Ergun Caner Defenders: Failure to Communicate

“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:

  1. Dr. Caner’s Exculpatory Statement
  2. Seven Character Witnesses (including himself)
  3. 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!    


About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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8 Responses to Ergun Caner Defenders: Failure to Communicate

  1. Bennett Willis says:

    It is a shame that rational discussion does not carry much weight in this case. You better be careful or you will get “involved.” 🙂 I think I’ll put the link to this posting in a few places since I think it is a good one.

    Since Dr. Patterson does not address any issue in the discussion, I too am willing to give him full credibility in his statement. He says nothing that I would not be willing to say–or qualified to say for that matter. Unfortunately, I have filed him in the “what did he know and when did he know it” group–but that is a personal issue.

    I am not convinced that he has no vested interest. He has been given credit for being a mentor to EC. Personally, I wonder (speculation, I know) if he arranged the speaking opportunities for EC (the first two “big” ones) that have been used for documentation of the emergence of “EC–super former-Muslim.” Someone clearly made the “introduction” and I don’t think it was a “cold call” by EC.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Dr. Patterson may well have a vested interest as someone who mentored EC, just as any pastor would have a vested interest in a church member who they mentored. Even though Dr. Patterson may have arranged speaking opportunities — even the big ones — does not mean that he knew beforehand that EC’s personal history was anything other than what EC said it was. Only after one knew, or had reason to believe, that Dr. Caner was making statements that were “self-contradictory” would one, including Dr. Patterson, then be on notice that parts of (not the whole) EC’s testimony were embellished. It is an open question of “what did people know and when did they know it,” but once they did, we are not privy to what may have been discussed privately with Dr. Caner. Because of that, we need to be careful to give the benefit of the doubt to those who still deserve it. Thanks for reading and passing along this post. God bless,

  2. Mark says:

    Hi Howell,

    Pastor and (former) attorney, what an interesting background. I’d like to point out the negligence of Geisler to deal with Caner’s own statements in context. If you look at how careful Geisler was in his call for context and word meanings, quote in Norman Geisler: Context, Application and Defense, he seems a bit inconsistent.

    Should Christians hold cults to higher standards than fellow Christians are held to? I would love to hear your thoughts on my comparison.


    • Howell Scott says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I do indeed have an interesting background. I never have regretted my legal experience, but believe God has used it to shape me into the person and pastor that I am today. As I have argued from my first comment on this issue, I believe that pastors, and indeed all Christians, should be held to the highest ethical and moral standards. That Christian leaders have lowered the bar to the criminal standard of “guilt beyond all reasonable doubt” instead of “beyond reproach” is perplexing. If attorneys have to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest, I certainly think Christians in general, and pastors and spiritual leaders in particular, should be held to that standard or higher. Thanks for the comment. God bless,

  3. Lydia says:

    ” 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.”

    That is exactly right.

    As to Patterson, he is always very very careful. But as one who has followed his many scandals, I am aware he was between a rock and a hard place on this one. He has been Caner’s mentor and promoter for years. If anyone knew Caner was not a devout Muslim, it would be him.

    But Patterson has just come off several other scandals such as Dr. Klouda and the Darrel Gilyard. And he is involved in another legal situation that has not been publisized…yet. In the Gilyard scandal, it is verifiable he turned away women who had been sexually abused even insulting them. He claimed that Biblically, each woman had to have 3 witnesses to Gilyard’s sexual perversion toward them. (Never mind the fantastic testimony of Gilyard that he was homeless, etc, that Patterson promoted that was not true)

    And SWBTS Seminary is suffering since he took over. People have had Patterson scandal fatigue…even to the point of knowing why he had to leave SEBTS.

    Patterson simply delivered a statement that few could criticize and it has it’s attended effect being a part of Caner defense statements. However, I think if one reads between the lines, he is saying that the lying does not really matter.

    For some reason, Patterson is never held accountable in the SBC. I think it is because he knows were all the bodies have been buried since the CR. But many who get to know him, try to get rid of him as a paid employee. This has been going on since Criswell and the famous airport meeting back in the 90’s. But he always lands in another SBC funded job.

  4. Bennett Willis says:

    A good reminder (9:26 reply). Thanks. I expect others to do this and certainly should be careful to do it myself.

  5. Lydia says:

    A SWBTS Trustee, who is also a long time protege of Patterson wrote this back in April:

    It gives insight into the thinking patterns of many of these men.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Thanks for reading and interacting with this post. Let me respond to both your comments. I am not generally a “fan” of Dr. Patterson, but I think his statement, objectively speaking, stands as a strong, Christ-exalting word. I simply cannot comment on it from a subjective viewpoint, although I understand why you do. Even though I think his statement was strong in this particular case, that does not mean that I agree with his statements and/or actions in other cases. From my own observations in following both the Klouda and Gilyard cases, it appears that actions taken by Dr. Patterson and others were highly questionable. I don’t know any reasonably prudent pastor (although I’m sure there are some that I don’t know), especially in cases of alleged sexual misconduct, who would wait very long before acting, much less wait for three witnesses to come forward. With my legal background, and given what is happening to churches all over America on this issue, I would have acted differently in that case. I disagree that female professors should be considered as senior pastors. Are they spiritual leaders? Yes. Pastors? No. Some of the best professors that I learned under at Southern were women. Therefore, the I disagree with how the Klouda case was handled as well.
      Thanks for linking to Bart’s article. I did read it when it came out. Since he has been out of country and not publicly commented on this case since Liberty’s action in removing Dr. Caner — one which he adamently predicted would not happen — I will wait to see if he retracts anything from that article before coming to any conclusions. I hope he revises his assessment of this situation, but given his past comments, I highly doubt it. I hope I’m proven wrong.
      Lastly, a new day dawns in the S.B.C. I believe that what took place in Orlando and how the GCRTF Report was pushed through, that thousands of grass-root Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have been awakened. I have been. That’s one of the reasons I began this blog. Thanks so much for stopping by. God bless,

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