*Please note that the following statement includes my opinion of the deeds and character of Ergun Caner based upon the information to which I have been exposed.
“To any and all who recognized inept policies and errant behavior, and who continued to speak out against such things even in the face of opposition from those who preferred not to hear it, you should be applauded, not ridiculed.” – Spoken by David Smith, former President of Brewton-Parker College, at his 1998 Commencement Address
Laying the Foundation
If you are looking for a long treatment Dr. Ergun Caner’s many offenses and misdeeds, this is not it. The work of exposing Dr. Caner’s misdeeds has been done already and is a widely available. Some in the evangelical community have chosen to ignore or discount this work; I have not. After studying the accusations about Dr. Caner’s malfeasance and evidence against his claim that he never intentionally misled people, I have come to this conclusion: Dr. Caner is a charlatan unfit for service in Christian leadership. Irrelevant to this conclusion is my stance on Calvinism (I’m not a 5-point Calvinist), my opinion on the motivations of James White, and my personal subjective opinion on Dr. Caner’s speaking style and choice of language. (I find them distasteful) This commentary is about what I feel the proper Georgia Baptist reaction should be to Dr. Caner’s appointment to the office of President of Brewton-Parker College. Who am I to speak to such a reaction? Am I a pastor or staff member of any Georgia Baptist Church? No. Has anyone appointed me to the position of official moral policeman of Georgia Christendom? Not quite. Have I, like Dr. Caner, ever told a lie to benefit myself? Yes, I’m a sinner, too. I’m not taking the moral high-ground here because I am fixed upon it; I do so because my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is. Who am I to speak to such a reaction? I am a Georgia Baptist, a member of the priesthood of all believers, and a man who has entrusted the Georgia Baptist Convention (by way of the cooperative program) with a portion of the financial support God graciously allows me to give to my local church. To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Ergun Caner does not manage the financial stewardship of any Georgia Baptist church. Dr. Caner is just a man who was looking for a job in his field and found one. The Georgia Baptist leaders, specifically the trustees of Brewton-Parker, entrusted with the task of hiring the President of the institution are the ones responsible for installing Dr. Caner in that role. They dropped the ball. These men are the ones who should be held accountable by Georgia Baptists. These men and the institution they lead should be defunded immediately. Below, I will make the case for why defunding Brewton-Parker or defunding the Georgia Baptist Convention is the proper moral course of action to take in response to Dr. Caner’s hiring and address some potential misgivings and objections to that course of action. I will also address the irrelevancy of directing objections towards Dr. Ergun Caner.
A Personal Perspective
Until earlier in 2013, I did not know anything about the controversy surrounding Dr. Ergun Caner or his dismissal from the Liberty University School of Theology. I hadn’t heard him speak in person and did not know of his background. My sole exposure to him was through a set of CDs borrowed from a local pastor. The CDs were recordings of Dr. Jerry Vines’ Acts 1:11 conference on eschatology. Dr. Caner spoke in support of a pre-millenial view of eschatology. This is not a view I reject. I thought nothing else of Dr. Caner until the controversy surrounding him was brought to my attention by a friend and classmate of mine at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. At the time, I was not at all concerned with Dr. Caner’s misdeeds or current place of employment. Dr. Caner had been released from employment at Liberty University and hired by a small Baptist college in Arlington, TX. I have no ties to either institution; Dr. Caner’s deeds and actions were of no concern to me. I am a Baptist, a Congregationalist. What business does Georgia have with Texas? My concern is with my church and the ministries it supports. My church did not support the ministry, if one can call it that, of Dr. Caner. Now, it does. Now, I am concerned. This is why I am speaking out on this issue, identifying the problem, and suggesting a solution.
A Mountain Out of a Mustard Seed
Before examining the Caner issue any further, we should analyze the state of affairs of Brewton-Parker College. In short, even aside from the Caner matter, the state of affairs is not good. According to what I have been told, the school’s enrollment (which was 778 in 2010 according a Google search) has dwindled in the wake of multi-million dollar financial fraud that occurred in the late 1990s. Brewton-Parker is currently under probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for lack of financial stability and control. Even without the presence of Dr. Caner, the wisdom of the continued support of Brewton-Parker must be questioned. In fifteen years, it doesn’t appear that its financial problems have been worked-out. Given the miniscule size of Brewton-Parker’s enrollment and the poor state of its finances, the position of President of Brewton-Parker College is hardly enviable. Dr. Caner’s current position pales in comparison to his former position as President of Liberty University’s Seminary. Dr. Caner is the president of a troubled, fairly insignificant private college in South Georgia. He has fallen very far. No matter how poorly we view Brewton-Parker, however, we must remember that Georgia Baptist monies, in significant amounts, go to fund its operations. It students graduate and impact Georgia Baptist life. The current president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, the man who graciously loaned me those Jerry Vines CDs I mentioned above, is an alumnus of Brewton-Parker College.
