American Christians are living in a divisive time of profound paranoia and deliberate deception – much of it advanced by Christian politicians, those the prophet Ezekiel might identify as the false shepherds.
Parham asks if those politicians and others who foster fear and are being deceptive belong to the family of false shepherds about whom the prophet Ezekiel wrote.
Two Texas office holders, both Southern Baptists, advanced a paranoid conspiracy of foreign pregnant women – Hispanic or Middle Eastern – coming to the United States as tourists to give birth to children who would then be U.S. citizens based on the 14th Amendment. These women would return to their home countries, indoctrinate their children, train them in acts of terrorism and dispatch them 20 years later as U.S. citizens back to the United States as terrorists.
Neither offered any evidence to back up their conspiracy theory.
"Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded," said Arizona Gov. Janet Brewer in June in the midst of an effort to gin up support for a controversial immigration bill.
A member of the Life in Christ Lutheran Church in Peoria, Ariz., a congregation affiliated with the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Brewer retracted her headless body claim in September.
"That was an error, if I said that," she said in a qualified retraction.
"Do you know, where does this phrase 'separation of church and state' come from?" asked Tea Party candidate Glen Urquhart.
Urquhart was on the ministry staff and an elder at the New Covenant Presbyterian church, a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and is on the board of directors of New Way Ministries.
The Delaware candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives answered, "It was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists...The exact phrase 'separation of church and state' came out of Adolph Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state, ask them why they're Nazis."
In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, President Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "building a wall of separation between Church & State."
Urquhart was endorsed by the political action committee of the James Dobson-founded Family Research Council (FRC).
Speaking at the FRC's Values Voter Summit over the weekend, Newt Gingrich offered a completely unhinged conspiracy about sharia – Islamic law known for its harshness.
"I am totally opposed to any effort to impose sharia in the United States," said the former Speaker of the House, who was a Southern Baptist before converting to the Roman Catholic Church in recent years.
"We should have a federal law that says under no circumstances in any jurisdiction in the United States will sharia be used, by any court, to apply to any judgment made about American law," said Gingrich. "And we should make clear to Justice [Stephen] Breyer and Justice [Elena] Kagan, who both seem confused on this topic, that no judge will remain in office who tries to use sharia law to interpret the U.S. Constitution."
Gingrich spoke in front of a backdrop that had the names Liberty University and Liberty Counsel, two Jerry Falwell-related institutions.
The audience stood, clapped and whistled their agreement.
Who knew that the United States was at imminent risk of sharia replacing the Constitution? Who knew that values voters were so frightened about the fragility of the American judicial system?
These politicians and others are fostering fear and being deceptive.
Do they belong to the family of false shepherds about whom the prophet Ezekiel wrote?
Ezekiel's false shepherds were the rulers of the land, the leaders of the people. Rather than tend to the welfare of the "flock," the citizenry, they pursued their own agendas and took advantage of the people.
"You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them," wrote Ezekiel (34:3-4).
Ancient words that frame metaphorically the false shepherds abroad in our land.
Naming those with power – who speak deceptively and foster fear – as false shepherds is not a matter of partisanship, of choosing a political side.
It's a matter of speaking truthfully about those who speak falsely and cause fear unnecessarily.
What would Ezekiel say today?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.