Ex-Muslim President of Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary Under Fire over Details of Biography

The president of Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary, Ergun Caner, is currently facing serious scrutiny over his biography and Muslim past. A Christian blogger named Wade Burleson lays out the charges:

Dr. Caner has publicly stated that he came to the United States at age fifteen having been trained to be a jihadist. In reality, Caner came to Ohio at age four and lived a comfortable, American life.  Dr. Caner has also publicly stated that his first language was Arabic and he was trained in a madrassa in Turkey. Several International Mission Board missionaries who speak fluent Arabic have emailed me, horrified at what they have heard Dr. Caner try to pass off as his native Arabic during his audio and video sermons at SBC churches. They confirm what others have been saying–he is speaking complete gibberish. The myth Dr. Caner has created about himself seems now to be unraveling. He never came to America “via Beirut and Cairo.” He has never been trained as a fundamentalist Muslim. He has never had been a jihadist. He has never debated top Muslim scholars, in Nebraska or anywhere else.

…My friend, Mosab Hassan Yousef, has lived the life that Ergun seems to want Christians to believe Ergun has lived. People like Yousef see right through Ergun.

(I blogged on Yousef here)

Caner’s father was Turkish and his mother was Swedish, and by his own account  he moved to the USA with his parents as a teenager at the end of the 1970s. He says that his father was a devout Muslim who sought to raise him as a Muslim, but that after his parents divorced he converted to Christianity “in high school”. Caner is now a prominent conservative evangelical polemicist against Islam; he is the author Unveiling Islam and other books on the subject.

However, not everyone is convinced. A Muslim named Mohammad Khan (mokhan247 on Youtube) has delved into the subject in some depth, with a website here, but scepticism is also being expressed by some Christians, particularly from the Reformed tradition. An addition to Burleson, these include James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries, a blogger named Debbie Kaufman, and a site called Witnesses Unto Me. Further research has been provided by a blogger named Mirele, who does not state any religious affiliation but is sympathetic to Islam.

Mirele summarises the evidence, with links:

…The problem with his statements (and you have to read the posts to get the full impact) is that Ergun Caner has been in the USA since prior to his fourth birthday. His parents bought a house together in 1974, but had separated by 1975. As part of a 1978 separation agreement, custody of Ergun and his brothers went to his mother, but his father got the boys every other weekend, on three Muslim holidays and five weeks per year. (I have reviewed this document and I do not see an order by the judge saying that the boys were to be raised Muslim.) However, Ergun’s mother didn’t like any of this and filed an appeal. The appellate decision found that the district court didn’t (and couldn’t) dictate the children’s religion, but that each parent could teach the children when they had custody or visitation.

Caner’s response has not been  impressive: apparently he posted a statement in February apologising for any “unintentional misleading statements”, but then removed it, and he recently sent out a message via Dave Eppling, “Chief of Staff to the President, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary”. This message claims that Khan is running a “pay YouTube site”, obviously meant to insinuate that he is motivated by a wish to make money – but it’s not true; Khan’s videos, like all material on YouTube, is free-to-view. He then plays the victim, in passive-aggressive style:

 I never thought I would see the day when alleged “Christians” join with Muslims to attack converts. In fact, it has gotten so bad that they procured or hired someone to go to the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio, to get copies of our parents’ separation, divorce and appeal papers. The purpose of this was to “expose” us as frauds. They wanted to prove that we were not former Muslims. They have actually posted these documents online.

What they ended up doing was proving that we were, in fact, Muslims. The court papers showed that (1) we are immigrants, (2) we were Muslims, (3) our father was so devout that he demanded that the court order that we continue to be raised Muslim, (4) they he wanted visitation on the Eids (Muslim holy days], (5) that we were Turkish citizens and would become American citizens from our Turkish papers, and (6) that our father still had property, money and furniture back in Turkey.

…Regardless of how this ended up backfiring on them, you can imagine the horror of having your entire life up online, for the joy and derision of others, especially those who should know better.

Caner has made a career out of his life story, yet for other people to investigate public documents about his past is some sort of intrusion, apparently. White’s response is scathing:

…Let me say it again: I do not believe Ergun Caner is fake ex-Muslim. I believe he is a fake ex-DEVOUT Muslim. There is a difference. There is no question that Ergun Caner’s father was a Muslim. That he was, as Caner claims, a Muslim “leader” is another issue. Clearly Caner considered himself a Muslim. But Caner’s parents divorced when he was quite young, and the real problem is Caner’s attempt to re-form his past so that his devotion to Islam could be exaggerated for the purpose of creating a more stirring testimonial.

…no one is seeking to “attack converts.” This is absurd on a level that is hard to imagine… Ergun Caner is not being “attacked” by anyone: he is being challenged to tell the truth in the face of a mountain of documentation indicating he has been untruthful while standing behind the pulpit of many a church. To call such a necessary challenge an “attack” is to do nothing more than mock honesty and integrity itself while appealing to the emotions. What is more, in this situation, may I suggest it is Ergun Caner who has “attacked” converts? How so? By mythologizing his own conversion experience, he has cast doubt upon all those true conversions to Christ from Islam.

Caner has also edited his on-line bio; Burleson comments:

The new biography of Dr. Caner is set to go up this week. The old biography, filled with deceptive statements, remains down at Caner’s  website . The new one has been directly approved by Liberty Seminary’s Chancellor, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr… I’m not sure it has even crossed the Chancellor’s mind how odd it is to have to rewrite, reread, and repost a biography of his President.

One of Caner’s associates is the prominent minister and Christian author John F. Ankerberg. Ankerberg has not commented on the controversy, although he has found time to complain to YouTube about some of Khan’s videos, which he claims are “copyright infringement” of his TV show.

(Thanks to a reader for making me aware of this story)