On Reading in Context and Questions for the LU Board of Trustees

   I’ve been hearing rumblings on the net since I posted the “you don’t do Muslim prayers in bathrooms” article that, “Oh, but you can!” It is truly amazing the lengths to which folks are willing to go. I have seen people saying you can do so in your prison cell, for example. Wonderful. Ergun Caner was not in prison (no matter how much high school may, at times, seem like that to some). Others have said that if you fear for your life you can pray in a bathroom. Wonderful. But again, by his own words, Dr. Caner was not in fear of his life. He was a zealous Muslim. He was purposefully, willfully wearing self-identifying Muslim garb to school (and, I note, to the church in which we was eventually converted). So this exception is likewise utterly irrelevant.
   Just as I learned a lot back in 2004 when I responded to Mark Seifrid on the topic of justification, I am learning a lot now, too. Evangelicalism is soaked in emotionally-driven, post-modern thinking that accepts, wholesale, the ever popular social dictum, “Of all the commandments, this is the greatest: never question someone who says Jesus three times fast.” So once again I stand convicted of the grave sin of offense. “You are on a crusade!” “How dare you attack a Christian brother!” “Get off it, move on!” And so on. It doesn’t seem to matter to these folks that there are matters of ministerial integrity on the table. Offend God? Offend the gospel? Offend the entire apologetic outreach to major world religions by demonstrating that Christians circle the wagons rather than seek consistency and honesty? Do those things really matter? It seems that to many, they do not. But for me, there is no choice in this matter: the question is now before the broader Christian community, and Liberty University in particular: which is more important? Integrity in the proclamation of the gospel, or popularity and enrollment? The tragedy of this situation is just this: the documented examples of either direct falsehood or gross exaggeration are almost always connected directly to vitally important truths of the gospel. It is as if the power of the message is not enough, it has to be “amplified” by adding the “Convert Exaggeration Syndrome” issues related to how pious and truly Muslim Caner was. And if it does not bother you that the proclamation of Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life has been directly connected to half-truths and exaggerations (and defended by many as well!), then you need to do some serious self-examination.
   Last evening someone in channel related what they claimed was a message from the head of Liberty University. He couldn’t verify it, but what he posted said this:

Marcus, I saw your wall post. In fact, I recently read all of James White’s accusations and I just returned home from our bi-annual LU Board of Trustees meeting. I brought this matter up and it was discussed in detail. The board will meet again tomorrow. Are you a seminary student? Jerry

   Let’s say for the sake of discussion this FB wall post is genuine. If the Board of Trustees is aware of this situation, then I need to make sure they know what questions truly need to be answered. In the process, I can clarify some issues as well.
   First, I do not agree with Mr. Khan, the producer of the videos that have, in large part, raised these issues, when he concludes that Ergun Caner’s entire story is a fabrication. I have never suggested this. But there are many serious problems with the Caner story, and for the sake of truth, and ministry to Muslims, these questions need to be answered. I have already raised a number of these issues personally. Mr. Khan and one of my bloggers, TurretinFan, have been exchanging posts on those, and other related issues. (Here is TurretinFan’s most recent, which has links to all that went before). There is no question in my mind that Ergun Caner’s father was a Muslim from Turkey, that at some point the family moved from Sweden to the United States, settling eventually in Ohio. I do not question that Ergun Caner was converted at some point in 1981 or 1982 or so, his two brothers at a later point, resulting in a complete disruption of their relationship with their father, who died as a Muslim. I don’t believe these matters can be contested, though the fact that the published and spoken statements of both Ergun and Emir Caner provide wildly conflicting dates, resulting in as much as a ten year discrepancy in really figuring out when the family moved to the US, at what age Caner converted, etc. I believe Ergun Caner was a Muslim. However, that is where the story becomes muddled due to Caner’s own statements. I currently believe, in light of the information I have examined (and given Ergun’s unwillingness to openly address these issues, he leaves the rest to speculation), that he was not a devout Muslim at all. His knowledge of Islam is not that of a former devout Muslim, or his conversion was at a much younger age (I had once calculated it, on the basis of his own statements, at 13) than he now claims, which would also explain his ignorance of basic level liturgical/confessional terminology. While I am not a former Muslim, and have only been studying the religion to any depth since late 2005, I would not make the same errors Caner makes with regularity regarding the Shahada, Surah Al Fatiha, the proper names of the Pillars of Islam, etc. At this point in time I am convinced that Ergun Caner is guilty of exaggerating his connection to Islam for the purposes of self-promotion. Prior to 9/11 “Butch” Caner did not seem to be marketing himself as a celebrity convert from Islam. But given the general ignorance of the vast majority of Evangelicals, it seems he discovered he could get away with not only using highly questionable language about his ethnic heritage (though he is only half Turkish) but he could set himself apart from the “crowd” so to speak, eventually resulting in his landing high profile positions. And if he had just avoided putting his vaunted claims of apologetic activity on the web, along with his specific claims to have debated men like Shabir Ally, he’d probably have gotten away with it.
   For the leadership of Liberty University, the questions that need to be answered:

