Friday, June 04, 2010

The New York Times, Ergun Caner, and Lessons from the Roman Catholic Church's Pope Benedict

Today I received a phone call from Laurie Goodstein, Religion Editor for The New York Times. Laurie was calling me as background for an investigative piece she is doing on Ergun Caner and Liberty University and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

For those unfamiliar with Lauri, she was the reporter who first exposed Pope Benedict's XVI's involvement in covering up the actions of a sexual predator within the Roman Catholic Church. Without surprise, after her investigative article on Pope Benedict and the Roman Catholic Church appeared, loyalists for the church blistered Laurie, calling her "left-wing," "biased," and "an enemy of Christanity." The official spokesperson for the Roman Catholic church, William Lavada responded to Goodstein's article by declaring:

"I'm not proud of America's newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that every American has every right and expectation to find in their major media report. I ask the Times to reconsider the attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on."
However, on the April 3, 2010 Fox News Watch telecast, evangelical media star Cal Thomas was asked about Laurie Goodstein's article. Listen to his response:
I thought Laurie Goodstein's piece was very well researched. I didn't think it had a hostile angle. And this is in a newspaper that is openly hostile to everything the Catholic Church stands for, from pro-life to contraception to married priests. I thought it was a pretty good piece. And I think it's forcing the Vatican to deal with something it needs to deal with.

Peggy Noonan had a very good column in Saturday's Wall Street Journal in which she said — she actually praised the New York Times in this case and in some others, the media do a good job of forcing the Catholic Church, or any institution, political or religious, to confront some of its inner darkness.
Cal makes three excellent points about the secular media writing about problems within the church: (1). It is possible for an investigative piece about church matters, published in a secular newspaper, to be well researched and fair, (2). Sometimes it takes a paper like The New York Times to help the church confront "inner darkness," and (3). Something good can come to the church by secular exposure of our problems, in that we begin to "deal with" matters we might otherwise ignore.

I don't know what Laurie Goodstein will write about Ergun Caner, and I don't know whether or not she will publish any article prior to June 30th and the official report from the internal investigation being conducted by Liberty University. However, knowing that Laurie is now looking at the Ergun Caner situation, those Baptist loyalists who blister anyone that exposes Caner's embellishments while speaking to Baptist churches become more of an embarrassment to the name of Christ than Ergun Caner's lies and embellishments. To blindly defend the indefensible promotes Baptist "religion" above true Christianity.

Here's hoping Cal Thomas and Fox News don't wind up having to defend the New York Times against attacks by Southern Baptists. For that to not happen, some Southern Baptists need to grow up and shut up.


ml said...

Exhibit A--here is why we make judgments that seem to go against all common sense

Exhibit B -- Here is how funny we appear when we do

Ramesh said...

I would encourage Laurie Goldstein to also look into these blogs that revealed much of Ergun caner's deceptions ...

Ministry of Reconciliation [Debbie Kaufman].

Grace and Truth to You [Wade Burleson] > All posts related to Ergun Caner.

FBC Jax Watchdog > All posts related to Ergun Caner.

Thoughts of Francis Turretin > Posts with label Ergun Caner.

Fake Ex Muslims [Mohammad Khan].

Ramesh said...

I would also strongly and earnestly encourage Laurie Goodstein to also look into this blog ...

Stop Baptist Predators [Christa Brown].

Laurie, please do us ALL a favor and be thorough with your investigation.

Anonymous said...

I took some time reading the 'document trail' and the correspondence of the canon law case, and I think that Laurie's article WAS good to give the background information.

I think any 'lapses' on her part were more of NOT included additional info rather than the inclusion of information. However, a Catholic reader will pick up on the salient points Laurie did not include when they read the correspondence of the case.

"Peggy Noonan had a very good column in Saturday's Wall Street Journal in which she said — she actually praised the New York Times in this case"

Now, Peggy Noonan is a very respected journalist and commentator, who is conservative (I think) and is a practicing Catholic. Her opinion is one of confidence in the work of Laurie Goodstein, and that is an important endorsement.

