For those who haven’t heard of Dr. Caner, I’ll briefly summarize the issue for you:
In the course of his ministry as a Christian speaker and seminary educator, he has been filmed making what have been characterized by his supporters as no more than unintentional misstatements. In the course of a lengthy speaking career, it is understandable that misstatements occur. I won’t go into great detail about these misstatements for they are many, but I’ll list a few.
- He once said that he was trained for jihad in a madrassa in Beirut.
- He also said that he was trained in a madrassa in Istanbul.
- He said that he had to learn English watching television. He has spoken Arabic from the pulpit.
- He had difficulty in school after his family moved to America from Turkey in 1978 when he was about twelve years old with both learning in English and with practicing Islam.
- He has claimed to have debated specific Arab Muslim apologists.
His accusers point out that his family actually moved to the United States in 1972 and that photos of his childhood show what look like a normal childhood. They say that there was no evidence that he went to Beirut or Istanbul to learn in a madrassa there. The Arab Muslims he claims to have debated have said that they never debated him and that what sounded like Arabic when he spoke it from the pulpit was not any kind of discernible Arabic.
The revelation of this apparently caused problems for him when he was a dean at Liberty University. The board of directors had him step down as dean, but otherwise exonerated him. He left Liberty, served as the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Arlington Baptist College for a couple of years and recently has been hired as the President of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia. Between recently being hired as President of a Christian College associated with the Georgia Southern Baptist Convention, and a lawsuit this past summer over the unapproved use of video evidence of his misstatements, his accusers have released a firestorm of online discussion attempting to call him to account which has been met with similar vitriol from his supporters. Since Dr. Caner also doesn’t hold a Reformed soteriology (soteriology refers to the doctrine of salvation one believes), many of his supporters point out that many of his accusers hold to Reformed soteriology, also known as Calvinism. So they counter accuse the accusers of being angry Calvinists.
As I stated above, I won’t join either side in this article. In fact, for the purposes of this article I will assume that he is utterly innocent of any kind of intentional deceit. Taking his innocence into consideration, I have one simple observation to make.
Allow me to pretend that I have the credentials to sit on the board of a Christian college whose task it is to find the next president of the college. I have before me a man with a pure heart. Since I am assured of his innocence, I know that he never intended to mislead anyone. I also know that he has the experience of effectively weathering harsh attacks by critics who insist on falsely accusing him. Surely that is a desirable quality in a college president. (As an aside, I wonder what kind of battles the board of the college plans on having even if they had not hired Dr. Caner.) Another benefit Dr. Caner brings is the fact that enrollment at Liberty Seminary nearly tripled under his leadership. Surely he could do the same for Brewton-Parker.
So he brings some good things to the table at Brewton-Parker College. But there is something that would trouble me as a board member. His accusers don’t trouble me. His Muslim heritage doesn’t trouble me since he is a professing Christian. His non-Reformed soteriology doesn’t trouble me although I am Reformed.
What would trouble me as an imaginary board member is that a college president needs to be able to communicate well. That includes being able to engender trust, be tactful yet perspicuous, and convey facts about the college accurately to the board of directors. If he is capable of unintentionally making the caliber of misstatements like the ones I listed above, my concern would be that I might misunderstand his communication to me and that the college might have to continually deal with similar misstatements to the public. I would consider that to be an unacceptable liability, no matter how innocently those kinds of misstatements were made. I would have to consider that that’s the same liability that the board of directors at Liberty took into consideration when they had him step down from his position of leadership there.
So my simple observation is this: If he’s completely innocent, I wouldn’t consider him fit to be a college president because his problem of making unintentional misstatements is at an unacceptable level.
I will consider that I am mistaken in this. After all, I'm not qualified to sit on the board of a college, Christian or otherwise. As a Christian, however, I am interested that truth is accurately espoused and communicated. From anyone so qualified, please feel free to make a case for a high level of unintended factual error.
Now, the discussion over his guilt or innocence has more than polluted the interwebs. It’s not that I get much in the way of comments on my blog. But for this kind of article, I will ask that any commenters who chance to come along would please limit conversation primarily to what level of factual misstatements are acceptable for people in leadership positions, and absolutely do not discuss Dr. Caner's guilt. I will delete any comments that don’t follow this rule.