When you’re in a hole, stop digging. When it comes to the case of Ergun Caner and Liberty University, it seems some within the blogosphere have either not heard of or simply do not understand this modern proverb, first attributed to British politician Denis Healey. Quite simply, when your own arguments put you so deep in a hole in terms of persuasiveness or credibility, then it’s best to stop talking. However, from my own experience, I can say without a doubt that attorneys, pastors, and other leaders find it almost impossible to practice the discipline of silence, even if doing so would ultimately help their case.
On Tuesday, July 6, 2010, popular Christian apologist Norman Geisler published a statement on his blog entitled In Further Defense of Ergun Caner: A Response to His Critics. Before interacting with thrust of his argument, one must understand that Dr. Geisler approaches this issue as someone who has a personal relationship with Dr. Caner.
My experience with Ergun, as that of those who know him well, is that he is a devout zealous believer who lives a life in obedience to Christ and who works diligently to extend his kingdom. It is a crying shame that other believers have jumped on a band-wagon which is discrediting this sincere, earnest, and faithful follower of Christ.
As I explained in Credible Witnesses, how we view another person’s credibility will inevitably be influenced by our own background, education, experience, training, and, to a great extent, by our own personal relationship, if any, with that person. The most intimate of relationships between a husband and wife usually results in the highest level of credibility and trust between the two spouses (as it should be) and likewise results in a most vigorous defense when an outsider attacks either spouse’s credibility. If you doubt that scenario, try attacking the credibility of a man’s wife and see how that turns out for you.
Therefore, it should not be surprising when some of Dr. Caner’s good friends and colleagues launch spirited defenses on his behalf. Some have taken issue with the various arguments advanced by Dr. Caner’s supporters, with particular disapproval directed at Norman Geisler (here and here). When viewed through the most charitable, grace-filled lens that Christians should possess, we can disagree with Dr. Geisler’s (and others) arguments and reasoning in support of Dr. Caner, but still do so in a way that does not diminish one’s own credibility. The best way to accomplish that objective – no matter what the issue and no matter what tactics your opponents use – is to argue your case on the facts and avoid attacking personalities.
Time and space will not permit me to comment extensively on each and every argument used by Dr. Geisler in his further defense of Dr. Caner (other articles have offered extensive analysis). Because I have listened to only a few of the primary sources which were used to support the charges against Dr. Caner, I will stipulate, for argument’s sake, that Dr. Geisler’s seven responses to the listed accusations are, for the most part, factually correct. I know that others may challenge my stipulation to the facts, but let me interact with Dr. Geisler’s concluding “Note About Ergun’s Critic” which I find much more problematic.
Dr. Geisler’s second, third, and fourth concluding points are all cut from the same cloth and each, in their own way, substitutes American legal standards for moral, Biblical standards. Dr. Caner has not been charged with a crime in a court of law and therefore has no legal right to publically face his accusers like a criminal defendant does. There are always extenuating circumstances which dictate that use of a pseudonym is not only appropriate, but wise. This may or may not be one of those circumstances, but neither law nor morality would automatically demand that the anonymous critic reveal his true identity. A lawsuit alleging slander and/or libel against a public figure like Dr. Caner would be difficult to make. If a case were to be made, then this anonymous critic can eventually be found and served with legal papers.
Dr. Geisler further believes that critics of Dr. Caner have instituted a new standard in this case, one of “guilty until proven innocent.” Dr. Geisler argues that “the burden of proof for these allegations (against Dr. Caner) is on the accuser, not on the accused. While he does not explicitly say so, I assume that Dr. Geisler believes that the standard in this case should be “innocent until proven guilty.” As a former attorney, I certainly embrace that standard – enshrined in the Bill of Rights – for those accused of a crime. Unless one wants to make the argument that Dr. Caner has been charged with a crime (of which I am unaware), then this standard is simply inapplicable. In any event, I always thought that the Biblical standard for pastors, deacons, and those holding themselves out as spiritual leaders was one of being “above reproach.” That does not imply perfection, for none of us are perfect. But, it does set the bar just a little higher than our legal system and rightly so.
That Dr. Caner has not been found guilty of “any serious doctrinal or moral issues” again misses the point of what it means to be a credible witness. Are there minor doctrinal and/or moral issues that have been alleged against Dr. Caner in which he has been found to have been in the wrong? I don’t know what Liberty University meant when it concluded that “Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory . . .,” but that very statement goes to the very heart of Dr. Caner’s credibility. Perhaps we will know more later if LU decides to release the facts and evidence which led them to their conclusion, but I will not hold my breath while waiting for them to release anything in regards to this matter.
The various self-contradictory statements, misstatements, and discrepancies – all found by the Liberty University Committee, not by Dr. Caner’s critics – may all turn out to be much ado about nothing. Perhaps, in the end, none of these allegations will affect Dr. Caner’s long-term credibility or witness. Whether they realize it or not, his supporters, including Norman Geisler, are neither helping Dr. Caner rehabilitate his credibility nor enlarging theirs. They need to be reminded of the first law of holes – when you’re in one, stop digging!