For a prominent SBC church and pastor to once again feature Ergun Caner - the evangelical version of Lance Armstrong - in a pulpit to preach to the youth choir and congregation is nothing short of a tragedy, and it is just an example of the sorry state of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Caner quickly became an SBC darling after his 2001 sermon in Jax - in which he claimed:
- to be "raised in Europe", coming to America at age 15;
- that he spoke broken English in high school;
- until age 15 he was in "Islamic Youth Jihad";
- that he was a trained terrorist, "trained to do that which was done on 11 September";
- that he wore full Islamic gear to high school, praying to Mecca;
- that he was called a "sand monkey" and ridiculed for being a devout Muslim;
- said "Jesus strapped a cross on his back so I wouldn't have to strap a bomb on my back";
- that he knew how to speak Arabic, even using a phony dialect in his sermon.
The only problem is; Caner never was raised in Europe or trained in terrorism. It was all made up. Caner and his family moved from Sweden to Columbus, Ohio at the age of 3. All of the above lies and deceits were spoken in that one single sermon to dupe the entire SBC, with former SBC-president Jerry Vines giving nods of approval while Caner spoke. Caner fooled the entire congregation, including myself and my family who were at the service. Caner and his brother Emir leveraged that one single sermon to launch them to become authors and seminary presidents and Christian speakers. The whole mess is what James White coined the "Great Evangelical Cover-Up".
Why rehash all of this? Because I want the record to be crystal-clear, no re-writing of history by the SBC'ers: it was in Jacksonville that Caner set the groundwork, established his phony-baloney storyline that he would follow for the next 9 years, until he was finally exposed by bloggers - including this blogger - and Christian apologist James White. Caner's fibs even went so far as to lead him to lie to our military troops during 2005 training sessions in which Caner posed as an expert in Turkish culture - preparing our troops to engage the enemy's culture. Can you believe it? It is true - Caner put our fighting men and women at risk by posing as someone he wasn't, as an expert in something he at best had only read about.
So here Caner is back in the SBC - all is forgiven apparently, and he never has publicly apologized for his decade of deceit, or for the way his defenders attacked James White and others who tried to get Caner to come clean - sounds like Lance Armstrong, doesn't it? Caner's friends and defenders will tell you he has apologized for making a few misstatements of fact over 10 years. But it is just not so. In fact, after Caner was removed as president of Liberty University's seminary president in 2010, at one of his first public speaking engagements at a Bristol, VA prayer breakfast he said his troubles were due to "bloggers" and said they were just "frustrated people in their basement". He also said "it will take more than edited videos to take me down."
And to make matters worse, if they could be worse, the media outlets for the Southern Baptists and Florida Baptists never, ever had reported on the Caner scandal. Why? Because prominent SBC leaders who have authored books with Caner and have been involved in promoting Caner after 9/11, would be too embarrassed. Too much potential damage, so the Baptist Press and Florida Baptist Witness - who purport themselves to be Christian news organizations - pretend Caner's decade of deceit never happened. And now that Caner is back in a prominent SBC pulpit, Joni Hannigan, one of the editors of the Florida Baptist Witness, tweeted last night during the Caner sermon: "So blessed to hear my friend @erguncaner preach tonight...", and she tweeted photos of her beloved Christian hero, Ergun Caner.
In Caner's sermon last night, he asked an excellent question: after citing statistics that we have about 75,000 Baptist churches in America, with 55 million people claiming to be "born again Christians", Caner asked the following:
"...don't you reckon we [the church] would be further along? Don't you think we'd have a bigger impact on our culture?...We spend 8 billion dollars on church growth resources in America every year. What are we missing? We've got all the new programs, we've got more churches, with more land, more money, more members than in our history, so why aren't we seeing revival?"
Great question, Ergun. The answer to Caner's question, in part, is staring right back at Caner in the mirror. It is Caner himself, and those who have defended him and who continue to promote him, that are partly responsible for the ineffectiveness of the Southern Baptist Convention to gain new converts, and their failure to keep the young ones raised in SBC churches. Young people are growing up and seeing that their most prominent pastors and preachers have lied to them for personal promotion and financial gain, and the lies were mostly ignored and never dealt with openly. All of this causes people - especially young people who are prone to doubt during the early years of their faith journey - to question the entire validity of the Christian message.
You, Ergun, are the man. How ironic is it that one of the many books Caner has coauthored is entitled "Why Churches Die - Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ" - when Caner himself, and those who promote him, are part of the lethal concoction infecting the Southern Baptist Convention today.
Thank goodness most professional groups or societies in our culture deal harshly and swiftly with known liars within their own ranks. They know the effectiveness of their cause and the validity of their message can go down the tubes in a heartbeat with one prominent phony left unchecked. Unfortunately, Baptists haven't figured this out, and I don't think they ever will. As their numbers decline and their churches die and get snatched up by larger churches, they'll just complain that we are a "post Christian nation" and blame it all on the devil - and of course the Calvinists. And the bloggers.
I remember my former pastor Jerry Vines saying many times that Christianity is a faith that can stand up to the test of intellectual debate and inspection. He would say that a person doesn't need to check their brains at the church door to become a Christian.
Unfortunately with an unrepentant Caner still roaming SBC churches, being promoted by prominent SBC preachers, I'm not sure that is true anymore.