By Tom Ehrich

Conservative Christians -- conservative politicians, too -- are fond of saying the United States was founded to be a "Christian nation."

They don't mean that, of course. They don't mean a nation grounded in Christian values -- as Jesus actually said and did -- or a nation bringing such bedrock principles as the Sermon on the Mount into practice.

What they mean by "Christian nation" is a nation ruled by Christians, and not just any Christians, but Christians like them, who draw on cherry-picked scriptures to justify their hatred of homosexuality, their hatred of Jews, their desire to subjugate women, and their tendency to put whites above all others.

Take giving, for example. Jesus counseled his followers to be radically generous. One even gave away half of his wealth. Modern Christians, by contrast, are radically stingy, even constituents of the supposedly tithe-centered congregations.

In all, nearly half of Americans give nothing -- zero -- of their income away to others. That's true in Christian communities, as well as in the population as a whole.

Some 40% give 2% or less, a small fraction of the Biblical tithe, an amount best characterized as "tipping," not giving.

Only 9% give away as much as one-twentieth of their income. And only 2.7% give a tenth.

Giving isn't the only measure of faithfulness, of course, but it is a significant one, because it expresses gratitude and generosity, two fundamental values of a people who think themselves connected with God.

Our nation desperately needs Christians to be generous. For it is people of faith who will bridge the terrible gap between a few wealthy and a mass of have-nots.

We will have to provide preschools for at-risk children. We will have to provide job training, maybe even employment, for the nearly 25% who are functionally unemployed. We will protect vulnerable minorities, as Jesus did. We will provide sanctuaries for abused women, as Jesus did. We will help migrants find hope.

If Christians actually behaved like Christians in the manner of Jesus, this would be a much better nation. We wouldn't care about holding political power. Our hearts would be set on helping people.