I do not know the motive of the Catholic 'spokesperson' who lambasted Laurie's article, but he obviously did NOT take the time to read her back-up info that she referenced, which gives, in detail, the time-line and events of the case, as well as correspondence from all parties.
If he HAD read her references, he would have known that she attempted to be fair, although she may not have included ALL of the salient points in her own writing. (To be honest, if she is not Catholic, she may not have known that certain details were important.)

Like THY PEACE, I DO HOPE that Laurie will do as good a job in the Caner matter, and I hope that she professionally includes back-up references in any articles, in the same professional manner that she did while reporting the story of the canon law case involving CARDINAL (at the time of the case) Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI.

I look forward to reading Laurie's work, if and when it is published.


New BBC Open Forum said...

"Leadership" in many churches have learned well from Exhibit A. Why do you think they have "a show of hands," a standing vote, or "all in favor say 'aye'"? Unspoken peer pressure. said...


Several comments were accidentally deleted. I apologise. Please repost.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Wade, can you remove the link to the Lumpkins "vlog"?

I could've gone without seeing a "vlog" of a middle-aged man in a tight sleeveless shirt and a beret telling me about his drive in his convertable and his new contract to write small group bible studies and how busy he will be.

I could say more, but I'll stop.


Anonymous said...

Now, be kind.

Rex Ray said...

New BBC Open Forum,
Well said about the peer pressure.

Also the first vote taken will be ‘for’ the motion if the motion is wanted by those counting the votes as it sets up more peer pressure.

I believe if there is little discussion then a show of hands is fine, but if there is a lot of discussion/debate, the vote should be by secret ballot; especially if it involves a staff member to be hired or people involved.

Aussie John said...


I think your link "grow up and shut up" may be faulty. When I opened it a man who appears to have some serious personal problems about his own self importance is speaking.

New BBC Open Forum said...

Wade, can you remove the link to the Lumpkins "vlog"?

Don't you dare, Wade! That should be required viewing for all who read these blogs. So should this.

I could say more, but I'll stop.

Ping. I could, too. But I won't.

New BBC Open Forum said...

"Now, be kind."

He was. Trust me. So was I.

Tom Kelley said...

Promise us you won't ever become self-important enough to have a vlog.

Alan Paul said...

For some reason, the vlog reminds me of "The Emperor Has No Clothes" and I'm not sure why... ;)

New BBC Open Forum said...

For some reason, the vlog reminds me of "The Emperor Has No Clothes" and I'm not sure why... ;)

Well, he doesn't have any sleeves.

Rex Ray said...

New BBC Open Forum,
I wish God would return the time I spent listening to “vlog”.

BibleWheel said...

Lumpkin's vlog reminds me of the movie "Deliverance." The only thing missing was the banjo.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

We have the fake Ergun Caner video series on You Tube...why can I feel that a fake Peter Lumpkins video series is coming???

"Hi, I'm Peter Lumpkins. Did I say that I'm Peter Lumpkins? I'm Peter Lumpkins of SBC Tomorrow. Peter Lumpkins.

Yada Yada Yada

I'm Peter Lumpkins, and I have a beret. Do you see my muscles? I hope so. I have a tight shirt on so you can see them.

yada yada

I don't like Calvinists and Muslims and don't believe anything they say.

yada yada.

Did I say I'm Peter Lumpkins? I'm going to be very busy this week.

I have a convertible. I drive it in the country.

With that, I'm Peter Lumpkins, and you're not.

Peter Lumpkins, Peter Lumpkins"

Perhaps James Carville could play Peter Lumpkins.

Sorry Wade, couldn't resist.

Ramesh said...

Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog [James White] > Can Unbelievers Speak Truth?.

Rex Ray said...


