"...When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matt 9:36

"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor... for the Lord will take up their case and plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 22:22-23

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ergun Caner, Professional Wrestling, and Modern Evangelicalism

I saw this weekend that Ergun Caner loaded up the kiddos and headed to the Wrestlemania XXX professional wrestling event this past Sunday night at the Superdome in New Orleans.

It might seem strange that a minister, a Christian college president, would be a fan of the phony, make-believe world of professional wrestling. I mean I am not sure that I even know of a single person - certainly no Christian minister - who would hop on a plane to go watch the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Wrestlemania event.

Yet here is Ergun Caner, ordained minister, Christian college president, who loves professional wrestling, who posts pictures of himself and his kids hanging out with some of the professional wrestling old-timers like Ted DiBiase and Rick Flair. Caner is and for many years has been fascinated with the wrestlers of WWE. Caner seems to be able to identify with these wrestlers/performers.

This weekend if it finally hit me. Caner's fascination with professional wrestling makes perfect sense. Too much sense. And sadly, as one considers the similarity between Ergun Caner's world of Christianity make-believe he lived for 9 years, it also seems so clear that modern evangelicalism is beginning to resemble the world of professional wrestling - and its fans are as gullible as the WWE fans who go and pay to watch their favorite wrestling star.

Let's first take Ergun Caner. As most civilized, educated people know, professional wrestling is a staged, choreographed "sport".  Fans pay to watch larger than life wrestlers - who have taken on fake personas and stage names -  act out their profession according to a wrestling script in front of cheering, adoring fans who eat it all up. Fans actually PAY to watch these men with fake names and fake stories pretend to wrestle and fight each other. They marvel at their antics, laugh at the jokes, and cheer the wrestling moves. But it is all fake.

So OF COURSE Ergun Caner can relate to these wrestlers - he lived out the same life as these wrestlers: a fake story line - lived in front of adoring fans who paid to watch his antics, laugh at the same choreographed punch lines and stories and jokes. He delivered the same show week in and week out, pretending to be a former Jihadist. And his fans loved it.

Ergun Caner was the professional Christian equivalent to Hulk Hogan of the professional wrestling world. Only Caner was better - he actually had his fans believing that his story was true - when we all knew that Hulk Hogan was just an act.

Caner's career began at the exact moment when the planes flew into the towers on September 11. Just
before the tragic events of 9/11, Caner existed as the mild-mannered Michael Caner, a balding and chubby minister who looked more like George Castanza of "Seinfeld" than he did a trained terrorist. Soon after 9/11, Michael Caner slid into the shadows, "Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner" emerged - a former terrorist trained in Islamic Jihad, "trained to do that which was done on 9/11", saved by Jesus Christ just in the nick of time before he himself committed heinous terrorist acts like those on 9/11. Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner was born even before the ashes at the World Trade Center had cooled.

Why did this fake personna of Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner emerge after 9/11? Why did "Michael Caner" slip into the shadows and give way to "Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner? The same reason that Terry Bollea emerged as "Hulk Hogan" back in the 1980s: because there was a market. Terry had a very talented wrestling promoter who was an expert in the marketing of professional wrestlers, and knew he could market a "Hulk Hogan" because he knew what the fans wanted. Hulk Hogan's story line, his fake persona would sell. Of course he had the enormous physical stature, he was very charismatic, and had a menacing stare.  Money could be made. Instant stardom could be had. It was there for the taking. So "Hulk Hogan" was born.

You see, after the events of 9/11, there was a HUGE need in the evangelical community for a former terrorist who had been saved by Jesus before HE himself committed terrorist acts. If such a former terrorist did exist, and if he were a talented speaker able to draw a crowd, he would be perfect to speak to churches everywhere on the evils of Islam - and he would be proof that THEIR religion of Christianity could triumph over radical Islam. This former terrorist - if he did exist - would be able to give Christians hope that their faith was the answer to preventing future terrorist acts like those of 9/11. This former terrorist - if he did exist - would help Christians make sense out of the senseless tragedy of 9/11 - and this former terrorist - if he did exist - would help pastors maintain the crowds drawn to their churches after 9/11, helping them raise money and to convert non-believers.

