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