“Statisticians have long warned that correlation is not causation, but they have apparently warned in vain.” Thomas Sowell
AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS IS A SENSITIVE COMMENTARY ON A SENSITIVE TOPIC. IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE A COMMENTARY ON THIS SUBJECT CAN BE EDIFYING, YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ IT.
Every time I think that the Ergun Caner debacle can’t get any worse, it does. Last week, Brewton-Parker trustee chairman and pastor of Vidalia First Baptist Church, Bucky Kennedy, announced the creation of the The Braxton Caner Memorial Fund for the Prevention of Suicide and Cyber-bullying. This fund has been established in the wake of the tragic suicide of Ergun Caner’s 15-year old son, Braxton. Although the departed Braxton left no suicide note, some have theorized that a short Twitter interaction between Braxton and one his father’s many critics (which they consider to be a case of “cyber-bullying”) caused the boy to take his own life. According to a Brewton-Parker Press release, “While doubtful anyone can ‘prove’ cyber-bullying was the cause of the young Caner’s death, the impression nonetheless exists strongly enough to establish a memorial fund to raise awareness and prevent both teen suicide and internet crimes like cyber-harassment and cyber-bullying.”
I don’t know what caused Braxton to take his own life. I never met him. I did not know him. It would be irresponsible for me to conclude on his particular motivation(s) for taking his own life. Like others, I can only form impressions (Braxton’s short interaction with his father’s critic is not one of them). Here are some of them:
1. Braxton was a preacher’s kid.
Being a preacher’s kid or a preacher’s wife is difficult. Such a person always feels like he or she is being watched and judged. Lots of times, they are.
2. Braxton’s family moved a lot.
Moving around a lot isn’t easy. According to his own claims, Ergun Caner pastored churches in North Carolina and Colorado. During Braxton’s lifetime, Ergun Caner began career in academia at the Criswell College in Texas. From there he moved to Liberty University in Virginia. After being dismissed from Liberty, he moved back to Texas for a short time to work at Arlington Baptist College. From Arlington Baptist, Caner moved on to Brewton-Parker in Georgia. This last job move was during Braxton’s teenage years. When I was Braxton’s age, my family moved. It was hard. The prospect of moving from Texas to Georgia may have been hard on Braxton.
3. Braxton’s father traveled a lot.
Ergun Caner speaks at churches and youth camps all around the country. For security reasons, Caner does not post his speaking schedule. However, it’s safe to say that Ergun Caner is gone from home on a lot of weekends. It’s hard for kids when their father isn’t around. To my knowledge, Ergun Caner’s family was still living in Texas as he worked at Brewton-Parker in Georgia.
4. Braxton’s father spoke negatively about Islam and was threatened for so doing.
Ergun Caner once told the congregation of Decatur Baptist Church that he has moved three times and has changed his phone number eight times due to threats from Muslim extremists. Emir Caner, Braxton’s uncle, has spoken to Roswell Street Baptist Church about the need to carry a gun for protection. Threats to his family over the years, could have stressed the young Braxton over his lifetime.
5. Baxton’s father is a charlatan and it’s hard to be a charlatan’s son.
After becoming famous while claiming to be a trained jihadist turned Christian evangelist, it was discovered that many of Dr. Ergun Caner’s claims contradicted one another. He subsequently lost his job at one of the country’s most respected Baptist colleges. Ergun Caner has been less than contrite about his deception and continues to be the target of widespread criticism. Being a kid is hard enough. Being a kid whose dad is a charlatan is probably harder. I don’t know if Braxton believed that his own father was a fraud, but many others (perhaps even some of Braxton’s peers) thought so. Maybe those peers bullied him, in person and in cyberspace. I don’t know, but I do know this. I look up to my own father immensely. If I ever found out that he was a fraud, I’d be absolutely crushed, even as an adult.
6. Braxton may have been mentally ill.
I speak with all the expertise of someone with six hours of undergraduate psychology credit and one course in pastoral counseling who didn’t know the deceased. Bear that in mind. I theorize, given what I perceive to a pattern of pervasive, bald-faced lies told by Braxton’s father, that Ergun Caner may be Bi-Polar. Perhaps Braxton was. Who knows? I don’t. It’s just a theory. I’m not psychology expert and have no personal interaction with Braxton Caner and very little such interaction with his father.
7. The harmful impact of spiritual forces
I’ll offer no commentary on this particular impression
In the case of Braxton Caner, we have a young man who grew up a preacher’s kid, moved around a lot, was a member of a family that was threatened by Muslim extremists, was often away from his father at a vulnerable age, was possibly afflicted with mental illness, and was son to one of the most reviled men in evangelical culture. No fund has been established to recognize that…
One shouldn’t be.
“We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable” Todd Starnes
The only human who knew why Braxton Caner did what he did was Braxton Caner. Now, no one knows. It is irresponsible and unproductive to definitively claim otherwise. Putting a fund together and naming it The Braxton Caner Memorial Fund for the Prevention of Suicide and Cyber-bullying does just that. Correlation does not equal causation.
All the living can know about this suicide is that the situation is awful. It’s sad. It’s tragic. The death of a child or a sibling is the worst earthly thing that could happen to a family member. I feel sorry for Ergun Caner, his wife, and his remaining son. I can’t imagine the weight of the loss which they bear.
I’m left remembering that the actions we take affect our families. Our actions can affect our spouses even before we meet them. Our actions can affect our children even before they are born. What we say and do matters. Furthermore, what we say and do to others affects them. We never know what someone else could be going through when we talk to them. When we interact with someone, we need to remember that he is someone’s child and a human person created in the image of God. We shouldn’t pick on people, lie to them, or blame them unjustly.
In the wake of this horrible tragedy, we should follow the example of the penitent. We should not politicize tragedy but rather mourn it. We should throw ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God and show mercy and grace ourselves. We should let the dead rest in peace and let the living live in peace.
Death and judgment will one day come for us all. We need to be ready to give an account for how we treated God and our neighbor. We should be honest with both. Where we are ignorant, we should rely upon the perfect knowledge of God. Where we are not ignorant, we should rely upon the perfect knowledge of God.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.