******* Update ********
Below is a site up that has documentation as to the timeline of Caner's arrival in the states. Indeed, according to this documentation, Caner did come here at age 4, not at age 15 as he told us...making it impossible to be "raised in Europe" as he told us, and very improbable that he was in the "Islamic Youth Jihad" or that he was "trained to do that which was done on 11 September". See for yourself:
Ergun, those of us at FBC Jax trusted you and believed you. Can you please clarify why it seems you lied to us on November 20, 2001?
One of the most disturbing events as a member at FBC Jax under Mac Brunson was when on a Sunday night in the summer of 2008 Brunson misrepresented the testimony of Sheri Klouda concerning her lawsuit against SWBTS and Paige Patterson. Never before had I heard a preacher in a pulpit in his sermon say something hurtful and untrue about a person - made all the worse in that Klouda was one of his sheep when he was pastor at FBC Dallas.
I blogged about Brunson's Klouda comments that month in 2008, in an attempt to hold him accountable and posted a response from Sheri Klouda herself, just a few days later. It was my hope that Mac Brunson would apologize to his congregation and to Klouda for saying what he did, misrepresenting her testimony about the scriptural validity of her lawsuit.
Unfortunately, this is something that we as Christians need to be on guard for in this day of celebrity preachers. That is preachers who might use the "sacred desk" to harm someone they don't like, to speak half-truths to defend their own actions, or to offer up a personal favor to a friend, to intimidate their critics, or to exaggerate claims about themselves to aid in the creation of their celebrity status - or maybe even to convince people to give money to a certain project. Mega church pastors have quite a bit at stake, and their word is golden amongst their followers, so the temptation is always there. We know that mega church pastors use marketers to help create their "brand", so its not beyond belief that a pastor will be tempted to exaggerate or even outright lie to exert their will. Sad, but true.
For example, I was present at FBC Jax when Darrel Gilyard was unveiled in the late 1980s as the new, great, young black preacher who grew up homeless under a bridge and that God miraculously called into ministry. It was a lie, he never was homeless and never lived under a bridge. But early on, why would Gilyard tell a lie like this to Christians he is preaching to?
The Brunson slap at Klouda, and the Gilyard lie about his background, caused me to be a bit concerned when earlier this year I learned that there was some controversy on the Internet brewing over some of Ergun Caner's stories about his background as a "former devout Muslim". A Muslim named "Mohammad" has a website and a series of YouTube videos where he presents evidence of Caner's contradictions - which include his place of birth, debates he has had, and even supposed "jibberish" Caner has uttered during sermons. Also, James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has written about Caner's inconsistencies (including Caner's claims of debating Shabir Ally), as has Debbie Kaufman at her blog.
This had me intrigued. Being an FBC Jax member in 2001 when Caner first came to FBC Jax to preach, recently I decided to go back and listen again to the sermon delivered to FBC Jax by Ergun Caner on November 20, 2001. I was there for that service, with my family. This was the introduction of Caner to the SBC "big time" - it was after 9/11, and Jerry Vines brought Caner in as an expert of sorts, the former Muslim who could speak to us about Islam as we were still shell-shocked from the events of 9/11.
Sad to say, after listening to Caner's sermon, there are more contradictions. Caner has some explaining to do to the good people of FBC Jax.
Caner made this claim in the sermon that day:
"May I submit to you, until I was 15 years old, I was in the Islamic Youth Jihad. And so until I came to America, until I found Jesus Christ as Lord, I was trained to do that which was done on 11 September."
Wow. So Caner was "trained" to be a terrorist? He was in the youth jihadist movement? This is strange. Earlier in the sermon he said he was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and "raised in Europe". That, together with the above, would lead listeners to think the first fifteen years of his life he was training to be a terrorist overseas, in some sort of militant Islamic youth camp, until he came to America at age 15.
But there's a problem with that.
In Caner's book, "Unveiling Islam", co-authored with his brother Emir, they write, speaking of their parents:
"After falling in love, getting married, and having their first two sons, Ergun and Erdem, in Stockholm, Father and Mother moved to America, the land of opportunity. Emir was born after we arrived in Ohio."
