Ergun Caner and the integrity of Baptist institutions

The controversy surrounding Ergun Caner and uncertainty about the authenticity of his life story raise broader questions about institutions and integrity.

By John Carpenter

In December 2013, Brewton-Parker College, a Southern Baptist institution in Georgia, hired Ergun Caner as president. They said they called Caner “because of the attacks” on him. That should be the siren signal awakening us all to a crisis in our institutions.

Brewton-Parker trustees have one thing right: You don’t need to listen to Caner’s critics. Only listen to his own words, available on the Internet. Hear him claim that he was born in Istanbul, Turkey; that as a boy growing up there he only knew American culture through what he had seen on TV; that he hated Americans; that he was educated in a madrasah (an Islamic religious school) in Beirut, Lebanon; that he was trained to be a terrorist; that he came to the United States in 1979 at age 14, when his father immigrated with his several wives; that they came here to be Islamic missionaries to America, taking his prayer rug to school and praying toward Mecca in his high school bathroom.

Hear with amazement his testimony of conversion when he says he came into a Baptist church in full Islamic garb, carrying a Koran; listen carefully to his Arabic, as he recounts what Islamic hecklers were shouting at him during his various debates.

Then read Brewton-Parker University’s press release. Interesting that it doesn’t contain any of those claims. Look at public school yearbook photos of Caner as a student. He appears a normal American kid of the 1970s and 1980s. Ask a real Arabic speaker to make heads-or-tails out of Caner’s quotes. Ask for proof of Caner engaging in a real debate with a Muslim. Then ask yourself — what’s the truth?

The truth is that “Butch Caner,” as he was commonly known prior to 9/11, wove a tangled web, exposed while he was at Liberty Baptist Seminary. A seminary investigative committee concluded that Caner was guilty of “factual statements that are self-contradictory.”

We should have all hoped that that would have brought Caner to repentance. Instead, he went on the rampage, suing Christians who had posted videos of his speeches. He may be the only Christian speaker in the world desperately trying to suppress his sermons and lectures. We can understand why. If his own words are suppressed, all that you’ll have to know about the claims that rocketed him to prominence in the evangelical world will be through his critics.

The problem goes beyond Caner. The question is whether our Baptist institutions operate with any integrity. Can one lie his way into the presidency of a Baptist college? Certainly we can expect that a man who treated his autobiography as a work of fiction is particularly good at ingratiating himself with the right movers and shakers. Already, inexplicably, Caner was invited to be on the platform for the inauguration of Richard Land as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, N.C.

The question now is whether we will love the truth or love what we want to hear.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.