“What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate.” These words, first spoken by American character actor Strother Martin in the 1967 Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke, might best describe the two (or more) sides in the curious case of Ergun Caner. After my most recent post regarding Dr. Caner’s supporters, I had little inclination to write another post on this subject quite so soon. Until I read Dr. Norman Geisler’s further, further defense of Dr. Caner.
Apart from being an interested Southern Baptist pastor and former attorney, I have no stake in this case. I know neither Dr. Caner nor Dr. Geisler nor any of the “Extreme Muslims and Extreme Calvinists” who first brought the allegations to light. However, if one chooses to make a public defense of someone through their website, then that person opens the door to others commenting on and analyzing said defense.
Whether or not a defendant chooses to testify in his own defense, his credibility, especially in a criminal case, will always be weighed by the jury during deliberations. When a defendant’s credibility has been damaged (and in criminal cases, it will be), then the attorneys will attempt — with varying degrees of success — to rehabilitate or restore the defendant’s credibility in the eyes of the jurors. One way lawyers try to do this involves calling character witnesses who will testify that the defendant is an upstanding member of the community and someone who can be trusted. These witnesses, while not on trial themselves, subject their own credibility to the scrutiny of the jury and, their testimony will be viewed, both objectively and subjectively, as either trustworthy or untrustworthy, by that same group of people. If jurors find a witness for the defense (or prosecution for that matter) biased — either because of a prior relationship with the defendant or because of what that witness stands to gain or lose if the jury delivers a guilty verdict — then that particular witness’ testimony will most likely be disregarded by the jurors.
Dr. Geisler’s latest missive offers the following supporting evidence in Dr. Caner’s defense:
- Dr. Caner’s Exculpatory Statement
- Seven Character Witnesses (including himself)
- Liberty University’s Statement Regarding the Allegations Made Against Dr. Caner
While Dr. Geisler and others seem intent on treating this like a criminal case, I maintain that the standards of criminal law simply do not apply. The ethical criterion for pastors, seminary professors, or Christian apologists should be neither the strawman of “perfection” nor his twin brother “guilty beyond all reasonable doubt,” but rather “above reproach.” With this as my standard, I will cross-examine the evidence and witnesses that have been proffered by Dr. Geisler.
First, Dr. Caner’s own statement, since deleted or withdrawn from his personal website, should be viewed in the light most favorable to him. Even so, his self-serving statement (as all exculpatory statements are) cannot dispose of the case. If it did, then there would have been no independent investigation by Liberty University and most of us would not be writing or talking about this issue.
Second, each of the character witnesses has some kind of relationship with Dr. Caner. That is not surprising. These personal and professional relationships do not fundamentally negate the credibility of any of the witnesses. Rather, they point to personal biases that may not necessarily affect their testimony, but will most certainly affect the weight that others afford that testimony.
Invariably, family members will testify in court on behalf of relatives. That Emir Caner, the brother of Ergun, would be called on to testify in the court of public opinion, should strike everyone as perfectly reasonable. Emir provides a sincere and powerful defense of his brother. No one should question his credibility. However, most impartial observers would not grant Emir’s testimony the same weight as a witness who had no vested interest in the case.
Dr. Geisler uses Kregel Publications as another character witness in this case. Kregel, which has published some of Dr. Caner’s books, issued the following statement on July 6, 2010:
Kregel Publications has concluded that the Kregel titles by Dr. Caner are trustworthy, factually accurate, and helpful to both Christians and seekers wanting to know more about Islamic beliefs and how those beliefs compare and contrast with biblical Christianity.
It should be quite obvious that Kregel Publications has a vested financial interest in this case and they do not want their own judgment, reputation or credibility called into question. Of course they concluded that all of Dr. Caner’s books that were published by Kregel were without any defects. Their self-serving statement does not negate their credibility, but their pecuniary interest might diminish their credibility in the eyes of some.
Three other witnesses — John Ankerberg, Ron Rhodes, and Joseph Holden all have personal and/or professional relationships with Dr. Caner. None of these men, who have been with Ergun Caner in various venues, including radio programs and apologetics conferences, would want to doubt Dr. Caner’s veracity or credibility. To give credence to any allegation of wrongdoing by Dr. Caner could perhaps cast each of these men’s ministries in a less than flattering light. That does not mean that their credibility is in question. Rather, it means that their testimony is weighted accordingly.
I will not dwell on the testimony of Norman Geisler. To insert his own statement (in the third person) into his own blog in support of Dr. Caner is akin to a defense attorney testifying on behalf of his own client. Enough said.
Before addressing the testimony of Paige Patterson, let me briefly interact with Dr. Geisler’s defense presentation of the Liberty University Statement. For a more detailed analysis, I would encourage you to read my blog post, Credible Witnesses. The LU Statement is rather brief. It does not take too much space to quote it in full. But, if you refuse to quote the complete statement, then integrity demands that you not use an ellipsis when doing so would significantly alter the context of the statement. The heart of the LU statement, omitted by Dr. Geisler through his use of an ellipsis, reads:
but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence. Dr. Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review. Dr. Caner’s current contractual term as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary expires on June, 30, 2010. Dr. Caner will no longer serve as Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The university has offered, and Dr. Caner has accepted, an employment contract for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Liberty University’s Statement, while certainly pithy, speaks volumes to those who are willing to listen. That Dr. Geisler would quote from Tim Roger’s article at SBC Today, To Clear from Accusation or Blame, in his own argument for the exoneration of Dr. Caner, reveals not only a stunning ignorance of the concept of exoneration (with all due respect to Mr. Webster), but a tin ear to boot! While he certainly declared his claim that Liberty exonerated Dr. Caner, Mr. Rogers argument defending exoneration came to an abrupt halt after I posted the last comment to the aforementioned article. That comment became the foundation for my Credible Witnesses post. No one does their future credibility any favors by continuing to argue for Dr. Caner’s exoneration.
Dr. Caner’s own statement, Liberty University’s Statement, and six character witnesses all cross-examined. That leaves just one — Paige Patterson, the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. I’ve literally saved the best for last. Without a doubt, Dr. Patterson’s testimony proves to be the most persuasive and effective of any presented by Dr. Geisler and, therefore should be given the most weight. Why? Because of what Dr. Patterson says, but more importantly, because of what Dr. Patterson does not say. No self-serving statements. No spirited defenses of men. In one short paragraph, Dr. Patterson focuses not on Ergun Caner, but on the Lord Jesus Christ. Referencing Jesus or God eight times, while only mentioning the “Caners” once, Dr. Patterson lifts up and magnifies the name of Jesus! A simple proclamation of the Gospel. The same Gospel that saves sinners like you and like me and like “two Moslem boys” in Ohio. The same Gospel that cleanses and forgives, rehabilitates and restores. In this case, I think I’ll give Dr. Patterson’s Christ-exalting testimony the greatest weight possible. After all, you cannot lose when you testify about Christ!