integrity on tablet screen

Integrity and Christian apologetics: An Ergun Caner case study

In Commentary, Ethics, In the News by Steve Wilkinson25 Comments

Integrity

The virtue of integrity seems to be suffering greatly today. While I sometimes fail to express this quality at its best, it has always been an important pursuit of mine. I could never understand, for example, how Christian friends would simply divide ‘business’ and ‘personal’ in their lives. (1)I know to some extent that such a division needs to exist, if for no other reason than legal liability. I’m talking here of the simple ease and extent to which so many make the distinction. They would treat a friend one way, yet in business, easily treat people entirely differently. Even personally, they might sell their troubled car, best hiding any problems it might have, without even hesitating to consider the morality of such behavior (or worry about the effect on the unsuspecting buyer).

In Christian apologetics, integrity is a critical virtue. Not only is it morally significant – being expected as a virtue of a Christian – but also is an integral aspect of the discipline (as it is of many disciplines. Can you imagine not caring if your doctor or accountant were virtuous?). I’ve heard it said that once someone has put something into print, it is very unlikely they will correct it. That needs to be the polar-opposite behavior of the Christian apologist. (2)You’ll note that we try to practice this here at TilledSoil.org, by constantly updating and correcting our articles. We usually even leave the incorrect information in place – though marked out – just for the sake of transparency, and so that corrective comments will make sense.

A Christian apologist needs to be ready to learn new information, fairly present the opposing viewpoint, take correction humbly, and when someone has been wronged, or Christian witness damaged, apologize and take corrective actions. This is not easy. We all fail in some manner as our egos get in the way.

This all said, ALL apologists (and people for that matter), fail in their lives and ministries in various ways. When these failings impact our ministries, this is especially an occasion for repentance, mourning, and taking the best corrective actions we are able to muster. We’ve damaged more than our personal growth as a Christian disciple, as well as hurt those close to us; we’ve damaged Christian witness.

It is bad enough when a Christian disciple has a personal failing which impacts their ministry, but far worse when this failing is directly connected to the nature of the ministry itself. For example, it is one thing if someone involved in a pro-life ministry secretly had an abortion to cover-up their pregnancy. This would certainly cause a stir in the media, doing damage to the ministry. Yet, it would be quite another thing if it were found out that the director of a pro-life ministry was secretly moonlighting as an abortion doctor. The latter would fundamentally undermine the ministry’s message and credibility.

The Ergun Caner scandal

As a case study, I’d like to examine the ongoing saga of Ergun Caner, the ex-Muslim ‘extremest’ from Ohio, turned Christian convert and Evangelical rising-star. I pick this scandal as an example because of its importance, scale, longevity, and breadth of entanglement within the Evangelical community.

What is the big deal? That is the point the supporters of Ergan Caner have been trying to sell (doing so quite effectively, I might add). This is why the situation has been dubbed, “The Great Evangelical Cover Up.” (3)Or, maybe the recent ‘Evangelical Industrial Complex’ that got to Janet Mefferd. See: More allegations of plagiarism surface against Mark Driscoll or I Told You This Was No Boating Accident! or Publisher: Mark Driscoll Improperly Copied Paragraphs from Bible Commentary It is a coverup reaching to the highest levels of the Evangelical community (at least the American community). The word on this needs to get out, as it is simply unacceptable. It not only involves the actual deception cased by Ergun, and the ensuing damage to Christianity, but now concerns the integrity of the American Christian apologetics community (and beyond). Being part of that community, I’m not willing to let this slide by without trying. (4)And, we shouldn’t be. See Why I Criticize in Public by Dr. John G. Stackhouse.

If you would like to research it yourself, just Google, “The Great Evangelical Cover Up” and start reading, watching, and listening. The evidence is excruciatingly clear for anyone who bothers to pay attention. I have included a resource section below with many links.

I want to express my thanks to Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries, pastor Jason Smathers, Jonathan Autry, and others who have exposed this dangerous behavior (at great personal cost), and join them in hoping Ergun Caner will one day come to his senses, recognize how a Christian should be conducting himself, repent, and join us in working to correct the damage he has done.

