In Defense of Braxton (I.E. What I Think About Ergun Caner)

July 29, 2014 update: WordPress notified me that my site had a large increase in traffic today. Checking the stats, it was this post specifically. Not too much later I read on Twitter the likely reason: Braxton Caner is reported to have committed suicide. My heart aches. Pray for Jill and Egun Caner, their family and church, and his friends. May The Lord comfort them all during this tragic time.

August 11, 2014 update: JD Hall (accused of being culpable) has spoken publicly about the tragedy: http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=81114049210 (please be sure to listen before judging him).

Although it wasn’t overwhelming, last night I generated a bit of traffic on my Twitter timeline with this tweet:

@braxtoncaner89 Kudos to you for standing up for your dad. @erguncaner

Braxton is Ergun Caner’s 15 year-old son. Ergun Caner is infamous in some evangelical circles because, at a minimum, he embellished his life story at time when 9/11 made an exciting Muslim-to-Christian conversion story appealing (and, arguably, profitable).

More than one person on Twitter took my tweet as either endorsing the father’s behavior or approving the son’s (assumed) defense of his dad’s actions. However…

@MosesModel My tweet to Ergun’s son was supporting a boy standing up for his dad, not weighing in on Ergun himself. Does that make sense?

Now, what caused me to speak up in the first place was reading that some adults on Twitter were going after Braxton (UPDATE: this link no longer works). In a nation where the government and the media treat fathers, at best, as unneeded and, at worst, as buffoons or evil (or evil buffoons), I wanted to commend a boy for standing up for his dad.

And I did. 🙂

But, in fairness to some of those who reacted, I hesitated before I sent the original tweet because I knew it could come off as supporting Ergun Caner. Considering I’ve now stepped into the controversy about Ergun, I figured it was time to elaborate on what I think about him.

Thus, this is not really a post about Braxton…and I don’t think any adult other than his mom, dad, or local church elders should be taking it upon themselves to counsel or reprimand him. Even when parents truly deserve repudiation, leave their children out of it.

So, what do I think about Ergun Caner?

I said above that, at a minimum, he embellished his life story. Based on what I’ve seen, it is near impossible not to conclude that the more accurate description is…

He lied.

Over and over. Publicly. In a way that made Christianity (and thus Christ) look bad.

What to do?

It appears that many are convinced the answer to that question is to attack Ergun, anyone who schedules him to speak, anyone who supports him, and anyone who hires him.

Vehemently. Persistently. Continually. Ruthlessly.

Righteous anger is a dangerous thing in the hands of fallible men.

Am I saying nobody should speak up? No. Am I saying that everyone who has called Ergun to repentance is wrong to have done so. No.

However, I don’t think Christendom has come to terms with applying Matthew 18 in a Internet world where, it seems, pretty much everything we do is in public. It appears sinning publicly is carte blanche for everybody and their mother to have a divine calling to correct a person…sometimes one to one…sometimes as a mob to one.

But you can’t tell me that because Ergun’s false words are public it gives 7 billion people the calling to go after him.

Vehemently. Persistently. Continually. Ruthlessly.

I follow Ergun on Twitter and he follows me. I have his home address (he gave it to me when I asked for it to send his family and him a Christmas card). Yet, I have never asked him to repent via a direct message or letter. Why?

  • I don’t have standing: Ergun and I are Twitter acquaintances, not friends or members of the same local body of Christ. To him I’ll just be another sour note in a cacophony of negative voices instead of a brother who is lovingly asking him do what is right.
  • It won’t be effective via the avenues I have available: If 6,999,999,999 people telling him to repent hasn’t worked, I can’t imagine me calling him to task 140 character pieces (or in an impassioned letter) will succeed…especially, as mentioned above, because I don’t have standing.
  • I don’t know the full story: Although I’ve said I am pretty sure Ergun lied (over and over and in public)…the fact is that I do not know the whole story.  I may be confident that he spoke falsely, but I especially do not know why he hasn’t publicly repented. Perhaps he has repented privately and believes that’s all the Lord expects out of him. Perhaps the unchristian behavior of many toward him has caused him to build a wall that is blinding him from seeing the truth. I don’t know. But I just don’t feel comfortable joining into the chorus until I know more, and ultimately…
  • I don’t feel a calling: Although I hope some day to be able to sit down with him over a cup of coffee (well, of Diet Pepsi), ask him about the situation, and encourage him to come clean…unlike myriad others I do not feel called to correct him. I feel called to be his friend. As such, I will not sanction his errors (as I won’t with my other friends), but I will not treat him as an enemy.