(CNN) -- Conservative bloggers called for a protest Sunday against plans to build a mosque near the site of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by Islamist hijackers on September 11, 2001.
"Building the Ground Zero mosque is not an issue of religious freedom, but of resisting an effort to insult the victims of 9/11 and to establish a beachhead for political Islam and Islamic supremacism in New York," the group "Stop the Islamicization of America" says on its website.
"Ground Zero is a war memorial, a burial ground. Respect it," says the group, which is run by conservative blogger Pamela Geller.

"The Cordoba Initiative hopes to build a $100 million, 13-story community center with Islamic, interfaith and secular programming, similar to the 92nd Street Y," its website says, referring to the cultural institution on the upper East side of Manhattan.

Lydia said...


Gee Thanks for the link to another Lumpkins vlog.

I am sending him a can of WD-40, pronto.

Anonymous said...

some Southern Baptists need to grow up and shut up.

Yes. This has certainly grown larger than I ever anticipated, but when it began to happen, my reaction was "It's about time. Finally." :)

Anonymous said...

I read your blog every day. It is the first one I visit. I also read the NY Times every day. Both are a vital part of my personal newsgathering along with the daily Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. So I place what you write in the same neighborhood. This is a compliment.

I only wish you were a pastor of some church here in Jacksonville FL. You have no idea of the dearth of folks such as yourself in these parts. Please move soon.

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Philip Miller said...

Hopefully your reporter friend will at least do enough homework to realize the mistake in the name you proscribe here to my alma mater. Even though it is clearly a Baptist university the name is just simply Liberty University. On the other hand the seminary is Libety Baptist Theological Seminary. Just needed to clarify that :)

Eric O said...

For those who would write such things as (and other who would laugh at it)
"I'm Peter Lumpkins, and I have a beret. Do you see my muscles? I hope so. I have a tight shirt on so you can see them."
Are we called to be imitators of Christ? are we to love the brethren? Are we to build up or tear down? Many of us would disagree with some of what Mr. Lumkins writes (some more than others). Is Mr. Lumpkin your enemy or a brother in Christ. Should you pray for or tear down Mr. Lumpkins. Be very sure that you are imitating Christ, you don't want to be on the other end ?
It's o.k. to be critical, just be critical of what he writes in a fair, Christ centered way?
When we write, should it be in a way that brings glory to the one true God.
Eric Opsahl

Mike DeLong said...

I for one am glad to hear that someone with a background in investigative journalism is taking up this issue. I hope she can clear up some of the questions that have arisen in my mind as I've read through the artifacts regarding Caner.

I hope, for example, that she can dig up the 2002 AP article where Caner says he came to the States in 1969. The versions of that article I've seen online don't mention when he came to the States, but the recent AP article states it as fact.

I hope she can put some of the problematic things Caner has said in perspective. For example, I've only found one place where he claims to have been born in Istanbul. Honestly I can't tell if this is just a slip of the tongue, a "fog of war" moment, or what, exactly. I haven't seen any indication that he made a practice of claiming to have been born in Istanbul.

I'd also like to see some sort of historical context for his claim to have been some kind of Muslim militant in Turkey in the late Seventies/early Eighties. I barely remember the early Eighties, but I don't remember there being a lot of news coverage of Turkish radical Muslims (in Turkey or in Ohio, for that matter) then, including or excluding Turkish-Swedish teenagers. I don't think Caner has ever named the radical group he was supposedly in. Hint: al-Queda wasn't founded until 1988 or 1989, and by then Caner had been a Christian for six or seven years.

Finally, I hope Goodstein can measure the seriousness of the Caner situation. I don't think anyone seriously believes that the accusations against him are as serious as the ones against Ratzinger, or even the accusations against Jack Hyles. Maybe they're more like the ones against Bob Larson or Mike Warnke. I don't know.

It would also be helpful if she could put the relative significance of Caner and James White into some sort of cultural context. I hate to say it, but as best I can measure, even if this episode were to mushroom into all-out throat-cutting war between Purpose-Driven Evangelicals and Young Restless Reformed types it would still be a tempest in a teacup from the point of view of the average Times reader.

Anonymous said...

" . . . it would still be a tempest in a teacup from the point of view of the average Times reader."

