There is a fierce debate going on in our congress about health care and insurance, whether to continue, repeal or modify the Affordable Care Act. There’s a glimmer of hope that a bipartisan agreement can be reached, I pray it will happen.

There’s one question that I want Christians and other people of faith to consider: What about the children? Do we have an obligation to care for our children and provide health care coverage for them? Children make up about a quarter of the U.S. population, but about half of the Medicaid population. They constitute the single largest eligibility group in the Medicaid program and thus would be the largest population group affected by budget cuts that are currently being considered by Congress and advocated by President Trump.

We’ve all heard the figure that 22 million people would lose health care coverage if the Affordable Health Care is repealed. What we don’t hear about is the 11 million children and babies who would lose health care coverage. As a native Montanan, I’ve been taught that Montanans protect children and we take care of our own. Montanans bend over backwards to generously help our neighbors in need, like we’re doing now, helping those suffering from the fires. The Montana Standard (6-17) reported 75,000 Montanans were at risk of losing health care coverage; that means 37,500 children and babies in our towns and neighborhoods would be at risk, amounting to $5 million dollars of federal aid to the poor children is eliminated.

So why do we shrug our shoulders and look the other way when children are at risk, like the Levite and priest did when they passed by the injured man in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. 37,500 children and babies will be lying helpless in the ditch on the side health care road if the Affordable Health Care Act is repealed. The outcast in the parable, the Samaritan, showed mercy. So, Jesus said, “Say to yourself and your leaders, it’s not my problem or responsibility! Never raise my taxes to take care of someone in need!” Of course not, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise, be the good neighbor, show mercy to the one in need.” Well, 37,500 children are in need and at risk now! We would not think twice about helping our own children or grandchildren, but for children who are poor or need health care assistance, we blame the parents and say, “they should be responsible.” But should children suffer because the parent(s) are neglectful or at fault? Should we add to their neglect by eliminating health care?

God always has a soft spot for children. Psalm 68:5 says “The father of the fatherless (single mother?) and protector of the widows is God in his holy habitation.“ God passionately protects and favors the little ones, the widows and the poor.

God’s white hot judgment is against those who oppress children and widows. God says in Exodus 22:21-24 “You shall not wrong a sojourner (temporary refugee) or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” Perhaps we and our leaders should fear God’s judgement for the neglect and oppression of our children rather constantly harping about our paying more taxes.

My church gives thousands of dollars to help Bob’s Pantry at the Helena Middle School, Florence Crittenden Home, the Friendship Center, World Hunger and Helena Food Share. The Good Samaritan Store sponsored by our Catholic friends assists thousands of needy people each year. Our Redeemer’s Lutheran makes thousands of school bag food packs to send home with hungry kids after school .The Salvation Army and Family Promise have amazing compassionate ministries that help children and families. The churches and faith communities and its members do believe we are our little brother’s keeper. But, Churches and ministries don’t have the means to meet the massive needs we have in our society. When I in 7 people are hungry in the Helena community and 1 in 5 Helena children don’t know where their next meal is coming from (Helena Food Share Website) there’s something wrong. Why should children in Montana, known as the wheat and cattle basket of the US, ever go hungry? The cuts to the Medicaid program will create more hungry children, drastically cut funding for at risk kids in school and will significantly affect those with the most extensive health care needs. Does this bother you, fellow members, and people of faith here in the Helena area? It does me. It seems immoral and unconscionable.

God has established and ordained government to do God’s will (Romans 13). Paul says in Romans 14:5 “For the government authority is God’s servant to do you good.” God establishes our government to restrain evil and to do good. If citizens will not willingly and generously show mercy towards the neighbor, God uses the law to compel us to care for the neighbor. Paul says in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to the neighbor.” In my thinking, abandoning children who need health care does harm to the smallest neighbor. So Paul says, “Pay your taxes to whom taxes is due.” God will protect and do good to our littlest neighbor, either by the good will of compassionate people, or against our will through taxes which protect and help the most vulnerable.

If you’re like me, you’ve been quiet and have never called your legislative representatives about vulnerable children and others affected by the massive health care cuts and proposed cuts to Medicaid. We may have called and complained about personal tax hikes, but isn’t time to call on behalf of vulnerable children? For me it is. If we don’t speak up for the children, who will? We churches in the mainline have been on the sideline as far as being advocates for vulnerable children. It’s time to put our words into action. Here are some contact numbers if you would like to speak up for our children.

US Congressional Contacts: Steve Daines 202-224-2651

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Jon Tester 202-224-8594, https://www.tester.senate.gov

Greg Gianforte 202-235-3211 https://gianforte.house.gov

In Mark 10:13-14 Jesus was ministering to his followers. From the King James Bible we read: “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. “ Jesus welcome and received children and blessed them. Will we turn them away? The choice we face regarding the Affordable Care Act is a moral and spiritual choice that will affect the lives of thousands of children. Will we “suffer the little children “or will we “make the children suffer?” It’s time to act, God’s children need us. It’s God’s work, but it’s our hands and voices that God uses to protect the most vulnerable. For God’s sake, and for our children’s, let’s do the right thing that God asks us to do!

The views expressed in this column are the personal reflections and theology of Pastor Brad Ulgenes, not St. John’s Lutheran Church as a whole. Pastor Ulgenes has served there for the past 5 ½ years. Pastor Ulgenes is married to Elaine. They are parents to three grown children. He is a huge Minnesota Vikings fan and enjoys his Norwegian Culture, his church, and beautiful Helena.

 

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