Liberty University's board of directors has declined to take public action against Ergun Caner, president of the university seminary, as bloggers raise doubts about Caner's account of his childhood as a Muslim.
Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University and dean of the School of Religion, says there will be no official reprimand or demotion of Ergun Caner. Towns, who had a hand in hiring Caner, says the Liberty board has held an inquiry and directors are satisfied that Caner has done nothing theologically inappropriate.
"It's not an ethical issue, it's not a moral issue," Towns told Christianity Today on April 27. "We give faculty a certain amount of theological leverage. The arguments of the bloggers would not stand up in court."
By all accounts, Caner is an energetic, entertaining, and engaging professor who has tripled enrollment at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary since his installation as president of the Lynchburg, Virginia, school five years ago.
Caner and his youngest brother Emir gained prominence as Muslim experts following the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The following year, the brothers wrote Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs (Kregel).
In 2003, Jerry Falwell Sr. hired Ergun to teach theology and church history at the Southern Baptist-affiliated seminary's School of Religion. When Caner became the first former Muslim to head an evangelical seminary in 2005, he gained further appeal on the apologetics lecture circuit.
But lately, both Muslims and Reform-minded Southern Baptists are questioning biographical details provided by the 43-year-old Ergun. The blogosphere has been abuzz with critiques of statements Caner has made about himself in speeches, sermons, and online videos.
Foes want Caner to admit to what they label as exaggerations and lies, including claims such as:
- Growing up in Turkey, when he actually grew up in Ohio.
- Being raised in a devout Muslim home, rather than a nominal one.
- Having been involved in Islamic jihad.
- Having debated dozens of Muslims about the Islamic faith, although there is no video or audio evidence.
Behind the squabble is Mohammad Khan, a 22-year-old London-based computing student who has posted 17 talks by Caner on YouTube. The videos contain slow-motion segments superimposed with Khan's comments. Khan, a Muslim, says among the many troubling aspects of Caner's video presentations are several examples when Caner claims to be reciting the Shehada, part of the Islamic creed, when in actuality he is quoting an important prayer from the Qur'an. The two are very different.
"Christians are under the impression that he is some sort of Islamic expert," Khan told CT. "He isn't."
Both Khan and James R. White, director of the Phoenix-based Alpha & Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics ministry, say there is no record of Caner's claims that he twice debated Muslim apologist Shabir Ally.
"The president of a large theological seminary has created a myth concerning his background that is incredibly self-contradictory," said White, who teaches on Islam at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
White, who says he has engaged Ally in four formal public moderated debates, sounded the alarm for many Southern Baptists. In turn they have tracked down Caner's conference speeches, sermons, writings, and even court documents to counter the ex-Muslim's statements.
In February, Debbie Kaufman, an Enid, Oklahoma, Southern Baptist laywoman, began blogging about Caner on a daily basis, after watching videos posted by Khan and White. "This matters because we are to win people to Christ," says Kaufman.