It's not the 'average' Times reader you have to worry about.

People are watching to see what Liberty University does here.
When they come out with their 'report', it will receive more reporting than just 'the Times'.

Either way you slice it, it WILL be news.

Could end up that Liberty University
will become an example of how fundamentalist Christians operate within their own sphere AND project that 'operation' to the world as 'the way Christians ought to handle 'things like this'.

I think you can see the implications.
Reactions? Depending on the response of Liberty, you can look for reaction from the mainstream press (all mainstream media), certainly from the left, and without question from mainstream Baptists and from the much larger Christian Community.

'tempest'? yes
'in a tea cup'? not this time

Hold on for the ride: This is one of those transcendental human dramas that involves layers of hypocrisy, deception, cover-up, efforts to shut people up, efforts to hide evidence from the public, and the iconic idolization of a 'leader' who polarizes in a country that has had enough of polarization and is heartily SICK of it.
The press lives for stuff like this to surface.

Hang on for the ride.
And prayers wouldn't hurt either that God will bring much good out of this trouble, in the way that only He can.


Rex Ray said...

Well said!

Mike DeLong said...

This article came and went on Sunday and I haven't seen much comment on it:

"Muslim-turned-preacher faces university inquiry"

This is Tom Breen's second article on Caner, and he has some interesting quotes, including one from author Kevin Roose.

Mike DeLong said...

I don't see this as a big cultural moment. I'd love to think that this would be the event that caused preachers nationwide to willingly become accountable for the truth of what they say from the pulpit, but most of the preachers I've actually met in real life have no use for amateur fact-checkers whatsoever. They're much more likely to respond to questions about the truth of what they've said with either "I'm the preacher and you're not; touch not the Lord's anointed" or "if I answer your question you'll just ask another question."

Regardless of the resolution of the Caner situation at Liberty your run-of-the-mill local preacher isn't going to see himself in Caner, much less want every Tom Dick and Harry in the pews asking whether whether the illustration he gave last Sunday actually, you know, happened.


If I had to predict right now what will come of this story I'd say this is the most that will happen: Liberty will issue a press release saying the matter has been investigated and they consider it closed. A bunch of Christians will call each other names and suggest that the other party isn't really Christian. And maybe Ergun Caner will talk less about Islam for a while. It's not like it's the only thing he preaches on. And everybody still believes he was once a Muslim.

If anyone thinks more than that will happen I'd love to hear what and why.

Mike DeLong said...

Now let me go back to my original point: I don't think the outside world cares much either.

This story isn't isn't as simple as Sunni vs. Shi'a, Protestant vs. Catholic, or even Calvinist vs. Arminian. It revolves mostly around accusations on the part of a Reformed Baptist elder against a seminary president at a Southern Baptist school. I suspect most people who can tell the difference between Southern Baptists and Reformed Baptists don't much care about the underlying facts. And people who understand the underlying story -- that this is mostly about the question of whether a pastor should stick strictly to the facts when sharing a story about himself -- aren't likely to change their opinions, much less their behavior, on the basis of the accusations against Caner.

Put simply: "Preacher Stretches Truth from Pulpit" is a "Dog Bites Man" story.

To paraphrase Jean Shepherd, preachers are storytellers, not historians.

Seriously: I would really appreciate anyone still reading this thread's help in measuring the magnitude of this story. Do you really think it ranks with the accusations against Ratzinger? Is it more like the Tony Alamo story? The Anglican/Episcopal breakup story?

It's just not that juicy. It lacks money, sex, and violence.

Remember that Caner has already corrected the record, sort of, regarding his education history. And he's already apologized, sort of. And has been noted elsewhere, the Liberty administration already has a convenient enemy in bloggers, both from the SBC position and from some of the high dudgeon expressed in some blogs since the Caner situation came to light.

Mike DeLong said...

