The President of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty University, Lynchburg VA, has been placed under investigation because of claims he misrepresented his cultural and theological background in speeches and books. The story of the alleged misrepresentations broke in Christianity Today on 5/3/10 and was picked up by the Lynchburg News & Advance in subsequent articles on 5/11/10 and 5/17/10.
In summary, seminary President Ergun Caner has been accused of giving conflicting stories about the Muslim aspects of his childhood and upbringing. Specifically he has claimed to have been raised in Turkey when records show most of his childhood was spent in Ohio; and he has claimed to have been raised a jihadist when in fact after his parents’ divorce his exposure to his father’s Islamic faith (which did not promote violence) was minimal.
Caner’s story was first challenged by an English Muslim who noticed discrepancies in Caner’s quotations of Islamic texts. The questions he raised were then taken up by Southern Baptist theologians on their blogs. When LU dismissed the theologians’ concerns, they proceeded to investigate Caner’s past and discovered the discrepancies. Since the story broke, according to Christianity Today, Caner’s website has been edited to remove some quotations in question, and Caner has backed down from some of his earlier statements. He is now under investigation by an internal Liberty University committee led by interim Provost Dr. Ron Godwin. The committee’s conclusions will be made public on or before June 30.
As a seminarian I am saddened and troubled to hear about this. I can imagine how seminarians at Liberty University and their families must feel right now. On the other hand I have seen the tremendous amount of public trust and faith that is placed in the hands of a seminary president. If these allegations are true, then that trust has been betrayed and the truth needs to be made known.
One of the News & Advance articles quotes an LU spokesperson as saying “the investigative committee was being formed because the mainstream media was starting to ask questions”. I find it equally sad that LU didn’t find the questions of fellow theologians to be of interest and dismissed them as mere ‘bloggers’ — and only when the mainstream media took an interest was an investigation called for. Actions like this make it look like LU values secular public opinion over the sincere concerns of fellow believers. I hope the committee’s work will result in something more honest and authentic than “he misspoke” and “deeply regrets any misunderstandings that might have arisen from his comments”.