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Christian Right's Favorite Muslim Convert Exposed as Jihadi Fraud

Liberty Seminary President Ergun Caner claims he traveled the road 'from jihad to Jesus,' but Baptist bloggers say his stories of terrorist training are false.

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Before 2001, he seems to have gone by Ergun Michael Caner or E. Michael Caner -- or Butch Caner, which is what he says his wife calls him. Ergun Michael Caner is the name on his concealed carry gun permit, issued in 2009 by the Commonwealth of Virginia. But after 2001, Caner's middle name, Michael, was replaced with the exotic-to-American-ears "Mehmet" on the covers of his books.

Ergun Caner is unquestionably a polished and entertaining performer. He stands out among conservative evangelicals with defiant rhetoric designed to elicit "did he really say that?" titters and a frisson of naughtiness from his audience. Part of Caner's performing persona is his own brand of shock humor, which often relies on racial, ethnic and sexist humor. Speaking to one largely white audience, Caner joked about worship in black churches, where he said they pass the plate 12 times, women wear hats the size of satellite dishes and men wear blue suits that match their shoes and a handkerchief that matches their car. One black Baptist preacher asked for an apology.

At a conference in Seattle a few years ago, Caner joked about the Mexican students at Liberty this way:

"The Mexican students and I get along real well. They're my boys. I always joke with 'em, I say 'Man, if I ever adopt, I want to adopt a Mexican because I need work done on my roof. [laughter], and, and uh, I got a big lawn….

At an Ohio men's conference in 2007, he got the audience whooping and shouting with this gem:

"Dr. Caner, do you believe in women behind the pulpit? My answer is well, yeah, of course, how are they going to vacuum back there unless they get behind it....[laughter].....and that's going to be in half of your pulpits next Sunday. FEEL FREE!!! I LOVE THAT LINE!! But you know one line like that shuts it all up, 'cause they're not going to talk about it, and they're not going to talk to you for a while, which is good, which is good.

Sin and Redemption

The human story of sin and redemption is a fundamental theme in Christianity. When stars of the conservative evangelical movement have succumbed to the lure of sexual temptation, they have often won forgiveness on the force of a public confession. It has worked for politicians as well as preachers. So why is Ergun Caner, under fire for lying about the life story that catapulted him to evangelical stardom, refusing to repent and passing up the chance to earn redemption? And why is Liberty University supporting his stonewalling?

Since ascending to the helm of Liberty's theological seminary, Caner has tripled student enrollment, due in no small part to his celebrity. That's given him a prominent platform from which to speak and publish. It's also given him some powerful allies with a strong incentive to protect his reputation. Rather than admitting that Caner lied about his upbringing in ways that made his "from jihad to Jesus" story (not to be confused with a book by that title by Jerry Rassamni) more compelling and marketable, Caner and Liberty University have hunkered down, portraying Caner as the victim of persecution and lashing out at his critics. At the same time, they've been working to strip some incriminating material from the Internet.

That's going to keep the story boiling in the Baptist -- and Muslim --blogosphere. And some think it's a disastrous course for Caner, for Liberty, and for the religion and movement they represent.

It was a 20-something Muslim blogger, Mohammed Khan, who started bringing attention to problems with Caner's public "testimony." Khan believes Caner is out to give Muslims a bad name, and his Web site, fakeexmuslims.com, has used YouTube commentaries of Caner on video to challenge Caner's expertise on Islam and to question whether Caner was, as he insists, a "devout" Muslim. (As this story was being prepared, many of those were taken down at least temporarily by a copyright claim.)

 
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