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Liberty U. removing Ergun Caner as seminary dean over contradictory statements
In London, college student and blogger Mohammad Khan also began looking into Caner's past after watching sermons he thought showed odd blunders in Caner's knowledge of Islam.
Soon Khan, White and other bloggers began e-mailing and sharing suspicious errors and contradictions they found in Caner's videos and online writings.
In some accounts, Caner said he grew up in Turkey in a climate of "Islamic jihad." In recorded sermons, he talked about coming to the United States as a teenager and converting to Christianity. In one sermon, he put it more bluntly, saying he was trained to do what the Sept. 11 terrorists had done.
Yet, in a book he co-wrote with his younger brother, "Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs," he said their parents wed in Sweden and the family moved to Ohio when Ergun was a young boy, an account he also has provided publicly.
Indeed, bloggers found his parents' divorce records showing the family moved to Ohio in 1970, when Caner was 3 or 4, contradicting his account of teenage years on the cusp of Muslim extremism in Turkey. Bloggers also pointed to suspicious mistakes an Islamic expert was unlikely to make and timelines that did not match up.
For months, Liberty officials largely ignored the accusations, although Caner and others removed some online videos, alleging copyright infringement. Caner revised his résumé and removed references to having debated "Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and other religious leaders in 13 countries and 35 states" after bloggers asked for specifics.
But after the dispute made its way into Christianity Today and other news outlets this spring, Liberty's chancellor and Falwell's son, Jerry Falwell Jr., convened a committee to look into the accusations.
Late Friday, Liberty released its conclusions in a one-paragraph statement saying that the four trustees had reviewed Caner's public statements and found "discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence." School officials have since declined to comment further. Caner has not returned calls or e-mails, and no one answered the door at his large two-story home on the outskirts of Lynchburg.
Caner's last public statement appears to have been on his Web site in February. Since removed, the statement said he had "never intentionally misled anyone. . . . For those times where I misspoke, said it wrong, scrambled words, or was just outright confusing, I apologize and will strive to do better."
Those who have supported Caner in the past have largely disappeared. Prominent evangelicals Richard Land and Paige Patterson -- leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention who once trumpeted Caner's brand -- declined to comment. And experts on U.S. Muslim-Christian relations worry that Caner's rise, and the school's decision to retain him as a professor, reflects a negative, even hostile, attitude toward Muslims.
Meanwhile, students who once looked up to Caner are struggling with his legacy.
Dilek Kohler, a 2009 graduate, said she has chosen to focus on Caner's teaching and its effect on her life. Kohler said Caner counseled and supported her during a pregnancy out of wedlock. Although Kohler was ashamed, Caner, she said, "spoke of our common background, of the day we first met, of how he was proud to know me and how he knew I would use this opportunity for good for the future."
Now, Kohler said, the least she can do is extend him the same grace.