Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ergun Caner put in an appearance at a prayer breakfast in Bristol, VA on Friday morning, and managed to make the local paper [link]. Bristol straddles the Virginia/Tennessee line, and the combined city had about 40,000 people in the 2000 census. Perhaps the prayer breakfast scene there is livelier than it is here in Santa Fe, but 500 people turning out on a Friday morning in a town that size sounds huge to me; a proportional crowd would be about 900 here. The quantity of percolated coffee alone required to power a prayer breakfast that size boggles the mind.
The Bristol Herald Courier apparently sent reporter David McGee, who mostly covers motor sports [link]; I am not familiar with Mr McGee’s writing, so I can’t say for sure whether the article is a hash because of Caner or because of McGee, or even because of some uncredited stringer. I get the impression that Caner is casting the controversy surrounding him as honest mistakes that were blown out of proportion by malevolent third parties, for which he has apologized but not yet set the record straight.
“The school said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘Fine, investigate me.’ But the controversy alone, you pay the price for the controversy. You pay the price for the attention and the bad publicity,” Caner said. “Every pastor in America, ask them if you can go through 200-odd hours of your sermons. Would they find where you said your kids names wrong or dates wrong? Yeah of course. You just smile and move on.”
This is a great quote for several reasons: one because if I understand correctly Caner is saying he was given a choice as to whether they would investigate him or not. I wonder what his other choice was. Two, because 200 hours is a vast amount of pulpit time; if a pastor spends a half-hour speaking twice a week (Sunday morning and Sunday night, or Sunday morning and Wednesday night; churches where the pastor delivers three different full sermons a week are sadly rare these days), fifty weeks a year, that’s two full years of sermons. For most pastors that would be even more; for my current church that would be four years or more. At Thomas Road it would probably be three or four, given the number of men who man that pulpit in a typical week. Regardless, it’s an interesting number; I’d be interested to see if 200 hours of Caner’s talk s and sermons are available online, and whether his misstatements fit the example he’s suggesting here.
“You learn to live with adversity. You learn through adversity. And it takes more than edited videos to knock me down,” Caner said.
This is an interesting quote, too; I’d encourage anyone interested to be sure to track down the unedited versions of videos whenever possible. For example, when I first saw the YouTube video where Caner claims to have been born in Istanbul my first thought was that he must be the victim of a malevolent edit. So when a link to the unedited video [link] turned up I was surprised to find that he said the same thing there too. I will leave it as an exercise for the viewer to decide whether saying “Istanbul” instead of “Sweden” fits the pattern of getting kids’ names wrong.
Born in Sweden to Turkish parents and raised as a Sunni Muslim, Caner converted to Christianity after his family moved to Ohio.
This was the discrepancy that did it for me; this was the thing that convinced me Caner was actually deceiving his audience rather than just misspeaking in the heat of the moment. I’m still waiting to hear some clarification regarding his past in “Islamic youth jihad” and how that happened while he was growing up in Ohio. I haven’t yet seen any evidence that Caner spent any time in Turkey, much less any time in a Turkish militant Islamic youth organization.
I’d be inclined to drop the whole matter if Caner weren’t still doing pretty much the same thing he was doing before he was demoted; the rest of the article makes it clear he was invited to Bristol to talk about Islam, not about apologetics, or cults and sects, or the Crusades, or any of the other myriad things about which he is expert, and about which no questions have been raised regarding his qualifications.
The McGee article was syndicated in the Lynchburg paper [link] under a different title. I’d love to know the last time the Lynchburg paper carried an article on a prayer breakfast at another town in Virginia.
The Lynchburg paper is reporting that Elmer Towns has been named to replace Ergun Caner (they omit any mention of Dan Mitchell) and add a few more nuggets:
He served as dean of the seminary from 1979 to 1992.
Towns will remain dean of LU’s school of religion.
Towns was not part of the committee [that investigated the Caner matter].
The seminary enrolls 500 residential students and 6,800 online students, Towns said.
Towns also spoke at Liberty Convocation on Wednesday; he announced plans to increase the size of the seminary to 1000 resident students and 10,000 total students.
We still don’t know anything about the committee that investigated the Caner situation, apart from the fact that it was either headed or named by Ron Godwin and may or may not have included Godwin himself.
And what did I learn my first online visit to Liberty Convocation? Elmer Towns is replacing Dan Mitchell as dean of the seminary. Readers with long memories may remember that Dan Mitchell replaced someone named Ergun Caner as dean. Mitchell was interim dean; Towns apparently is not.
The first article in the Caner saga was written by John W. Kennedy and appeared at Christianity Today on May 3, and included the following sentence:
By all accounts, Caner is an energetic, entertaining, and engaging professor who has tripled enrollment at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary since his installation as president of the Lynchburg, Virginia, school five years ago.
This little nugget must meet some sort of journalistic style requirement, because it appeared in some form in every article about the Caner situation. There are two basic forms and several minor variants; the other basic form appears in this Baptist Press staff article:
Under Caner’s leadership, seminary enrollment has tripled to about 4,000 students since 2005.
Somewhere along the line some bright journalist went to the seminary website, I’m guessing, and added in the 4000 number:
Founded in 1973 as an outgrowth of Liberty University, the seminary has nearly 4,000 students from all 50 states and many countries around the world who are currently enrolled in both the residential and distance learning programs.
There are basically four claims here:
- Caner is/was president of the seminary 2005-2010
- Seminary enrollment is 4000 in 2010
- Seminary enrollment tripled under Caner’s leadership
- Caner is somehow responsible for the increase
The first claim is obviously true. The second is a sourced quote, but doesn’t appear to be true. A Lynchburg News-Advance article by Christa Desrets from July 8, 2008 describes the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years at the seminary this way:
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School is expecting 510 resident students this fall, and 4,580 distance-learning students. Last fall, the seminary had 352 resident students and 2,917 distance-learning students.
That’s 45% growth in resident enrollment, 56% growth in total enrollment in a single year, bringing total enrollment to 5090 in Spring 2009. An undated summary from Christianity Today puts the enrollment at 5038. I suppose it’s possible that seminary enrollment was capped for the 2009-2010 year at the previous year’s levels, but I haven’t found anything to substantiate that.
Regardless, I can’t find any verification of Liberty’s official number of 4000.
I haven’t been able to find any numbers for the 2004-2005 or 2005-2006 school years, but to be in line with the 4000-5000 figure it would have needed to be 1300-1700 then.
Regardless, the Desrets article has chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr crediting Caner for the growth in the seminary:
Falwell said the seminary’s growth stems from a plan implemented by President Ergun Caner that promotes its offerings around the nation.
“He’s gone out and presented the seminary as a separate school, and I think he’s done a fantastic job of showcasing what it has to offer,” Falwell said.
I really have no idea; I’d love to see video from one or two of these Caner road show appearances.
Update: This article from the Liberty Journal from December 2007 says seminary residential enrollment had doubled over the previous three years to 400 and total enrollment at “close to 4000 students.”
Liberty Student News reported and linked to a Liberty University press release stating that Dan Mitchell is stepping in as interim dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The link in his article has since gone stale; perhaps the press release was accidentally deleted. I can’t seem to find a cached version in Google, either.
Mitchell is a long-time faculty member at Liberty, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and was serving as academic dean at the seminary until his recent promotion. His footprint in the Liberty Digital Commons online archive lists articles dating back to contributions he made to the Fundamentalist Journal in 1982.
I wish him the best of luck in his new position. It isn’t easy being an interim anything.