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Ergun Mehmet Caner  (B.A., M.A., M.Div., Th.M., D.Min., Ph.D) - You are SO busted!           (July 11th 2009)
This is going to be a very long post, with lots of pictures, but none of those kinds of pictures, so get your minds out of the gutter! You might want to get a soda or a cup of coffee for this one.
I. The Background

Ergun Mehmet Caner is the president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, based out of Lynchburg, Virginia. Yes, it was founded by Jerry Falwell. Caner had hovered around the periphery of my thinking since about 2001. That's when he found some fame and fortune in evangelical circles by promoting himself as a former Muslim and so-called expert on Islam in the wake of 9/11. In particular, Caner is the author of Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs (now in a revised and expanded edition!), which has this not-at-all provocative cover

:

(No, not provocative at all. Basically, what we're seeing here is not hijab and it's not niqab. It's a fanciful Evangelical Christian view of what the Mysterious Heathen East looks like. If you want to see how real Muslimahs dress, go here and here for starters.)

As a result of this book, and others, Ergun Caner has been called on by our press corpse to offer his opinions on various and sundry matters relating to Islam. But if you read the reviews on Amazon.com, you'll come away with the conclusion that Ergun Caner really doesn't know what he's talking about. 


II. Catching My Eye
Last month, as I was surfing around the web, Ergun (and I'm using his first name here to distinguish him from his brother Emir, who also is involved in some sort of evangelism to Muslims) popped into my consciousness when I happened upon several videos on YouTube that basically accuse Ergun and his two brothers of being "fake Muslims." (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.) While that is a lot to digest, and some of it is outright mockery (for which you have to be in the right mood), if you watch the first few minutes of Part 2, you'll get the gist of it.

In the first clip, Ergun says, "I was a devout Muslim." In the second clip, Ergun tells John Ankerberg, "...that Jesus was speaking of the Messenger. So that's why the shahadah, the central confession of Islam, bismillahir rahmanir rahim, alhamdullah [?] rahim, there is only one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his final prophet, his greatest prophet." As the video goes on to point out, what Ergun was quoting (and mangling, by the way) was the first two verses of Surah al-Fatihah:

1:1In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
 Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi

1:2Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
 Alhamdu lillahi rabbi alAAalameena

(Click here for one of the thousands of recitations of Surah al-Fatihah on the web. Let's just say that Ergun wasn't reciting it with tajweed.)

But, and to return to my point, what Ergun was NOT reciting was the testification of faith, or the Shahadah, even though he claimed he was. Here is the Shahadah for comparison:

أشهد أن لا إله إلاَّ الله و أشهد أن محمد الرسول الله

transliteration: ʾašhadu ʾanna laa ilāha illa Allāh, wa ʾašhadu ʾanna Muḥammad ur-rasūl Allāh

which means: "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."

It's not "bismillahir rahmanir rahim, alhamdullah [?] rahim," which is what Ergun said in the video.

It's hard to underplay the enormity of this mistake. If you're a devout Muslim (and Ergun claimed he was), you are praying (salat) five times a day. In each salah [session], you are repeating Surah al-Fathihah two to four times, depending on the number of rakats you are praying. Not only that, as part of the prayer, you are also repeating the Shahadah once. It's hard to give a cross-religion comparison. I would imagine that for Catholics it'd be like mixing up the "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary," while for Protestants it'd be like mixing up John 3:16 with the Beatitudes. Really, though, there is no comparison.

In short, if Ergun was as devout a Muslim as he claims to be, he wouldn't have made this kind of basic, elementary mistake. But he did. One might be tempted to excuse it as a slip-up, except that his brother Emir made a similar boneheaded mistake in Part 5 (starting at 4:47) of confusing an ayah (or verse of a surah) with an entire surah (or chapter) of the Qur'an. Again, it'd be like someone claiming to be an evangelical Christian saying that John 3:16 was an entire chapter in the New Testament.