The Ergun Caner story

Ergun was born in Sweden, but moved at a very young age (2 or 3-years old) to the USA and then a suburb of Columbus, Ohio (Gahanna, to be exact. I’ve been there several times when I lived in Columbus for over a decade. From my experience, Ergun should have run across a Christian or two growing up there). (5)I’m also a bit baffled by his mention of ‘urban jungle’ so often. I don’t really think of Gahanna, or even Columbus, as an urban jungle. Maybe this is just a matter of perspective, as I’ve been in Chicago so many times, and have lived in larger metro areas like San Francisco and Vancouver. Besides, I’m not here to deny him whatever chic urban pastor image he might be going for. His father was a Muslim, and though his parents separated when Ergun was fairly young, I’m sure he had an impact on Ergun and his siblings. I have no complaint that Ergun considers himself a Muslim (is anyone contesting this???), who later converted to Christianity (in his teens). And, while he’s made numerous mistakes concerning Islam, I’m sure he knows more about some aspects of Islam than I currently do. In some sense, I suppose he’s an expert so long as we don’t push that definition too far.

However, somewhere along the way (seeming shortly post-9/11), Ergun (commonly referred to up until that point as Butch Caner or E. Michael Caner) decided that simply coming from a Muslim family and converting to Christianity wasn’t a good-enough testimony. I don’t know if his intention was to sell more books, become a famous speaker, career advancement, or even to more effectively impact audiences to pay attention to Islam and Christian apologetics (the latter, certainly a noble ambition.). He created an alter-ego, Ergun Mehmet Caner, who was raised in the Middle East, trained as a Muslim extremist, hated Americans, and had difficulty integrating into American society. He passed himself off, not only as someone with technical knowledge of Islam (which he debatably, might have), but as an insider of a deep nature, turned convert. It must have worked, as even the US military hired him to speak to the troops before deployment to Iraq. Even if you don’t give a hoot about Christianity or apologetics, that should put a bit of fear in you (whether the deception of the US military, or their background check capabilities!).

He made claims to have debated top Muslim apologists, even in Arabic and other languages which Ergun doesn’t know. This is how he got caught by one prominent Christian apologist, Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries, who fortunately didn’t lack the integrity necessary to resist going along with many of Ergan’s peers in ignoring all of this. Imagine Dr. White’s surprise when he was contacted by a Muslim concerning Ergun Caner’s alleged debate with Shabir Ally in Nebraska (Dr. White actually had debated Shabir a number of times). He started looking into this, contacted Shabir Ally, and realized this was false. As he looked into this further, he found more and more problems… on MANY different sermons and lectures. He even found Ergun telling different stories to Christian audiences than he was telling to interviews with Turkish newspapers.

Ergun has made numerous basic mistakes in his knowledge of Islam, including such things as references to Hadith which couldn’t possibly be followed if one has a cursory knowledge of Islam. An analogous example Christians would easily understand might be… how many of you, despite your level of Christian scholarship, would tell someone to look up Bible 5:29. That level of error, makes some Christian apologists question Ergun’s core knowledge of Islam. At minimum, it is extremely sloppy scholarship.

Worse, despite Ergun’s efforts, the evidence of this deception keeps coming out, and has been now since around 2005-06. Eventually, the heat became a bit too much to not look into, at least in some sort of manner. Investigations, by his employer at the time were launched. Problems were found. Ergun was disciplined. He did ‘apologize’ in a sort of fake manner, saying he was sorry that he misspoke on a few occasions. I’ll just let you find and watch a few of the videos and audio clips of Ergun and see if you’re buying the ‘misspoke’ line. (Hint: It is so obvious that such a thing would be funny were it not for the fact that so many gullible Christians have simply bought that story without checking it out.) (6)Here is a recent example of James White making it incredibly obvious. Laughter in Medina: the Ongoing Saga of the Caner Scandal

Still worse, many powers-that-be within the Evangelical community have been involved in the cover up. I know fellow-apologists I traffic among have likely seen my tweets and retweets concerning this cover up over the last couple years. None have retweeted or commented, save one brave former professor of mine who commented on one of my tweets, confirming the ridiculous nature of this ‘farce/fiasco,’ as he put it. My point being that many know, but most are keeping quiet. If Liberty University did any kind of meaningful inquiry into the allegations, they know much more than they reflected in their findings. Even prominent, highly-esteemed Christian apologists such as Dr. Norm Geisler (ironically, a professor at Veritas, which is Latin for truth) have come to Ergun’s rescue with laughable defenses. Motive? I don’t know. Beyond the ‘good-ol-boy network’ reflected in the, ‘why are we Christians picking on our own?’ type responses, I can only, charitably, assume they fail see how damaging this situation is and deem the benefits outweigh the negatives.

