By Bob Allen
The head of the Georgia Baptist Convention has added his blessing to the hiring of a college president accused in the past of faking an “ex-Muslim” testimony he used to rise to fame.
“Dr. Ergun Caner is an evangelist who is on fire for Jesus Christ,” GBC Executive Director Robert White said in a news story in the Christian Index about the Dec. 2 selection of a new president of Brewton-Parker College.
“Dr. Caner is one of the finest preachers in America today and will bless and inspire our Georgia Baptist churches,” White said. “I can’t wait to see how God is going to bless Brewton-Parker under the leadership of our new president.”
Caner, provost and academic dean at Arlington Baptist College in Texas since 2011, was unanimous choice of the college’s board of trustees to lead the Georgia Baptist Convention institution located in Mount Vernon, Ga., attempting to rebound from struggles including probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and School.
His election has renewed interest in Caner’s 2010 demotion as dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary after trustees found “factual statements that are self-contradictory” in recordings of his “Jihad to Jesus” testimony that earned him invitations to speak in Southern Baptist mega churches and at national conferences in the aftermath of 9/11.
In Unveiling Islam, a 2009 book co-written with his brother Emir, Caner said he and another brother were born in Stockholm, Sweden, and that Emir, president of another Georgia Baptist school, Truett-McConnell College, came along after the family immigrated to Ohio.
As a pastor in North Carolina, Caner wrote stories in the early 1990s as a freelance journalist for Baptist Press using E. Michael Caner as his byline. A story about Caner, then a pastor in Aurora, Colo., ministering at Columbine High School in the aftermath of the April 20, 1999, school shooting that claimed 15 lives, identified him as “Butch.”
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Caner was introduced as Ergun Mehmet Caner.
“I was born in Sweden, raised in Turkey, came to America in 1978,” Caner said in a 2001 sermon at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. “When I came to America I came through Brooklyn, New York, of all places, which is where I learned English.”
In a similar sermon Nov. 20, 2001, at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., Caner said he was raised in Stockholm. “May I submit to you, until I was 15 years old, I was in the Islamic Youth Jihad,” he said. “And so until I came to America, until I found Jesus Christ as Lord, I was trained to do that which was done on 11 September.”
“Jesus strapped a cross to his back so that I wouldn’t have to strap a bomb to mine,” Caner said at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in 2004.
In 2005, Caner spoke as an expert on Islam at training sessions for U.S. Marines in New River, N.C., preparing for deployment.
“I knew nothing about America until I came here when I was 14 years old,” Caner said. “Everything I knew about American culture I learned through American television.”
Caner told Marines Muslim extremists are taught from birth that Americans are “the infidel” and “sons of Satan.”
“My madrassa (Muslim school) in Istanbul, Turkey; my madrassa in Cairo, Egypt, there’s no question of what the doctrine of jihad was,” he said. “It is only when we come to America and hear westernized Islam we hear that ‘Oh, Islam means peace.’”
Legal documents indicate that Caner’s father arrived in the U.S. in 1969 and was naturalized as a citizen in Columbus, Ohio, in 1976. Caner’s parents divorced in 1978, and custody of the three sons was awarded to their mother.
Pictures from Caner’s high school yearbook appeared to contradict claims that he dressed in full Muslim garb and kept a prayer rug in his locker before accepting Christ at a revival at Stelzer Road Baptist Church in Columbus as a teenager.
Trustees at Liberty investigated Caner’s testimony after several bloggers posted contradicting videos and questioned his knowledge about Islam. Most of those videos are no longer online. In June Caner sued two bloggers, claiming copyright infringement for posting his videos online without permission.
In their book, the Caner brothers said they had been preaching about Islam since 1982. “Usually, churches and pastors would allow us to preach, graciously pat us on our heads, and tell us how fascinating this world religion seems,” they wrote.
That reaction changed after 9/11, according to a Baptist Press story in 2002, when heightened interest in Islam got them invited to debates and interviews by the BBC, CNN, Moody Broadcasting Network, Salem Radio Network and USA Radio. Talk show invitations included Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Marlon Maddux and Zola Levitt.
Caner released a statement in 2010 in which he admitted to making “pulpit mistakes,” but insisted that “I have never intentionally misled anyone.”
An unnamed Brewton-Parker trustee said in a press release that the board didn’t consider Caner despite his past controversies but because of them. “He has endured relentless and pagan attacks like a warrior,” the trustee said. “We need a warrior as our next president.”