Controversy follows Baptist theologian to North Texas

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on June 21, 2011 at 10:05 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 23 at 1:48 AM

If there is such a thing as a controversial, lightning rod Baptist minister, then one is headed to North Texas.

Ergun Caner is the former head of Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, and his claims of having terrorist ties have clouded his credibility — and perhaps his future.

Claims of being so hated that he once had to dodge oranges being hurled from the audience is not what you might expect to hear from the Dean of Theology at Liberty Baptist Seminary.

But it's part of the Ergun Caner mystique and legend... of having been raised a radical Muslim in Turkey and an enemy of America.

"I hated you," Caner can be heard saying in a 2006 address to a student audience now broadcast on YouTube. "That may be harsh, but as Dr. Hays told you, my training center was in Beirut."

Caner is also on record saying he was trained to be a terrorist at the time his family moved from Turkey to America in 1978.

Once in the United States, Caner said he converted to Christianity, then rose to national prominence after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

That's when religion blogger Tom Rich of Jacksonville, Florida first heard Caner's message.

"He said that he was trained to do that was done on 11 September, which means in no uncertain terms ,'I was trained to be a terrorist, I was raised to be a terrorist,'" Rich said.

But last summer, Caner's story started to unravel when skeptics found evidence that despite his claims, the self-proclaimed young Jihadist actually moved to America from Sweden in 1969 — not from Turkey in 1978. Caner grew up looking and acting like most every other kid his age.

The discrepancies proved so damaging that Caner was demoted at Liberty Baptist and is now headed to North Texas to become vice president at Arlington Baptist College, home to 200 students and to perhaps a not-so-welcoming staff.

One faculty member told News 8: "I find it reprehensible that the leadership of the Arlington Baptist College would hire a man who is very clearly profiteering from the tragedy of September 11."

Back in Florida, Tom Rich says giving Caner credibility takes it away from the entire church.

"It really calls into question of the integrity of the organization that he represents," Rich said. "It makes it harder to spread the Gospel to people when they know that Southern Baptists are actually not holding this guy accountable."

Caner did not respond to our requests for an interview, but he is on the record saying he's only guilty of uttering "discrepancies" and making "pulpit mistakes."

Arlington Baptist President Dr. Dan Moody declined an on-camera interview, but told us by e-mail:

"Dr. Caner has our full confidence, and we are excited about the future of our school. We consider all the controversy to be in the past, and we are moving forward with full confidence."

And while Liberty Baptist Seminary officials found Caner made "factual statements that are self-contradictory," the chairman of the panel that investigated him says, "We never once found that he lied."

What seems to be at issue now is whether his detractors can now find it in themselves to forgive.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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