The good news is that while SBC pastors and SBC leaders like Mac Brunson may tolerate and still give speaking gigs to someone who has repeatedly lied to Christians for a decade about his past and never given a full explanation or offered a public apology, in the real, everyday world this sort of thing is NOT tolerated.
A very interesting story broke yesterday about a Maryland man who was arrested for accepting money for lectures he gave based on his past as a special forces agent, a claim that turned out to be false.
William Hillar - pictured above - marketed himself for years as a retired special forces agent, and was able to secure speaking gigs to military groups, law enforcement agencies and schools. Apparently he was incredibly convincing, and very entertaining, and had people fooled for about 10 years.
If you read the Fox News account here, and a watch a TBD News video on this story, you'll learn the following:
- as reported by TBD, "...for years this man [Hillar] invented a persona so that he could market himself as a speaker, teacher, and trainer."
- Hillar was willing to even speak lies involving his family to make his story seem more convincing. Hillar claimed that the movie "Taken" was patterned after his life, as his daughter had been kidnapped and killed. Nope, she is alive and he never was a special forces agent.
- One of his neighbors summed up Hillar very well: "To make up a whole life's story in order to draw attention to himself, I think is very sad."
- Hillar to this day is unrepentant. According to the TBD reporter, "He seems unrepentant. In court this afternoon...he said he plans to continue working as a lecturer, teacher and trainer on these exact same subjects."
- Hillar even fooled the government, and got himself a speaking gig with the FBI at one point.
- Hillar was knowledgeable and entertaining, and had his audiences fooled by being a captivating and motivating speaker. One of Hillar's victims, Mark Stone of the Rural Justice Training Center in Wyoming said that Hillar kept a class of 60 students riveted by telling stories from his special forces days. "His stories were so detailed,” said Stone. “Probably things he read in a book....he was great...He knew a lot of information and he was motivational."
The similarities of Hillar's story to Caner's are so obvious to anyone who has closely followed Caner. He transformed himself from "E. Michael Caner" to "Ergun Mehmet Giovani Caner" and gained popularity in the SBC preaching circuit shortly after 9/11 by telling us members at FBC Jax that he was "raised in Europe", and that he was "trained to do that which was done on 11 September" and that he was in "Islamic Youth Jihad". He secured a speaking gig to our armed forces as someone who understands Islamic culture based on being raised in Turkey. He has told audiences that his dad had three wives, when there is no evidence whatsoever that this is true. He over and over told audiences of debates that he had with Muslims, yet there was no record of these debates. He told stories to the Ohio Free Will Baptists at a men's retreat of his days growing up in Turkey and watching American television to learn of our culture, when records show he lived in the states since he was about 3 years old. Caner is on tape speaking jibberish multiple times to fool his audiences into thinking he speaks a foreign language. Need I go on?
Lying about one's past is not in and of itself illegal. But when you accept money to speak to people or give lectures based on a falsified past, that is a different story. Let me remind you of this advertisement that was on Phil Waldrep's Living With Joy website until a few days after I wrote an article about it, when it magically disappeared:
Does this news story about Hillar help you to perhaps understand why Caner does not publicly repent about his decade of deceit?
I want to add some information here about this story that is not in the main press accounts. If you read this piece at the TBD website, the point is made that what helped take Hillar down were retired men who WERE in the Special Forces, who took great offense of a man making money off of lies claiming to be one of the them! They wrote letters and posted information on the Internet about Hillar, until eventually an investigation was done.
This makes me think of James White. James White was the most vocal minister calling for Caner to repent during 2010. White was absolutely blasted in the most un-Christian fashion by some Southern Baptists in their desperate attempt to defend Caner. They attacked White for his Calvinist views, they even contacted one of his employers at a seminary to get him fired, claimed he was "obsessed" with Caner. They ridiculed him and tried to discredit him. It was unbelievable to see this happen to James White at the hands of other Christian ministers as White was being true to his Christian convictions and seeking the repentance of a Christian brother.
Why did White get so involved in the Caner fiasco and put so much at risk in publicly calling for a fellow minister to repent of his lies? If you remember, White explained that he was compelled to get involved, because Caner was falsely claiming to be doing what James White DOES do: and that is debate people about the Christian faith and Islam. Caner claimed to have hundreds of debates all over the world, but there is not a record of any of them. White was attempting to protect the integrity of his profession, from someone who was falsely claiming to be a Christian-Muslim debater.
These men retired from Special Forces don't take kindly to imposters. Said Jeff Hinton, a retired Master Seargent: "These guys are using our reputation to scam innocent people. It really makes us angry."
Most professions root out those who use fake credentials and lie about their past to advance professionally and financially, and they and expel them from their midst. Most professions will call out someone who is gaining in their field from lies - not so apparently in the SBC. Instead in this case the SBC turned on the one who was blowing the whistle and tried to harm him.
But it really doesn't have to be that way in Christian circles. There is a way of restoration, and it is called confession and repentance. Caner and Brunson know that public sin by a minister requires public confession and repentance. Brunson has practiced this in his church with his ministers, and Caner and Brunson wrote about "private sin, private confession, public sin, public confession" in their 2005 book "Why Churches Die" (p. 208).
But sadly, Ergun and the pastors of the Southern Baptist Convention who continue to promote Caner believe that the embarrassment of a public confession and repentance by one of their rock star preachers is too high a price to pay in order for them to practice what they preach. And you know what? Maybe this story of William Hillar helps to explain just how high the price can be.
Welcome back to Jacksonville, Ergun.