I will admit, I have not taken a lot of the “cult of personality” stuff very seriously over the past number of years, mainly because I am a member of a small church, in a group of churches that really tends to shy away from that kind of thing, at least as it appears in the broader spectrum of evangelicalism. I’m sure we have our own problems, but in general we recognize that the pulpit is a special place, one in which a man is to seek with all his might to be a servant, never, ever to promote himself. It is a serious place of proclamation, of worship. Being Reformed is more than believing five points: it involves the application of those truths to all of life, including worship and the purpose and function of the church.
So seeing the “cult of personality” in action at Liberty and in the broader “Baptist” world has been startling to me, I must admit. The utter lack of discernment or the application of fundamental principles of honesty and integrity has truly been disappointing, at best. I cannot help but think, “Well, if this is what the world sees of those who call themselves Christians on a regular basis, it is no wonder our witness is not taken seriously.”
This morning I saw quotes scrolling through our chat channel in support of Ergun Caner. I finally jumped in and asked where they had come from. I was directed to a Facebook page titled “Standin and prayin for Dr. Ergun Caner.” As I scanned down the entries the same themes kept coming up over and over again: “Hey, this doesn’t really matter, Dr. Caner is a great guy, he loves Jesus, he’s a great preacher, I’ve had a spiritual experience because of him, so all this other stuff doesn’t matter, and the people attacking him are all jerks.” That was the basic gist of the commentary. There was nothing relevant to the real issues, and, in fact, it seemed like most of those commenting are ignorant of the facts and have only heard second and third-hand reports of what is going on. I did not read all the comments (I did not have time to), but in what I did read I saw no one expressing the slightest concern about the Christian witness to Muslims, the integrity of Liberty Seminary, or the university as a whole, or the sanctity of the pulpit as a place where truth must be supreme in all things. It was a paean to the cult of personality in glowing letters.
Just a few examples in support:
To those concerned about the silence: For the record (and NOT comparing the two other than to make this point), Jesus never defended himself ree: the many accusations, allegations and claims against him either. Dr. Caner and the university are in a “no-win” situation here when it comes to the haters, anything they say or do will be held against them in the court of public opinion. Truth will prevail as it alwasy does… [This seems to be Caner’s current theme, fitting into the “persecution” theme—Jesus didn’t respond, so I won’t either! Of course, Jesus was sinless and the Son of God. Ergun Caner is neither, and Christian leaders have particular standards laid out in Scripture to which they are to be held accountable.]
You know, really, none of us needs to know the accusations (gossip, true or not) but we need to pray fervently for him, for his family, for his testimony and for his future and that God be glorified. [I will generously assume this person thinks the committee’s investigation will be so thorough and unbiased that no one else even needs to know what the issues actually are. I could wish for such optimism.]
Brother Ergun loves Jesus and that is all that matters to me!!! [Well there you go! No arguing with that one, is there? Of course, if this person ever talks to a Mormon who says, “But Joseph Smith loved Jesus,” what will she say?]
Around the same time I was directed to the comments of one Marc Buxton, a Liberty graduate. He writes,
As someone who has heard Caner speak in person, I can say that he does indeed indicate in his sermons that he had an extensive Muslim upbringing, being taught daily from the Quran in a madrasa in Istanbul.
One is forced to ask, “What if Dr. Caner was never trained in a madrasa in Istanbul, Turkey? What if he never even lived in Turkey at all, as the legal documentation seems to indicate? Would this impact your fundamental view of his integrity as a leader and teacher?” Marc thinks Caner will be vindicated, but he does not even attempt to address the real issues.
But while I was actually writing this entry, the following showed up on the Facebook page, and it speaks volumes about the discernment (and clarity of thought) being expressed by those who refuse to examine the facts, refuse to take seriously the importance of the pulpit, but instead choose to follow the cult of personality:
Here is my final thought on this and then I’m going to stay away because my BP goes up when I read this tripe.
None of these allegations are Theological. These are issues of times and dates and at WORST embellishment of the truth. Not justifying that, just placing it in context.
You have people who are making claims that are largely about semantics and nothing more. Why plaster this on the web? Why do this and make this much of a deal about something that is very minor if true. Not right, not something to just overlook…but minor. This man is a Seminary President for God’s sake and he has not spoken heresy or blasphemy. Why blog about it? Why make so much noise that now the press is involved? … Now you have FORCED something that AT WORST (if allegations are true) requires nothing more than some serious reprimand, serious accountability and serious continuity in his story going forward. None of that should be blasted across a rag like the Tennessean or fodder for local TV news and it CERTAINLY shouldn’t be fuel for the blogosphere. How will you undo this if some or all of the allegations are unfounded?? You can’t. You have forced this man to wear a cloak of questionability for many years to come while you slink your reformed cowardly self back to some place where nobody knows you and nobody cares, waiting for another brother to pounce on and rip to shreds. Someone needs to nail a 95 thesis to your thick skull.
Note (aside from the emotionalism and anger) the swipe at “Reformed” folks as if this is merely a theologically movitvated issue. Someone is surely pushing that out there as a means of avoiding the facts, that’s for sure. And for many, that will be more than enough (Can a Calvinist ever say anything true?). But this is the kind of rhetoric being produced by Ergun Caner’s supporters.
Ironically, while typing the last portion of this entry, I saw a reference to the Caner story appearing in…The Huffington Post. I said weeks ago that if Liberty did not step up to bat quickly and deal with the situation the secular press would be on it like a duck on a June bug, and each passing day proves that prediction accurate. But what is mind-numbingly ironic (and just plain wrong) is the fact that it takes The Huffington Post to accurately describe the reality of the behavior of some of Ergun Caner’s supporters:
An unrepentant Caner maintains his innocence, saying that he “never intentionally misled anyone.” He blames the campaign to discredit him on Calvinists and their Muslim interlocutors. At the same time, many of his duped followers are refusing to accept reality. They are taking their anger out on those who have exposed the fraud and not on the charlatan himself.
Yeah, strange, isn’t it?