system, criminals, or the lawless. Rather, the overwhelming majority are hard working Americans that have fallen on hard times due to reasons outside of their control.

These challenges produce a lot of anxiety and shame for poor people. It is irresponsible for political leaders on the national or local level to feed stereotypes and misconceptions about our fellow citizens. Indeed, only through encouragement, creating a culture of stability, and unleashing tools of empowerment will people’s lives stabilize and make a turn for the better.

So what can Congress do to strengthen the social safety net and better love those in need? We have two ideas:

Expanded Flexibility for Mental Illness: Medicaid and Medicare should be expanded to include at-home care for mental illness and long-term impairment.  Increased funding for home care is both compassionate and economically sustainable. 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 those requiring complex care. Steps should be taken to grant working families tools to receive the treatment they need in the home. This is, again, far less expensive than institutionalization and would provide a measure of benefit to families with complex medical needs.

As people feel empowered to live well, they begin to once again dream of a better life for themselves and their children.

2018 will be a year where people talk about the need to reduce the deficit, but we cannot do this by simply cutting off Americans in need. Whether it’s the Tax Bill enacted by the Congress, CHIP health insurance for children, or Medicaid, the goal should be improving access to the 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. May this Christmas season encourage generosity of heart and a more careful use of words when it comes to our neighbors in need.

Cheryl Bridges Johns, PhD is the Robert E. Fisher Professor of Spiritual Renewal and Christian Formation, Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN)

Alexei Laushkin is the Executive Director of the Kingdom Mission Society based in Herndon, VA

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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