Did you catch that? They moved to America, THEN Emir was born. But Emir was born in August 1970, so some time prior to that, was when Caner emigrated from Sweden.
As best I can tell, Ergun was born in 1966. That would mean Ergun was 4 years old when he came to America. But Ergun told FBC Jax members he was "raised in Europe" (while rolling his r's and sounding as though he has some middle eastern dialect).
If he was 4 years old when he moved to Columbus, Ohio, how was he in the "Islamic Youth Jihad"? Where was he receiving this "training" to do a 9/11 style attack? Is he claiming that the mosque his father took him to was training young boys to be terrorists? I don't get it. But I can tell you, I was there with my family that day, and hearing this sermon again reminded me that indeed - when Caner came, I thought we had just heard a former Islamic terrorist based on his story. That was the intended portrait that Caner painted of himself that day to a packed house at FBC Jacksonville.
Its interesting that even his bio at the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary Website says: "Ergun was born in Stockholm, Sweden to Turkish parents and in 1979 immigrated to the United States with his parents, grandmother, and two brothers."
So when did he come? I tend to believe the book that he coauthored with his brother would be the more reliable, truthful source. So why does his bio say he didn't arrive until 1979, but his book implies he came at age 4?
Another issue to be explained: in the FBC Jax sermon, he makes the following claim, speaking of the friend that led him to Christ:
"...He didn't care that I spoke a different language and that my English was poor. He didn't care the fact that I looked differently or sounded differently or ate different foods than him...they didn't look at me because I was different....they didn't call me 'towel head' or 'sand nigger'. That's what I got outside the church."
That's strange. Assuming his book is true and he came to the states when he was 4, how would his English be "poor", some 12 years after he came to the states? He says he spoke a "different language"? What different language did he speak, if he grew up in Ohio since the age of 4? I grew up in Indiana, just a few hours away from Columbus, and I'm pretty sure the primary language we spoke in the Midwest was English. And why would he be called a "sand nigger"? By his own admission he was born in Sweden and moved to Ohio. What sand did he come from?
Look, I like Ergun Caner. He is a gifted speaker and Christian apologist. I like to listen to his sermons. He no doubt has a great ministry at Liberty with youth, and I mean him no harm with this post. But he really needs to explain these contradictions, and stop with the exaggerations about his past. Those in authority over him need to hold him accountable in this regard. What a great example he would be to other preachers if he would be totally honest and transparent about these exaggerations.
James White says about Caner: "I believe Ergun Caner has a very bad habit of "padding the truth" as he speaks. He gets into the moment and, to add weight, or gravitas, to his presentation, makes claims that are simply untrue."
Let me close with a similar, secular example from my days in Gainesville, Florida:
This whole matter reminds me of a very talented police chief in Gainesville, Florida in the 1980's and 1990's. His name was Waylon Clifton, and he was very much loved my most of Gainesville. He was tough on crime in a very liberal-minded community and most people liked the job he did in protecting us. He was handsome, and had the "Sylvester Stallone" look about him. He was our police chief during the Gainesville murders in 1990, one of the most frightening periods in my life. Clifton was destined for greater things politically, perhaps as the sheriff of Alachua County, and he even toyed with the thought of running for an elected political office.
But Clifton had a serious character flaw that did him in. Most every time he spoke to groups, he talked about his days playing football at the University of Alabama under Bear Bryant. But when someone bothered to do a little bit of research, they found he never, ever played football for Bear Bryant. It was all made up. He spoke of it often, in great detail, but it was all a figment of his imagination - a story made up to embellish his past, to make him seem even more wonderful than he was.
When Clifton learned this was going to present a problem for him, instead of apologizing and coming clean, he doctored an old news article in an attempt to make up proof that he did play at Alabama. He resigned soon after, and I never heard what happened to him after he left Gainesville.
So I hope that Caner does explain these apparent contradictions about his past. They are not insurmountable. He just needs to explain them, apologize if he stretched the truth, and move on. He apologized recently for some hurtful words spoken about Jerry Rankin, so we know he has it in him.
And I hope his supporters don't come here to attack me like they have done to Mohammad and Debbie Kaufman. But I am expecting the worst in that regard.