02/22/2007 03:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Poor and Sick Children Among Apathetic Christians

UNICEF's latest report on child well-being shows the U.S. failing miserably.

The report looked at six factors: material well-bring, health and safety, education, family and peer relationships, behaviors and risks, and kids' own perceptions of their well-being. The U.S. showed up 20th out of 21 countries surveyed. We were dead last in health and safety.

Why is it that every time a list comes out comparing advanced countries on quality of life issues -- health care, education, whatever -- we're at the bottom?

And why, moreover, do these reports receive such scant attention? Are we so used to hearing these figures that we've forgotten we're supposed to find them embarrassing?

What troubles me most, given my Christian faith, is that our nation's population is predominantly Christian yet consistently lags behind more secular countries when it comes to fulfilling Biblical mandates like caring for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:34-45), defending the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9), protecting children (Matthew 18:6), and all the rest.

Christian environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote an exceptional piece on this issue in Harper"s about a year and a half ago, lamenting that a country so Christian is so awful at living out Christian values:

"America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox -- more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese -- illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture."

McKibben argues that Americans have remade God in our own image, mistaking our materialistic, me-first creed for biblical Christianity. Perhaps the most striking piece of evidence he offers is a poll showing that 75% of Americans wrongly believe that the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is in the Bible. (Bill O'Reilly is one of them.) That the Bible repeatedly says the exact opposite is apparently little known.

What's clear, in any event, that my fellow Christians and I aren't doing our jobs. We are judging ourselves by our pocketbooks rather than by our compassion. We are failing to hold our public officials accountable when they protect the powerful and ignore the powerless. We are lifting our hands in church on Sunday while shrugging at human need Monday through Saturday. In short, we are putting the "I" over the "we." And we have no excuse.

No, government programs don't have to be the vehicle by which we advance our Christian values. Churches could step up. Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of the seminal Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, has pointed out again and again that with a reasonable amount of charitable giving, churches and individual Christians could end world poverty.

But that's not happening. And so I pose an honest question to the readers of the Huffington Post, Christian or not: how might we best engage Christians -- one way or another -- in the effort to serve the most vulnerable members of our society?