The worst, is the damage this is doing to Christian witness, especially to Muslims. How can we call Muslim apologists to account concerning factual accountability or loose-cannons within their fold when we’ve got an obvious one in our camp, right under our noses, yet do nothing or cover for him? By extension, how can I (as I’m not yet trafficking in apologetics to Islam to great extent) call out skeptic/atheists such as John Loftus as fakes (or con-artists), if I’m unwilling to call out those on my own side? And yes, Muslim apologists ARE talking about and using Ergun in their efforts.

Then, there is the broader manner of damage to Christian witness and apologetics when a prominent figure conducts himself in such a manner and then is supported, rather than disciplined, by the community.

The evidence

I thought it might be interest to take a look at the Ergun Caner defense given by Dr. Norm Geisler (7)The original document seems to have been authored by someone using Truett-McConnell College’s Microsoft Office license… guess who the president is… for whatever that is worth. in light of Ergan’s own testimony before the US Marines. (The article has moved many times on his site, so we’ll see how this goes… I made an image of the page on Dec 8th, 2013, just in case.) Unfortunately, I’d love to transcribe the actual testimony of Ergun from the video, but Ergun is suing the pastor who posted it (Jason Smathers), so it has been temporarily removed while the lawsuit drags on. Ergun will most certainly lose, as the actual video, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the US military, indicates no copyright. However, this means I’ll have to use transcription of clips from various other lectures and sermons.

First, let’s consider some of what Ergun Caner has said:

“Mine just happens to begin from a position of animosity. I hated you. I am 21 generations, a Turk. … Everything we knew about you, we knew only because we were taught from outside. I had no contact with Christians, I had no contact with Jews.”

“I was born in Istanbul, Turkey. I am a sand-monkey; been called worse. I came to America after going to Beirut and then Cairo. And, when I came to American in 1978, at the age of 14 years old. Um, I’ve lived a very urban life.”

“Everything I knew about America, I knew through television before I came here. That, could you imagine? In Turkey, wherever we were watching television – whatever the Turkish government allowed – that was my glimpse of America. And so I would watch that and say, ‘That must be America.’” (How much do kids learn from TV before the age of 3?)

“I cannot be president. I came in 1978 when I was getting ready to go to college.”

“I learned English on Sesame Street. Held back a year from school so that I could learn English so I could follow along better.”

“I hated you. That may be harsh, but as Dr. Hays told you, my madrasa, my training center, was in Beirut.”

“And so we came to America, it was ’78. Ayatollah Khomeini had said, we will not stop until America is an Islamic nation, and so we came.” (Wasn’t Ergan Sunni???)

“I was the oldest; my father brought his wives with him. Yes, polygamist Muslims do come to America, they call it the Abraham Lie. Basically, this is my wife, and this is my sister.”

“Every debate, Abdul Saleeb, Nadir Ahmed, Shabir Ally, every debate I’ve had with these men, they always end at the same point, so what if Jesus did die?”

“… you can do for yourself in Islam. One of the #1 lines that Shabir Ally, the muslim apologist, gave me at the debate which took place in Nebraska was, ‘why does man have to die for me?’”

“I spent the first 17 years of my life assuming that you, as Christians, hated me. I mean, I’d never been in a church, I’d never really been around too many Christians. There’s not that many of them in Turkey or in Sweden. And, coming to America, I’d lived under the misconception that you hated me, as a Muslim. That really affected a lot of what I did in my younger years. I’m not really proud of the fact that I was part of the Islamic jihad.”

“And I walked into that little church. My English was very poor. There was a great and glorious time when my hair was long. They didn’t make fun of my accent. They didn’t make fun of the clothes I wore.” (If he grew up in Gahanna, Ohio from the age of 2 or 3, why would his English be very poor? Why would he have an accent? Where did it go?)