As followers of Southeastern Conference football could tell you, Bobby Petrino is one of the best college football coaches in the country…he was also dismissed from the University of Arkansas for character issues. After his dismissal from Arkanas, Western Kentucky University (WKU) took a chance on hiring him. Compared the University of Arkansas, WKU’s football program looks more like that of a high school than a college. The risk of making a bad coaching hire at WKU was very low while the payoff for making a good one was very high. Western Kentucky University hired Bobby Petrino as its head football coach after he was dismissed from the University of Arkansas in disgrace. At Arkansas, Petrino was paid $2.85 million dollars per year. Petrino’s salary at WKU is $850,000 per year. That…is shrewd risk management. Sound familiar? To me, this seems like what’s going on at Brewton-Parker. Dr. Caner is a capable administrator who was formerly entrusted with the Presidency one of conservative Christianity’s most respected seminaries. Liberty’s theology school grew under his leadership and Caner is a charismatic speaker. To be forthright, Ergun Caner is good at firing up conservative rednecks. (I can say that with authority; I’ve heard him speak and I’m a conservative redneck.) Brewton-Parker needs such a man as a fundraiser. It’s likely that the trustees of Brewton-Parker see Caner as someone who brings considerable skill to the table at a below-market cost…Low Risk (how much worse can things get at Brewton-Parker?), high reward. If Brewton-Parker were a secular school, I would praise the shrewdness of its hiring strategy…but it’s not. Brewton-Parker, according to its vision statement, “strives to honor Jesus Christ in every area of the academy.” Hiring Dr. Caner does not honor Jesus Christ. Let’s look at this hiring decision from a perspective of constraints and trade-offs: we can see that it may be the case that Brewton-Parker’s continued operations are not feasible without Dr. Caner or a similar firebrand (see “warrior”) at its head. It could very well be the case that Brewton-Parker’s financial situation is so dire and its competition from other colleges so great, that the institution is not salvageable. Georgia Baptists shouldn’t try to save Brewton-Parker just because it is there. We need to constructively deal with reality in a humble manner. Maybe there is just not enough demand for the institution to continue as a supplier of academic training. Maybe the lost world is better served by sending Christian students, not to a conservative theological enclave, but to evangelize the students at Georgia Southern University and Middle Georgia State College. Whatever the case, this much is clear: employing Ergun Caner at a Christian institution is not a God-honoring decision. A God-honoring institution wouldn’t hire and retain Ergun Caner. Here are the economics of the matter, the God-honoring decision always creates the most value. This is not the decision that was made by the trustees of Brewton-Parker College.
You Who are Spiritual
Someone needs to be held accountable for the unacceptable situation at Brewton-Parker. Should it be Ergun Caner? Can it be reasonably expected that he will repent of his intentional lies and misdeeds? I hate to seem pessimistic but I don’t hold out hope for his doing so. Dr. Caner garnered a lot of speaking fees and sold a number of books while trading on his fabricating background. He lied in front of churches and the US Marine Corps for profit. If he comes out and admits that these lies were intentional and not accidental, he could be held financially liable by those who feel that he has defrauded them. Let’s empathize with Dr. Caner. It might cost him thousands to come clean. This is a fallen world, we are all sinners; what would you do? I hope and pray Dr. Caner finally admits his guilt before everyone he deceived, but he may deem that too expensive a decision to make. Bob Dylan once sang, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” If you want this injustice undone, take the money out of the hands of the men who irresponsibly and unbiblically hired Ergun Caner. Defund the Georgia Baptist Convention and Brewton-Parker. Those institutions have shown themselves unworthy of funding. We can’t force Caner’s hand, but we can force the hand of the men who fund him.
Come Let Us Reason Together
Can a Biblical case be made against Ergun Caner’s hire? He’s certainly not a man above reproach. He’s a charismatic deceiver. He’s an unrepentant sinner who has spurned confrontation. He’s engaged in a lawsuit with a fellow believer who was only trying to keep him accountable. His hire reeks of the good-ole-boy system, given that he has high-profile friends and a brother serving as President of another Baptist college. Wicked work should not be funded by Christians. I’m well aware the there is no Christian college in the bible with which we can make a direct comparison. However, applying biblical principles clearly disqualifies Dr. Caner from Christian leadership and compels the responsible Christian and his church to defund Brewton-Parker. No matter how small ones contribution may be, he should not be contributing his gift to the irresponsible leaders at the Georgia Baptist Convention and Brewton-Parker.