Christiane --

Thanks for taking time out to respond. Let me make one distinction before delving into your major point:

Liberty is more evangelical than fundamentalist. Fundamentalists are separatists, both from the broader culture and from other Christians. Jerry Sr. made his break with the fundamentalists in three stages: first by getting involved in politics, second by getting involved with Jim Bakker/PTL, then by joining the SBC. If anything his son Jonathan has moved more in an evangelical direction by taking on more of the trappings of a Purpose-Driven megachurch at Thomas Road. I'd really encourage curious readers to have a look at Gina Welch's book In The Land of Believers for a perspective on what Thomas Road was like day to day circa 2007.

Liberty/Thomas Road is still something of a closed community, however: not in the sense that people don't come and go freely, but rather that the story it tells itself about itself is not greatly informed by outside sources, and its view of the world is generally informed by a relatively small community: Fox News, various SBC speakers, and not much else. See for example this portrait of Liberty under Jerry Jr's leadership from Christianity Today from September of last year:

Please note his "5-90-5" dismissal of Kevin Roose. I honestly believe that if he can dismiss an entire book that easily it will take a lot more than the current allegations against Caner to matter to Jerry Jr and hence to Liberty.

From everything I've heard from recent students at Liberty, Caner is very popular, much more than most of his predecessors as seminary president. They tend to think that they know him on the basis of repeated exposure to him as a speaker, and are not especially concerned about what some outsider thinks about him.

So I guess I would have to say that unless there is some major accusation against Caner involving money or sex forthcoming people at Liberty just don't care. They might care if Fox News were to do a story, but if the outlets are the Washington Post and the New York Times, those are easily dismissed because of their past history covering Jerry Sr and the ministry.

Mike DeLong said...

Oh the irony.

BibleWheel said...

Mike DeLong suggested that there is really nothing to see here. No "money, sex, or violence."

I think that indicates an implicit perception of Liberty U as a fools university, even amongst its supporters. Caner did not merely lie in the pulpit. He also passed off rank gibberish as if it were Arabic, or Turkish, or whatever. For this, and many other reasons, his behavior utterly disqualifies him as an academic professor (link). If LU keeps Caner in any academic capacity, it will only confirm what I already believe: LU should be known as Fools U.

Nope ... nothing to see here.

Ramesh said...

Thoughts of Francis Turretin > Dr. James White on Iron Sharpens Iron.

The topic was the Caner scandal. The show actually starts about 2 minutes into the mp3. Among the folks calling in was Wade Burleson, who has also become something of a lightning rod for criticism by some Caner's worst enemies: those who are not calling him to public repentance but instead are attacking his critics.

Lin said...

"Mike DeLong suggested that there is really nothing to see here. No "money, sex, or violence."

Is this the new biblical standard or leaders in Christianity? Lying and fakery gets a pass?

This thinking seems to be a sign of how seriously unregenerate we are.

Mike DeLong said...

Please note that I am predicting, not endorsing, an outcome.

I'm still waiting for anyone to engage with anything other than vague condemnation regarding how significant this issue is.

Please recall that the topic of the original post is the research being done by a Times reporter, not the state of the modern Southern Baptist Convention, modern evangelicalism, or whatever.

Anonymous said...


I think you may be making the case that Liberty University cares only for its 'in-bred' reputation among those who share their values.

But here's the problem:
those 'values' may have been hidden from many within their own group and their own supporters, or at least have been vague and undefined as regards the nature of 'integrity'. If now, those values have changed to reflect something 'other' than what most Christians find acceptable, that could present an internal problem for them.

Most Christian people still value truth and integrity, or they to think they do, until something like this comes up. Then their commitment is challenged, upon situational reflection.

If anything, Liberty University will likely further 'define' its position regarding 'integrity', one way or the other. Up to now, they have confused the issue and left people wondering where they stand.
As even Liberty's own people will be impacted by association, I'm sure they are also interested in what they may perceive as 'an internal matter'.

The transcendent implications for the 'image' of evangelical Christianity as presented to a lost world? This is the heart of the problem.