1) Where was Ergun Caner born? Why has he given conflicting information on this matter? Did he ever live in Istanbul, Turkey? When? At what age, and for how long? Did he attend a madrassa there?
2) When did his family move from Sweden to the United States? Why has he given conflicting information on this? What was his father’s actual role in the building or design of mosques in Ohio? Why has Ergun Caner publicly said that before moving to the United States he had always lived in a “majority Muslim” nation? Is Sweden a Muslim nation?
3) When was Ergun Caner converted? At what specific age? Was November 4, 1982, the date of his conversion, or Emir’s?
4) Prior to his conversion, did Ergun Caner follow the dictates of Sunni Islam “devoutly” as he has claimed? Did he say the five daily prayers? Since those prayers are universally said in Arabic, why would he confuse them now, if, as he claims, he grew up saying them? Such items as the Shahada and the first Surah of the Qur’an (Al Fatiha) are repeated multiple times per day in those prayers. Why is Dr. Caner’s pronunciation of these things so flawed if, as he claims, he grew up hearing them pronounced correctly? Why did Dr. Caner claim in public that “Arabic was my language before English” and yet in his February 25th, 2010 published statement he said “The language of my lineage is Turkish, not Arabic.” And why did he claim he said the prayers in the high school bathroom, when this is forbidden in Islam outside of the most extreme conditions?
5) Dr. Caner has claimed to have “debated” in thirteen countries and dozens of states in the US. One newspaper in 2006 reported him as claiming to have done sixty one (a rather specific number) debates with Muslims at that point. Yet, he now admits these were discussions, dialogues, and the like. Why would the head of a “Global Apologetics” program claim to have debated leaders of many religions in specific locations when in reality he was only talking about chatting with folks informally? Doesn’t this amount to false advertising? Would the prospective students at Liberty find the claim to have “chatted with folks about religion all over the place” quite as compelling as claiming to have engaged in debates with religious “leaders” in thirteen countries?
6) Why did Ergun Caner claim, at least twice, in 2007, to have debated Sheikh Shabir Ally? He has admitted he has never debated Shabir Ally, and in fact, has never even met the man. But he claimed he did, even noting a location (Nebraska). Who was it that Ergun debated in Nebraska that he confused with Shabir Ally? I have asked him, and he refuses to answer. The only way to evaluate his claim to have “misspoken” is to know who he did, in fact, quote in his presentation from his “debate” in “Nebraska.” When did this debate take place? Can he document this?
7) He claims to have debated Abdul Saleeb. Abdul Saleeb is a pseudonym used by a Christian. It means “servant of the cross.” Why did Ergun Caner claim to debate a Christian, and put words in his mouth? And why does Dr. Caner constantly make reference to “Hadith 9:57,” when anyone who has actually studied the hadith literature to any depth knows that there are a number of authoritative collections, such as Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Jami At-Tirmidhi, etc.? The correct reference is Sahih Al-Bukhari 9, 57.
8) Why did Ergun Caner, only five weeks ago, on a national radio program (the Pastor’s Perspective program with Brian Brodersen and others) claim that “formal debates” have been “taken over” by “myopic Reformed guys” who turn them into “show ponies” and examples of the “Jerry Springer Show” where no real conversation takes place, when in fact, this is documentably untrue on every level?
   I hope the Board will sit down with Dr. Caner and get clear, compelling answers to these questions. And then, I hope they will publicly provide those answers. Simple integrity requires it.