Liberty Univ. Demotes Ergun Caner After Investigation

Liberty University demoted Ergun Caner, the first former Muslim to become dean of a seminary, after investigating claims that he made about his religious background.

In a statement issued Friday, the Lynchburg, Va.-based university said the investigative committee concluded that Caner made "factual statements that are self-contradictory." Caner will no longer be dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary as of June 30, when his contract expires, but will stay on as a professor for the 2010-2011 academic year.

"[T]he committee found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Caner was not a Muslim who converted to Christianity as a teenager, but, instead, found discrepancies related to matters such as dates, names and places of residence," the statement read.

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Caner, who rose to prominence after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an expert on Islam, was accused by bloggers for months of embellishing parts of his Muslim background. Among the details under question was how devout his Muslim family really was, where he was raised, when he converted, and how much of an expert he is on the Quran.

Bloggers have offered various accounts of Caner's Muslim upbringing, including popular claims that his family was nominally Muslim and that he was raised by a Christian mother after his parents divorced.

A British Muslim man also posted videos accusing Caner of having little knowledge about Islam, pointing to his frequent misuse of Islamic terms, mispronunciations, and confusion regarding basic Muslim beliefs.

Others called into question his claim of having been involved in Islamic jihad and engaging in apologetic debates with prominent Muslims.

Caner has apologized, according to Liberty University, for the "discrepancies and misstatements" that resulted in the internal investigation.

However, critics are not satisfied with the punishment and want the school and Caner to be more open about the controversy.

"If a student lied, they would be expelled. When the president/theological seminary dean lies he gets one contract ended and offered another," complained a Canadian Christian blogger on the site Bene Diction Blogs On.

The blogger complained that Caner does not clarify "on any level" what he is apologizing for and "the lack of clarity in this brief statement indicates an integrity problem."

Another blogger, FBC Jax Watchdog, commented: "Sadly, the University will never be able to erase the disgrace that it took Internet bloggers like myself and a host of others, including Mohammad Khan to finally get action out of Liberty University on this important issue."

Liberty University is the largest Christian university in the world, with nearly 12,000 residential students and more than 45,000 online students. The school was founded by Christian Right leader the Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971. Under Caner's leadership, Liberty's seminary enrollment tripled to about 4,000 students since 2005.

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