Wait and watch . . .
This could be interesting.
But whatever the internal and external reactions are, some good may still come out of it. Something unexpected that might not have happened otherwise, as people are awakened from 'business as usual' and from 'this is how we have always done it' and they are forced to re-examine what is really important to them as a Christian people.

A prediction ?
No. Just musing on what is possible during a time of crisis for some people who see themselves as followers of Christ. Nothing more.

Mike DeLong said...

Nonnie --

I wish I could share your somewhat mystical optimism. Evangelical Christianity in America does not have an established history of disciplining leaders for much of anything; adultery seems to be the one thing that gets a leader fired.

If you can find a single example of a ministry dismissing a leader for simple lying without complicating factors of theft or some sort of sexual sin I'm all ears.

starrstruck said...

I am truly disappointed in Dr. Caner and LU's initial response. Elmer Towns is an embarrassment to the university for stating that Dr. Caner did not do anything immoral or unethical.

Dr. Caner did apologize on the internet, but then nullified it by saying he never intentionally misled anyone.

But the evidence from his own mouth says differently. Watching him speak from the videos on the internet and listening to audio tapes of sermons proves that he has said the following:

I was born in Istanbul, Turkey. He was not.
I was raised near the Turkey/Iran border. He was not.
I came to America in 1978. He did not.
I came to America through Brooklyn at age 13. He did not.
I was trained to do what the terrorists did on 9/11. He was not.
I was in the Islamic Youth Jihad until age 15. He was not.
I learned English by watching the Dukes of Hazard. He did not.
I spoke broken English. He did not.
I debated a specific Muslim in Nebraska. He did not.
I have debated Muslim leaders. He has not.
I have debated religious leaders of other religions. He has not.

His falsehoods revolve around three areas: when he came to America, where and how he was raised, and who he debated. This is not complicated. He has intentionally misled others in these three areas. The true facts are as follows:

He was born in Sweden in 1966.
He came to America before 1970.
He was raised in Columbus, Ohio.
He was educated in America.
He spoke fluent English.
His mother was Lutheran.
His father was Muslim.
His parents divorced when he was nine.
He was raised Muslim.
His father was active in a mosque.
He came to Christ around age 15.
His father disowned him.
He attended evangelical colleges and seminaries.
He had evangelistic encounters with people from other religions.

LU has taken action. They have corrected Ergun Caner's bio. They have removed the inaccuracies. They removed when he came to America, mention of Turkey, and mention of his numerous debates in 40 states and 13 countries. They are investigating his background. But their previous statement by Towns is more embarrassing then Caner's falsehoods.

Dr. Caner at the very least needs to apologize. He needs to state clearly and unequivocally that he misrepresented his background. We may assume that he did so to capitalize on his Muslim background in the wake of 9/11. The evidence is that E. Michael Caner became Ergun Mehmet Caner after 9/11, another falsehood.

The sad truth is that his actual testimony was sufficient enough. He could have said that being raised by a devout Sunni Muslim father gave him a unique perspective into the mind of the Muslim terrorists and on indoctrination. He didn't have to lie. That is what is so sad.

But the more I think about this, he did have to lie. His understanding and presentation of the basics of Islam is woefully inadequate. In order to become an expert on Islam, he had to enhance his Muslim identity. But his attempts at explaining Islam would be akin to an ex-Christian making the following statements about Christianity:

A key verse for Christians is Bible 3:15.
The Lord’s Prayer, “The Lord is my shepherd,” was foundational to my prayer life.
The Eucharist is a depiction of how a believer is baptized into the body of Christ.
Before we listened to the sermon, we sang verses.
The Lord’s lunch is celebrated weekly or monthly in the churches.

Ergun does not know what he is talking about. If an ex-Christian stated the above, he would be laughed at. If he presented himself as an expert in Christianity, he would be soundly ridiculed. So the more I think about it, Ergun Caner had to lie in light of his abysmal knowledge of basic Islam. So there is a fourth area in which he lied – what he knew about Islam. Sad.

Mike DeLong said...

I was wrong.