Which brings me to the final section of this post.

I am more concerned about the behavior of Ergun’s detractors than Ergun himself.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who does a simple Google search on “Ergun Caner” will not be in danger of misunderstanding what he has likely done wrong. However, I think plenty of people are mistakenly believing that somehow Ergun’s sins okay the way others are behaving badly toward him…and sure, Ergun’s lies may have damaged us in the eyes of many, but not any more than how we Christians are by breaking this:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35, English Standard Version).

Okay…I imagine if you are on Ergun Caner watch you’ll immediately contend, “But he isn’t a brother! There is no way he can be a Christian, do what he’s done, and continue unrepentantly.”

My recommendation is that you read and listen to my sermon, “And Who Is My Brother?” An especially pertinent section is:

Unlike the apostles, that is not a new commandment for us…it has been in our Bibles from the first time we read them. Whether we rebuke or keep our mouths shut…whether we expel or embrace…we are to do so loving each other.

And it is that love that will show others we are Jesus’ disciples.

However, we have to be very, very cautious not to explicitly or implicitly do what the lawyer did and try to narrow down the scope of the commandment by asking, “And who is my brother?”

Not only because it may reveal a problem with our hearts, but because to a Muslim, an atheist, a Wiccan…to anyone who is not a believer in the Risen Lord…we are all Christians…

Whether they are Christians you willingly embrace or “Christians” that you need to correct.

Yes, if Ergun lied he needs to repent. If he lied publicly he needs to repent publicly. But the same Lord Jesus Christ who calls him to repentance also calls us to act Christlike:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).

I can assure you that the One who washed all His disciples’ feet, including the one He knew was going to betray him, would not behave toward Ergun the way so many of His followers have.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. – Brennan Manning

Ergun has likely caused many to stumble. We do not fix that by causing even more to stumble.

Let me wrap up with the end of the sermon I encouraged you to read and listen to. My request is that you seriously, and prayerfully, consider these words:

The next time you feel called to publicly rebuke someone in Christendom, remember how Jesus ultimately answered the question “And who is my neighbor?”:

36 [Jesus asked] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if when we asked Jesus, “And who is my brother?” He would ultimately respond:

36 [Jesus asked] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a brother to the man who fell into false teachings?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

If it is by our love for one another that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples…then getting the answer to “And who is my brother?” right takes even greater import, doesn’t it? Our behavior will reflect well or badly on the One we call Savior.

Who is your brother? Can people tell by the way you treat them? Or, like the lawyer, are you looking for a loophole?

P.S. Perhaps the most damning indictment of Ergun is this week’s ruling against him. My tweet connected me to the one who the court ruled in favor of…and I do not question his right to speak out against the person the court says wronged him. This is the judgment against Ergun Caner that awarded the person he sued $34,389.59 in attorney’s fees and costs:

Attorney Fees in Caner v Autry by Jason Smathers

Let’s all pray for Jonathan Autry, Ergun Caner, and their families.


Follow Traditores

Comments

  1. “I am more concerned about the behavior of Ergun’s detractors than Ergun himself.”

    This is where you fall off the wagon. J D Hall did issue a mea culpa very soon after realizing the kid was only 15. And since then has issued more mea culpas about how he should have contacted Caner and not engaged him at all.

    How many mea culpas has Caner issued? You can’t seriously think that because one guy talked to Braxton back and forth for a bit on twitter you can say that the behavior of “Caner’s critics” (all of them? Most of them? Some of them?) is now *worse* than that of Caner who lied for years and unrepentantly continues to do so, and now uses his son’s death as a political opportunity to smear his valid critics and brings friends along to do the same (look at Todd Starnes’s Facebook post,

    https://www.facebook.com/ToddStarnesFNC/posts/688713564536812

    Seems like quite a few who have written about this in order to shame Ergun’s critics seem unaware that Hall immediately issued a mea culpa about his exchange with Braxton. And he’s just one guy. But, let’s just continue to ignore that inconvenient truth?

