Faith-Based Fibber?: Liberty U. Seminary President Accused Of Fabricating Life Story
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 13, 2010 at 12:02:43 PM EST
The last time we heard from Ergun Caner, the president of Liberty University's seminary, he was riding around his Lynchburg, Va., campus on Election Day in a truck (accompanied by a GOP elephant made out of chicken wire) urging students to vote for Republican candidates.

Americans United asserted that Caner's overt electioneering was just another example of the fundamentalist school's determination to push candidates favored by Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., despite a federal law that forbids tax-exempt religious institutions from intervening in partisan politics.

Now Caner is back in the news - and once again it's not in a good way.

Caner has made a name for himself by highlighting his unusual life story: He says he was born into a stridently Muslim family in Turkey, where he learned to hate America and Christians. As Caner tells it, he flirted with jihad before undergoing a life-changing conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. He then persuaded most of his family to convert as well, and they now spread the gospel.

It's a compelling story, and Caner tells it well. I heard him address last year's "Values Voter Summit" sponsored by the Family Research Council. Even though I didn't agree with Caner's Religious Right perspective, I had to admit that he was a funny and engaging speaker.

But now it turns out there may be some problems with Caner's life story - like, it may not be true.

The Lynchburg News & Advance reported two days ago that Liberty officials have launched an investigation. The school was forced to act after criticism about Caner, which had circulated on the web mostly through blogs, bubbled up to the print media.

"In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry," Falwell said in a statement posted on LU's Web site.

Both Christian and Muslim bloggers have criticized Caner. Caner poses as an expert on Islam and in 2002 wrote a book with his brother titled Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, but it's unclear if he ever even belonged to that religion.

Despite his claims about having lived in Turkey, it now appears that Caner was born in Sweden and moved to Ohio when he was 4 years old. His father was a Muslim, but his mother was Lutheran. The couple divorced, and Caner's mother retained custody. He became an evangelical Christian as a teen; it's unlike he was ever recruited by jihadists.

Caner is also accused of claiming that he has debated a Muslim scholar named Shabir Ally. While Ally frequently engages in debates, he says he has never debated Caner. Some Muslim bloggers have blasted Caner for his ignorance of that faith, saying his real goal is to attack the religion and proselytize for his own version of Christianity.

AlterNet ran a lengthy examination of Caner's claims and the evidence against him. It's worth a look.

Liberty officials say they hope to have the investigation completed by the end of next month. It's not my job to offer Caner unsolicited advice, but if he needs a defense he might just say he was simply following the example of Liberty's founder. Jerry Falwell Sr. was well known for his ability to, let us politely say, "stretch the truth."

One of my favorite incidents involved a rather extreme book Falwell wrote in 1979 titled America Can Be Saved! When I confronted him on the Fox News Channel in April of 1998 and quoted some of the radical material in the book, Falwell simply denied he had ever written it!

I don't what the outcome of the Caner investigation will be, but I do know this: If it turns out Caner falsified his story, he won't be the only fibber ever to have graced the grounds of Liberty University.




Display:
This seems to be a common problem with leaders of the Religious Right. Benny Hinn is a classic example, where many of the details of his early life, as documented in his best selling book "Good Morning, Holy Spirit" were shown to be fabrications.

But whenever I listen to preachers recounting their miraculous redemption from a troubled early life on Christian talk radio, I often get the feeling that even if they aren't completely making things up, they are probably spicing up the details to make it more memorable and entertaining.  I think it's all part of the self-propagating myth that literally "going through the valley of the shadow of death" make you a more righteous and deserving person.

And I think that's definitely true preachers who like to turn their sermons into one long stand-up comedy set make things up all the time.  It's just not possible of one person to have so many hilarious situation happen to them every week.  

Jesse Duplantis is a classic example of that.  His sermons can be an absolute scream, but I'd be willing to bet that more than half the stuff he talks about happening in his life is completely untrue, and the rest of it is greatly exaggerated.

When anyone in the pulpit prefixes a personal recollection with "and this is God's honest truth," you know you have to treat what they're saying with a truck-load of salt.

by tacitus on Thu May 13, 2010 at 07:30:00 PM EST


It seems someone intelligent enough to acquire this position would know about the 'internets' and the ease of accessing information, say about someone's past. Perhaps they are only interested in fooling the flock, which they are fleecing, milking, and otherwise violating.

Rob, I'm sure Fox followed up on Falwell's claim that he never wrote such a book... not.

by COinMS on Sat May 15, 2010 at 11:39:09 AM EST


It seems that lies of convenience to puff up their history is something the real followers of Christ should fight against. I was under the impression that lying isn't a casual sin. Maybe these guys and gals who do so constantly may not necessarily be psychopaths, who lie all the time, but maybe they were just brought up that way. Whatever works to get them ahead in life seems to dictate their actions. No matter how perfidious or hurtful. One can't tell the truth all the time but lying about something that can be checked by anyone seems daft to me. But then if their "flock" is the only ones they are interested in pulling the wool over, then they probably will get away with it. Because any criticism out side of it wil be considered inflammatory and prejudiced against them in the first place. How that works out so well for them! Too bad for those who give their money and their loyalty too. Cronyism is ugly and this is it.

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