III. Looking Closer
This was all very amusing and I was pretty sure that the compiler of the YouTube videos had caught yet another evangelical basically trying to fleece the gullible flock with a story of being an ex-Muslim who found Jesus. In these post-9/11 days, in days when churches think it's Perfectly OK to put up signs that say "Islam is of the devil," yes, you can dine out (and more!) on your conversion.

After looking at the videos, it's my thought (and I'm willing to be corrected) that Ergun Caner and his siblings were raised in a mixed-religion household (his father was Turkish and mother Swedish) and religion probably wasn't discussed much beyond, "What religion am I?" "Oh, you're Muslim." "Oh. Thanks, Dad!" In other words, I doubt there was much in the way of prayer and Qur'an study. I can be fairly confident in saying that, if only because of the boneheaded errors described above.

However, I found this hard to believe because I also noted that Ergun has a raft of university degrees. In fact, his website claimed that he had the following: Ergun Mehmet Caner (B.A., M.A., M.Div., Th,M., D.Min., Ph.D.) Oddly enough, though, when I went digging around, I could find no record of where these degrees were earned, so I sent him an e-mail in June asking about it, care of his website. I heard nothing back.

A few weeks later, I noticed that Ergun's YouTube debunker was back with a couple more videos and that Ergun had set up his own YouTube channel. So I posted my question as a comment on Ergun's channel (here's a screenshot since Ergun is removing comments and may remove this one in the future--click to see larger):
 
 
Ergun replied with the following in the comments on my YouTube channel (again, click to enlarge):
 
 
This is what Ergun says his degrees are:

1989 - Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies, Cumberland College (BA)
1992 - Master of Arts in History, Criswell College (MA)
1994 - Master of Divinity, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv)
1995 - Master of Theology, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (ThM)
2001 - Doctor of Theology, University of South Africa (DTh),
His dissertation is called Bellum Sacrum vs. Bellum Justum
(For those of you who don't speak Latin or are not familiar with theological terms of art, what that means is "Holy War versus Just War.")
 
So, in a row, that's BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, DTh.

Ok, that's fine, except for one thing. That's not what he's claiming today, Saturday, July 11, 2009. Instead, he's claiming: BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, PhD (again, click to make larger)
 
 
And this is different from what he has claimed in the recent past, as can be shown by this Google search, conducted July 11, 2009. The letters are: BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, DMin, PhD
 
(click to make larger)
 
What you'll notice if you look at this carefully is that the top item lists Ergun's degrees as BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, DMin, PhD. However, the second link has them as BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, PhD. And, if you attempt to click on the screenshot, you get a 404 error as the PDF file that used to contain Ergun's very short biography has vanished.

However, once it ends up on the Internet, it's pretty much there forever. I can testify to that. And, in fact, you'll note in the same search other sites that have copied Ergun's old bio. For example, at this Worship Expo 2009 site we find:
 
 
 
It's the old bio, with the Campbell's Alphabet Soup of Educational Letters (BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, DMin, PhD)!
 
Here's another one, just to show that this is the biography that is currently being sent out. This Acts 1:11 conference is scheduled for Nov. 12-13, 2009 in Lawrenceville, GA and Ergun is a featured speaker. Here's his bio:
 
 
 
Again with the same OLD set of letters! (BA, MA, MDiv, MTh, DMin, PhD). In fact, you can tell they're just cutting and pasting the bio from Ergun's website, because it has the same error (Th,M instead of Th.M or ThM).

I decided to see what I could learn from Liberty University (ha ha). A bit of Google-Fu brought me to the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School Catalogue. There, on page 116, we find yet another set of academic letters after Ergun Caner's name: BA, MA, MDiv, ThM, DMin, DTheol
 
 
 
There's that DMin degree again but here's the first real mention, outside of the YouTube comment, of the Doctor of Theology (DTh) degree. And there's neither hide nor hair of the PhD Ergun's been claiming all this time. Is it possible this is the correct list of degrees?