Many individuals have stepped forward to call Caner to task for his misdeeds. Muslims who feel misrepresented have done so. To them, I say, “I am not on your side.” If Muslims are re-tweeting or sharing this critique, hear this: You need Jesus to save you from your sins. No matter how wrong Ergun Caner has been, exposing his lies doesn’t make the Koran true. Caner is right about the scales which you fear. There are no scales. There is only the blood of Jesus Christ to redeem us. Calvinists who have been insulted by Caner’s uncharitable statements have stepped forward to criticize Caner. Hear this: you are not any more or less elect for Caner’s errors and misdeeds. The job is mostly done, he has been widely exposed. Go forth and share the gospel. James White has perhaps been the biggest thorn in Caner’s side. For all I know White wants to sell more anti-Mulsim books that Caner. I don’t care. I don’t plan to buy such books from either man. I believe White and respect his claims, nonetheless. My motivation is what readers of the treatment should be concerned with; my motivation is good stewardship and the glory of God.
Let me quickly address a few Pro-Caner arguments that I have heard.
- Caner deserves to be able to make a living.That doesn’t make him worthy of working at a Christian college. Caner can make a living at Wal-Mart, Target, or the Waffle House like thousands of others do. Just because someone has a doctorate in theology doesn’t mean we have to create a place for him to work in Christendom.
- Caner has been exonerated by Three Committees.Caner wasn’t on trial in a court of law. He was being reviewed by employers. One relieved him of his job. The other two are fairly ignominious colleges. All seem to have evaluated risk vs. return. Ultimately there was not a “guilty” or “innocent” verdict.
- Caner has repented to his employer and went through a time of restoration.I have no doubt Caner admitted to intentionally lying to his employers at Liberty. However, he has yet to admit as much to the thousands of other people he deceived. He continues publicly to deny that he intentionally lied. It has come to my attention through multiple sources that Caner made a private video for Brewton-Parker students where he denied intentionally lying.
- Calvinists and Muslims want Caner gone.I’m sure they do. So what? If he lied, he’s a liar.
- Norm Geisler has come to Caner’s defense.Norm Geisler is an expert on Biblical history, not Ergun Caner’s truth claims. This is an appeal to unreliable authority.
- Caner’s brother, Emir, is doing a good job at Truett-McConnel.My brother is doing a good job as a communications director in Arizona. That doesn’t mean I would.
- My preacher commended him.That makes your preacher wrong. Did he do the research into Caner’s background? Maybe your preacher opened up his pulpit to Dr. Caner and is embarrassed by that. Maybe your preacher and Dr. Caner are friends.
- We could lose the college to the liberals of we don’t have a President who believes in inerrancy.This argument is just fear-mongering. Yes, Mercer was lost to liberalism, but that doesn’t mean Brewton-Parker will be. There’s no shortage of Georgia Baptists who believe in inerrancy. The great majority of them (I pray) are not frauds like Caner. This argument is just fear-mongering. Yes, Mercer was lost to liberalism, but that doesn’t mean Brewton-Parker will be.
Friends in High Places
I am a seminary student. I realize that by making these statements I may never see a pastorate in Georgia. Ergun Caner has friends in high places. He once spoke at a conference with Jerry Vines, Junior Hill, Danny Akin, and Richard Land. Those are big names. Dr. Caner used to work for Page Patterson; his son’s name is Page. If you decide to go your church leadership about this matter, be prepared for the results. This is the feedback that I have received from Georgia Baptist Leadership to my concerns, “We have to trust the trustee system. The men and women who are serving as trustees are intelligent and competent people. They have access to information that we do not.” These trustees have proven incompetent. We do not have to trust them. I will heed the words of David Smith: “To any and all who recognized inept policies and errant behavior, and who continued to speak out against such things even in the face of opposition from those who preferred not to hear it, you should be applauded, not ridiculed.”
What to Do
Here’s what I’ve done in response to this situation. I’ve contacted the President of the GBC, the Executive Director of the GBC and a Brewton-Parker Trustee, Ergun Caner, and four pastors at my church. I’ve made the case against Caner. I suggest you do the same. I’d advise you get an agreement from the ones you plan to present the case to that if Caner is a proven to be an unrepentant Charlatan, the GBC should be defunded. Then, make the case. His presentation before the US Marines is the biggest case-maker against him as is James White’s video on the matter. If you dig around, the Marine video can be found. I’ve seen it. It’s the most damning evidence against Caner. My advice to all who agree with me is to deny funding to any organization, even your own church, that funds the work of Brewton-Parker College. This is what I am doing.
Please read Part II of this post here.
UPDATE: Since this blog was originally published, the Marine Videos have been made available.