RELIGION
05/12/2010 05:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Liberty University To Probe Seminary President's Muslim Background

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

(RNS) Liberty University, the Baptist school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, will investigate claims that its seminary president lied about his Muslim background to make his conversion to Christianity seem more dramatic.

Ergun Caner was named dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005, when he became the first former Muslim to lead an evangelical seminary, according to Christianity Today. Bloggers and online activists say Caner, 43, has misrepresented key parts of his biography, including where he was raised.

Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Monday (May 10) that the school "does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs." But, he said, "in light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it was necessary to initiate a formal inquiry."

An investigatory committee will issue conclusions by the end of June, according to a statement from Liberty.

In a statement, Caner said: "I am thrilled that Liberty University is forming this committee, and I look forward to this entire process coming to a close."

With nearly 4,000 students, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, in Lynchburg, Va., is one of several flagship schools for conservative Baptists. Enrollment has tripled during Caner's tenure, according to Christianity Today.

But critics say Caner has misrepresented several aspects of his past, including claims he was raised in Turkey, rather than Ohio, in a devoutly Muslim home, rather than a nominally religious one. They also dispute Caner's claims he was involved in Islamic jihad and has debated dozens of Muslims about religion.

Caner's current biography on Liberty's website says he was raised a "devout Sunni Muslim" and converted in high school, but doesn't say where.

In February, Caner released a statement saying he had "never intentionally misled anyone," but said he may have "misspoke" during his more than 20 years in the pulpit.

He also admitted "referencing a Muslim scholar that I have never met."

"Sin is sin," Caner said, "and if I am dumb enough to say something like that, I should be man enough to deal with it and never make such a grievous error again."