Here's another piece of evidence. Back in 2003, when Ergun pulled up stakes from Criswell College to go to Liberty, Baptist Press ran an article which contained the following information:
After receiving a B.A. from Cumberland College, Caner received the M.A. from The Criswell College, M.Div. and Th.M. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and completed a D.Min. at Emmanuel Baptist University and a D. Theol. at the University of South Africa.
There's that pesky DMin! From an outfit called "Emmanuel Baptist University." Interestingly, when I Googled this institution of higher education, the first thing that popped up was "Is Emmanuel Baptist University real?" Uh hunh. That gives me real confidence in this institution of higher "education." And, when I finally got to the "university's" website, I received the following pop-up:
 
 
I don't know about you, but this just about screams "watch OUT!" to me. This next screen with the history of the university, doesn't comfort me in the least:
 
 
And then there's the tuition, a bargain at $100 per credit hour!
 
 
Then there are the degrees, the process of which is measured out in "years," and in six "years" a person can have a terminal doctoral degree.
 
 
This is suspicious. Anyone who has done graduate-level work in the average American university knows that while one can usually predict that getting a Master's degree is going to take one year beyond the BA, that is by no means certain. And getting a PhD can take the better part of a decade, depending on the amount of work and writing one does on one's dissertation.
 
For example, a friend of mine spent a combined 10 years in classwork, fieldwork, exams, writing the thesis and the dissertation and finally defending the dissertation. I haven't asked him, but I suspect he might look askance at the idea that one could get a Doctor of [Some Religious Thing] one year after completing a Master's AND after the payment of $3,200, plus additional fees as required.
 
 And finally, there are those accrediting agencies, which look to be about as reputable as a "university" that measures out time to completion of a degree in "years."
 
 
It appears that the first two "accrediting organizations" are fake. Here's what Steve Levicoff, who wrote a self-published book about fake Christian degree-granting outfits called Name It And Frame It?, had to say:
"Claiming recognition by the American Accrediting Association of Theological Institutions and the American Accrediting Educational Association of Christian Schools, neither of which are legitimate agencies, the University of Biblical Studies (UBS) was originally founded in 1955 as "Modular Education." Their 22-page catalog states, "Participating colleges award Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctor of Ministry Degrees," but they do not name the participating colleges." [emphasis added, but there's more at the link!]
There doesn't seem to be anything on the third outfit, the Southern Association of Christian Schools, in a search on the web, beyond schools that claim its accreditation. I suspect it's as bogus as the first two accrediting outfits.

If Caner got his DMin from an institution that promises credit for life experience, charges tuition far underneath what is the going rate for graduate education (if you've checked lately, even public universities are expensive!), grants a "doctorate" after one year's study beyond a master's degree and has bogus accrediting agencies, then I could see why he might want to hide this fact. However, let me be clear: I am not saying that Emmanuel Baptist University is a "diploma mill." However, it is apparently an unaccredited institution of something.

But what concerns me more is that Caner continues to claim that he has a PhD. As far as I can tell, he does not. He does have a ThD from the University of South Africa (Unisa), which is a distance university of many years' standing and which has graduated some highly distinguished alumni, including Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. I'm not sure why Caner claims the PhD instead of the ThD. He can't make the argument that they are equivalent degrees, even if they are both academic degrees, because Unisa awards both the PhD and the ThD. If the intention was to get a PhD, then he could have gotten one there in the appropriate department. Instead, he got a ThD, and the information in the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary catalogue reflects that.
IV. Conclusion
Now that we've come to the end of this trek, what have we learned?

o Ergun Caner has a raft of degrees. Three or four more than me, as a matter of fact.

o All the sources on the web, the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School catalogue and the information Ergun himself provided agree on the following four degrees: BA, MA, MDiv, ThM. It's after this point that Ergun's degrees diverge.

o Ergun claimed in his comment on my YouTube channel that his terminal degree is the ThD.

o Ergun currently claims on his own website that he has a PhD and there is no mention of the ThD.

