LYNCHBURG, Va. (ABP) — Liberty University will investigate reports that its seminary president has misled the public in his testimony about converting from militant Islam to Christianity, officials of the school in Lynchburg, Va., announced May 10.
Liberty University Provost Ron Godwin is reportedly forming a committee to conduct a formal inquiry into questions surrounding Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, that have circulated on blogs and more recently in media outlets including Christianity Today and Associated Baptist Press.
"Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs," said Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., breaking weeks of silence amid criticism from both Christian and Muslim bloggers. "However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry."
The author of books including Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, which he co-wrote in 2002 with his brother, Caner has been quoted in Baptist and secular media as an expert on Islam.
But discrepancies in his biographical sketch in recorded in messages preached over the years have caused some to question the credibility of even his basic testimony of converting from a devout Sunni Muslim background illustrating the power of Jesus to save anyone.
James White, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian-apologetics organization based in Phoenix, says he became suspicious after Caner claimed to have debated Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International in Toronto. White, who has debated Ally in both the United States and United Kingdom, said he contacted Ally, a Muslim apologist who travels around the world to represent Islam. White said Ally informed him he never debated Caner and had no recollection of ever meeting him.
White then was contacted by Mohammad Khan, a 22-year-old Muslim college student, who made a series of videos on his laptop computer in his London bedroom accusing Caner of misrepresenting Islam in order to make Muslims look bad. The videos began appearing on YouTube in April 2009. Most have been removed, citing copyright issues. Even if Caner is a former Muslim, Khan claims, his frequent misuse of Islamic terms and phrases and errors about fundamentals of the faith demonstrate that he knows next-to-nothing about Islam.
Seeing discrepancies in Khan's videos about Caner's testimony, Jason Smathers, a Christian website designer, found legal documents contradicting Caner's claims of growing up in Turkey and being trained as a terrorist. Smathers says Caner actually grew up in Ohio in custody of his Lutheran mother after his parents divorced. Caner's father, a Muslim who remarried, broke off relations with all three sons from his first marriage after they accepted Christ as teenagers.
Other websites showed that Caner changed his online resume after it was pointed out that it misstated he earned a Ph.D. instead of his actual Th.D. and included an honorary D.Min. from an unaccredited school.
Southern Baptist bloggers weighed in after Caner accused the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board of using deception in outreach to Muslims in a podcast interview posted on the blog SBC Today.
Some Baptist bloggers accused Caner of giving Christianity a bad name by deliberately misrepresenting his testimony. Others defended him, saying the real motive behind blog attacks against Caner were comments he has made in the past harshly critical of Calvinism.
Caner issued a statement admitting to "pulpit mistakes" but insisting he never intentionally misled anyone. Liberty University revised Caner's online biography to remove references that he was raised in Turkey and has debated leaders of various faiths.
Liberty officials initially sought to downplay the controversy. Elmer Towns, co-founder — along with the late Jerry Falwell — of Liberty University and dean of its School of Religion, told Christianity Today that officials had investigated the discrepancies and were satisfied it was not an "ethical" or "moral" issue.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.