Basically, the story he spun (even if you could wiggle around various aspects textually), had been that he was the son of an Islamic scholar, who came to America in his teens prior to university. He had been trained in jihad in madrases in Istanbul, Beirut, and Cairo. He hated us. His knowledge of English, America, and Christians came from watching TV shows. He says his father was a polygamist who brought multiple wives with him. He claimed to dress in full Arabic clothing, even in public school (though Muslims in Turkey don’t wear Arabic clothing… and any of his school photos look pretty 70’s American to me). After his conversion and education, he made numerous claims to have debated over 60 Muslims, even Imams in mosques in the Arabic language. And this is the impression his audiences were left with.

The defense

Now, let’s take a look at Norm Geisler’s defense (and remember, this guy is a top APOLOGIST):

About his place of birth?
“Since both Ergun and his father were Turkish citizens, he strongly identified with that ancestry. Thus, an occasional misspoken word about his birthplace is understandable.”

Really? Would you make this many major mistakes about your history… over and over again? Read Ergun’s statments again, or better listen to Ergun at some of the resources below. Does this sound like misstatement, or an intentional, intricate story spun to sell you on his authority on the subject matter?

About his having lived in Turkey?
“Ergun traveled with his father to Turkey several times.”

So, lets say you made a few trips to Beijing, but spent most of your life in Texas. Would you misspeak about growing up in China, and weave this into a story about how you were so out of place in Texas, because all you knew was Chinese culture? While you fumbled with your chop-sticks as a teen, you were shocked at everyone using forks and spoons?

About learning what you know of America from Dukes of Hazzard, etc.?
“This statement was intended as humor and was taken as such by the audience.”

Watch the videos folks. While it might be a joke, he uses it as part of his basis of learning English and his misconceptions about American life. If he came here at 2-3 years old, he didn’t learn everything about America, including English, from a TV show. This is true of many in other countries, but Ergun made it about himself.

About the confusion over whether he came to the USA in 1978 or 1982?
“It is well known that Caner became a US citizen in 1978. The other date is from the period of his call to the ministry and is sometimes lumped together with the earlier date in his testimony. … Since it is well known by Bible scholars that this kind of thing is found in the Scriptures…”

Did he really just do that?!?! That’s sickening, actually. No, Norm, this kind of thing IS NOT found in Scriptures. It would be one thing if these were just a couple of dates from Ergan’s mid-life events, and he got some numbers mixed up. It’s quite another to mix up a date right around your birth, and another from your late teens, then build your life story on that. Toss in some dates and events from your own life. Could you make such a mistake… over and over again? And even if you were that confused or clumsy, would you keep them straight enough so that you used them this way when speaking to one kind of audience, but the other way when you spoke to people who were likely to catch you on it? Would you utilize this date discrepancy in a foundational way such as to build your case… accidentally, over and over again? Does Norm think we’re all stupid??? And then to drag God’s Word in to defend such foolishness… I’m not sure I can ever respect Norm again. Yea, this particular one has my righteous anger a bit riled up!

And my personal favorite (remember, from a Christian apologist, no less):
About Ergun’s father’s polygamy?
“Ergun’s father did have two wives, having divorced the first one.”

Did you read the quotes by Ergan above, or listen to the videos? Are you laughing? Unfortunately, I’ve seen places where people are discussing this Caner farce, where they cut and paste these ‘answers’ from Norm’s site. If this is how Christian apologists operate, we may as well all just pack up and go home now. The skeptics may be right about our naivety and lack of critical thinking! Fortunately, there is an apologetics world beyond the ‘good-ol-boy’s network’ where this stuff doesn’t fly. Can you imagine Norm giving such a lame response to a Christian apologetics question? Can you imagine Norm responding to an atheist who used this kind of argument?

“Ergun has readily admitted the mistakes he has made and has apologized for them publically.”

Take a look at the apology:
“I have never intentionally misled anyone. I am sure I have made many mistakes in the pulpit in the past 20-plus years, and I am sure I will make some in the future. For those times where I misspoke, said it wrong, scrambled words, or was just outright confusing, I apologize and will strive to do better.”

Now, let’s take a quick look at the ‘repentant’ Ergun Canner’s twitter feed:

@erguncaner
// No need to prove anything, Certainly not u. Again, 3 schools looked at it all. Finding? Exonerated

@erguncaner
Well, this has been fun, but I must get home. In summation- I categorically deny the charges & those who brought them.