o Additionally, up until earlier this week, Ergun claimed a DMin in the bio on his personal website. That has since disappeared.

o The 2008-09 Liberty catalogue says that Ergun's terminal degrees are the DMin and the ThD.

o I learned that Ergun received his DMin from Emmanuel Baptist University and I did some additional digging around. I found the following:
  • There's some question as to whether or not Emmanuel is a real university.
  • Emmanuel offers credit for life experience, which is usually a sign of a "diploma mill."
  • Emmanuel charges well below the market rate for graduate education. In fact, its rates are the same for graduate and undergraduate education.
  • Emmanuel will award a doctorate in a whole raft of disciplines (Ministry, Biblical Studies, Theology, Divinity, Sacred Theology, Christian Education, Religious Education, as well as three alleged PhDs in Religion, Biblical Studies and Christian Education) after one year of study beyond the Master's degree.
  • Emmanuel's accrediting agencies are bogus.
Here are my suggestions to Ergun Caner:
  1. You need to publicly acknowledge your true academic credentials. This includes correcting them on your website to reflect reality. In short, you need to stop saying you have a PhD when you do not. Your terminal degree is the ThD and you should be proud of it.
  2. You need to contact the groups that you're planning to speak to in the future and provide them with an up-to-date curriculum vitae.
  3. You should disavow that DMin, as it looks like it comes from a non-accredited institution of, uh, something. That includes letting your employer, Liberty University, know that the degree is not what it appears to be so it can be removed from the school catalogue, school website, shiny wall plaques in the school, etc.
To conclude this little exercise, I'd like to point out that Ergun Caner knows very well what happens when someone fakes his academic credentials. He was peripherally involved in the fall of one Steve Flockhart, who resigned in 2006 as pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, FL, apparently because he had lied about his academic degrees.

Here are the pertinent parts from the story, which appears to have been sourced from a story in the Palm Beach Post:
The announcement came the same day the Post ran a story about Flockhart's résumé, which said he graduated from Columbia International University and earned degrees from two other respected schools. In reality, he received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees through correspondence classes from non-accredited Covington Theological School in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., the story said.

[clip]

The résumé also said Flockhart was obtaining a second master's from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, although the Post reported that officials at the Wake Forest, N.C., school denied the claim.

[clip]

According to the Post, one part of Flockhart's résumé was true: his plans to begin working on a doctorate at Liberty Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va. The school was founded by Jerry Fallwell as part of Lynchburg Baptist College.

According to the Post, Liberty officials said Flockhart paid registration fees directly to seminary president Ergun Caner because Caner personally recruited him, said Ron Godwin, Liberty's executive vice president and CEO.

According to the Post, Godwin said Flockhart and Falwell are friends. Falwell is the school's chancellor.
(Here is a copy of the Palm Beach Post article from Religion News Blog. It is not available on the Palm Beach Post website.)

Caner claimed in an article on his own website (in a link which now mysteriously goes to a 404 page) that the Palm Beach Post egregiously misquoted him. He was very upset about the alleged misquoting, going so far as to say in an e-mail to the Post writer (this is from a copy that was dug out and saved from Google cache):

Your “quote” (highlighted in bold) was, in fact, the exact OPPOSITE of what I said. I noted, over six times, that we would allow admittance only as far as his accredited degrees would allow. We would NEVER waive prerequisites. This is not only unethical, it is not the method of an accredited institution.

This would not be a “misunderstanding,” but in fact, an outright invention by you, and ignoring my repeated statements to the contrary. We do not, and will not, waive any entrance requirements stipulated by SACS accreditation.

I am sorry you chose to ignore my repeated statements. I ask that you print a correction immediately.

I've yet to find that a correction was printed.

I have a cached copy of that page, but I find it interesting that it's now gone. Wonder why? (Oh, and by the way, Ergun, you really shouldn't be taking advice from Bill "Falafel" O'Reilly on anything.)

The ball is now in Ergun Caner's court. Let's see what he does next, shall we?
 
 

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