Muslim-turned-preacher faces university inquiry [Excerpts]
By Tom Breen
The future of a prominent Southern Baptist preacher who converted from Islam may depend on which version of his past is closer to the truth.
Ergun Caner's supporters know him as a devout Muslim who discovered Jesus Christ at an Ohio church and became a popular leader at Liberty University, the Virginia evangelical school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
His critics have a different version: an opportunist who exaggerated vague boyhood memories in his Muslim family to paint himself as a one-time extremist while enriching himself and sowing tension between the world's two largest faiths.
Lately, his critics are easier to find than his friends. Prominent Evangelical leaders who in the past blurbed his books, promoted him as an expert and defended him against charges of inflammatory anti-Muslim remarks have been publicly silent since Liberty announced it would investigate the claims against Caner.
"Part of you is going, Haha, I told you so, and another part is saying, That's really sad," said Kelly Wentworth, executive director of the Atlanta-based American Islamic Fellowship, which works to strengthen bonds between Muslims and other religious believers.
Caner has been a polarizing figure since shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when he and his brother, Emir, emerged as leading Christian critics of Islam.
"Ergun and Emir Caner are trophies of God's grace," wrote Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in the foreword to "Unveiling Islam" by the Caners. "Once devout followers of Allah, now of Jesus of Nazareth."
Land is one of several Evangelical leaders contacted by The Associated Press for this story who either did not respond or declined to comment.
Much of their credibility came from their personal history - their testimony, in evangelical Christian terminology. Ergun Caner claimed at various times in front of various audiences to have emigrated to the U.S. as a radical Muslim teenager from Turkey, until becoming a Christian at an Ohio church.
(Breen, Muslim-turned-preacher faces university inquiry, Washinton Post, June 6, 2010)