@erguncaner
And I shall keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing for decades. Humbled before God & unrepentant before the Calvin boys

@erguncaner
I think the word you’re looking for is EXONERATED. Cleared by three schools since attacked by the Calvinlluminati.

Ergun, I’ve got another word which seems a better fit, EXPUNGED!

And, reading the statements by all the prominent people coming to Ergan’s defense at the beginning of the article just makes me sick. The evidence is so clear, yet they make statements like:

“Ankerberg said he believes Caner’s testimony is ‘completely true.’” – Christianity Today

“Having examined all these charges against Dr. Caner carefully and having looked at the related evidence, I can say without hesitation that all of the moral charges against Dr. Caner are unsubstantiated. … Dr. Caner is a man of honesty, integrity, and loyalty to Christ.” – Dr. Norman Geisler

“Dr. Geisler’s response to the charges brought against Dr. Ergun Caner by some Muslims and other groups has hit the mark.” – Dr. Joseph Holden, President of Veritas Evangelical Seminary. (I wonder if this guy looked for himself?)

Conclusion

I don’t know Ergun personally. Apart from this mess, I have little against the guy. Since I don’t traffic heavily in SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) circles, I doubt I’d even have heard of him if it weren’t for this. I’m assuming he loves Christ, and I could even give him the benefit of the doubt that he did this for evangelistic reasons (rather than selfish gain). But, this has to stop. And the ‘good-ol-boy’s network’ needs to stop enabling him. You’re all making a mockery of Christianity. Please, stop.

In our own apologetic efforts, we can learn a few things from this case. First, don’t embellish your testimony, credentials, expertise, etc. God can use the real you more effectively than a fake you. Second, when you make a mistake, correct it and apologize honestly for damage you might have caused. Third, don’t get involved in these coverups of Christian brothers and sisters. Deal with people honestly and with as much grace as possible. But, don’t sacrifice the integrity of Christianity for power, money, or even simply trying to be a bit too nice. You aren’t really helping people who have gone astray by letting them get away with it.

While Ergun has been the focus here, the bigger problem is the Evangelical community being unwilling to engage, or worse, making the problem larger.

Resources:

Laughter in Medina: the Ongoing Saga of the Caner Scandal – Dec 4, 2013

James White: 9/10/13 @ FBC Lindale reviews the Caner scandal (starts about 24 min in)

Highlights of the FBC Lindale Ergun Caner Presentation – Sep 11, 2013

“I categorically deny the charges & those who brought them” — Ergun Caner – May 6, 2013

Ergun Caner Materials – Mar 9, 2010

Internet video scrubbing alleged

Focus on the Family “From Jihad to Jesus” – Ergun Caner – April 26, 2010
(This is Ergun about 1 month after the Sept 11 attacks. I’ll give him one thing, he’s ambitious and works fast!)

United States Marines duped by pretend jihadist, Ergun Caner – Aug 18, 2010

Ergun Caner Continues to Work on his “Exoneration” – Jun 13, 2013

Ergun Caner Has Sued Witnesses Unto Me – Jun 20, 2013
(This page gives a template for filing your own FOIA to obtain a copy. I have filed one, and will report on how that goes and the costs, if any.)

Ergun Caner Intransigent in Fight to Keep His Lies Offline – Nov 27, 2013

Turretinfan’s Ergun Caner Index
(Unfortunately, many of the original source links are now dead, as they were mp3 or video based. They were pulled down for some reason. Why were they pulled? If Ergun has nothing to hide… good question. It must have taken quite an effort to get all these 3rd parties to pull normal interviews and lectures from their libraries. Fortunately, a lot of these things have been downloaded before they were pulled. And, Turretinfan often created transcripts of the relevant details.)

An Open Letter to Dr. John Ankerberg – Jan 21, 2013

Bloggers Target Seminary President – May 3, 2010 (Christianity Today)

Ergun Caner Out as Seminary Dean – Jul 2, 2010 (Christianity Today)

Liberty U. removing Ergun Caner as seminary dean over contradictory statements – Jun 30, 2010 (Washington Post)

A collection of public documents relating to Ergun Caner and his family history.
(It is SO sad that Ergun and company have take things so far as to require this kind of documentation and digging into his history.)

Photo: © Depositphotos.com/PixelsAway

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