    What about all the bullying Ergun has done, the unapologetic slandering of his critics, the legal harassment of entire families of men who tried to call him to account and defend the truth of the gospel and separate that from Caner’s lies? What about that behavior?

    • I took down my original reply because I realized that in publishing what JD Hall had originally written, I was unintentionally besmirching the memory of Braxton. Editing it so that it is not dependent on what Hall posted:

      Hi (is it Terrie?),

      I really do appreciate you taking the time to respond even though we probably won’t agree at the end of our dialogue.

      Although clearly JD Hall was within the scope of my post, my concerns about the behavior of some of Ergun’s critics weren’t specific to Hall’s interaction with Braxton (or even just Hall himself). I do not defend Ergun’s actions (quite the contrary), but no matter how bad they are it does not excuse un-Christlike behavior in return.

      Thanks for the Facebook link. I had not seen it, and I do not think it is reasonable to connect Braxton’s suicide to what Hall and others of Ergun’s detractors did. Having said that, people who are in pain from the lost of a loved ones should be given a little grace. I remember just before someone shared the tragic news on Twitter he posted some things I considered equally unfair. But, having first seen the tweet about the suicide, and having personally ministered to a family whose teenage daughter was gone way too soon, I know how emotions can overcome even the best of us. Let’s see what happens once time has given a chance for some healing with family and friends.

      Thanks again for writing…I’m glad to have continued dialogue if you are interested.

      My best,

      Alan

  2. Susan Ketner says:

    Thank you for this. The last time I cast a stone, I was quickly reminded that I too have sinned and am likely to sin again and in pretty short order. Let’s give this man a break now. He has paid dearly. He has been openly and very publicly rebuked and criticized. Now, he has lost his son tragically and in part over this entire controversy. Anything else now is just piling on and is cruel and abusive. I would encourage everyone to give it rest. What else can he pay for his transgressions? His reputation, money, a court judgment, public scorn, his son? For those who felt they needed restitution or vindication by him for whatever, surely they should feel all paid up by now.

    • He hasn’t given anyone a break. He’s enlisted others to slam his critics for him now. It’s shameless. So his critics are now damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

      • But you would agree that, for at least some reasonable time as they mourn losing Braxton, people should give Ergun a break, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t that be true if “he hasn’t given anyone a break”? We can only be responsible for our own behavior, not someone else’s…and, as our parents taught us, two wrongs don’t make a right.

        Additionally, as I mentioned in my response on the other article, when people are in extreme pain (which family and friends must be), they can allow their emotions overcome their judgment. Let’s wait a bit and see if that behavior continues.

        Until then, all the more reason to pray for Ergun and his defenders, no?

  3. Doug metzger says:

    Alan, the WISEST take on this situation i have read! THANK YOU! So refreshing in a day and time when the church is NOT at all the church. We shoot our wounded. Not you. Wisdom and intellectual honesty are rare.

  4. Jerry Tackett says:

    Why would you bring a 15 year old boy into this argument?????? Regardless of what you think of his father this should have NEVER happened!

    • Agreed Jerry. Although he has pulled down his post, the guy who brought Braxton in was very defensive (rationalizing) when called on it. He did (sort of) apologize with an addendum later, but it wasn’t very convincing. I assume he removed the post when news of Braxton passing came out, but I don’t know for sure.

      • Exactly- Mr. Hall’s first response, when challenged, was to ask why he couldn’t question Braxton’s twitter since it was public. Very gross lack of grace.

        • Mr. Hall knows nothing about grace. He’s the type who likes shooting wounded people. He has moved on from the Caners and is attacking my pastor, Johnny Hunt, using social media to call him a liar and further stir the pot. He is disgraceful, more concerned with hurting those of the faith than saving lost souls. I wonder how many lost people are attracted to the grace and life-saving message of the Gospel by the likes of JD Hall.

  5. kristie says:

    I’m sure you saw the news about Braxton. So heartbreaking.

  6. This is excellent.

  7. Thank you. Most will never understand the impact of someone else affirming that they’re not crazy. I have struggled recently with how to convey that. When Geisler says you are wrong and your former seminary president says you are wrong; some days it is really hard to believe that you are right. It is vindicating for someone to say that Ergun lied. Again thank you for the prayer and support.

Trackbacks

  1. […] yesterday’s post, “In Defense of Braxton (I.E. What I Think About Ergun Caner),” I […]

Your thoughts?