If such a former terrorist trained in Islamic Jihad DID exist, he needed to be found and found quickly.

The only problem: this former terrorist DID NOT EXIST.

But no problem. In America - if there is a need, if there is a market - if money is to be made - someone will emerge able to fill the need. So this former terrorist who did not exist, needed to be created. And once created, he needed to be promoted. 

And as we now know, Michael Caner was that man, hand-picked by the Christian promoters and King Makers at the time, Jerry Vines, Paige Patterson, and Jack Graham. Christians should have seen this coming, especially after the Darrell Gilyard fiasco that was the direct result of Jerry Vines promoting Darrell Gilyard in the late 1980s resulting in many ruined lives in Texas and Florida from Gilyard's well-documented sexual abuse. But in 2001, before social media was around, most people were unaware of Gilyard's abuse and Vines', Falwell's and Patterson's attempts in promoting and protecting Gilyard. And isn't it ironic: Gilyard's introduction by Vines included the phony story of him growing up homeless under a bridge.

Take Hulk Hogan for example: his name is actually Terry Bollea. Terry was transformed into "Hulk Hogan" in the 1980s, with the help of promoter Vincent J. McMahan. If Caner was going to be the former terrorist trained in Islamic Jihad, the guy saved-just-before-he-got-on-the-planes, he needed a huge introduction. His first large venue was Prestonwood Baptist Church, then First Baptist Dallas, then at the big-dog, First Baptist Church Jacksonville in November 2001. All of this was done while the rubble was still smoldering at the World Trade Center.

Terry Bollea was able to parlay his stage name and persona into all sorts of other marketing venues over the past 30 years. So too was Caner from 2001 to 2010, landing speaking gigs all over the world, getting the prestigious job of seminary president at Jerry Falwell's seminary, and also writing and co-authoring many books.

Ergun Caner lived the life of a former terrorist raised in Turkey, speaking Arabic, using his phony persona as an "olive skinned" immigrant to tell racial and sexist jokes from the pulpit, telling fibs about his own family members, and misleading congregations everywhere into thinking he was something he was not. Caner had crowds eating out of his hand, cheering him and howling at his jokes as he spoke of growing up in Turkey - even claiming that he watched professional wrestling while growing up in Istanbul. He couldn't help but to even bring up professional wrestling as part of his phony story! Ergun Caner became so popular that his brother Emir was able to ride his coattails into speaking gigs and a seminary presidency even without telling the fibs himself.

It was quite a ride Caner had. Ironically, there was a sick and twisted intersection of the Caner hoax and the fallout of the events of 9/11 from which the Ergun Caner persona emerged. In 2005 Caner was hired by our U.S. Marines to speak to troops preparing for battle in Afghanistan. Caner posed as an expert in Turkish culture, telling our Marines many of the same fibs he told to Christians in churches all over America. Think about that: Caner used the events of 9/11 as reason to create a false ex-terrorist persona, and then used that fake persona to gain an audience of our troops engaged in the war resulting from the events of 9/11. This is the stuff of a John Gresham novel.

But unlike Terry Bollea, Michael Caner's fake persona started to unravel at the hands of bloggers who helped Christians connect the dots. Everyone knows that "Hulk Hogan" was someone else. We knew it was pure entertainment, fiction. But Christians everywhere didn't know there was a Michael Caner prior to 9/11. They thought what they saw on stage in Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner was real. But sadly, to the shock of many, it was just a story, a fake persona that was marketed and promoted to gullible Christians everywhere.

Ergun Caner was a hoax born out of the events of 9/11, perpetuated on gullible Christians - and I was one of them - that wanted so badly to know for sure that their Christian faith was the answer to 9/11. We trusted Jerry Vines to have vetted Caner's story - and Vines failed us, and he failed a young Michael Caner who COULD have been a credible spokesperson after 9/11 if he had been completely truthful about his real past. Michael Caner needed Jerry Vines to guide him and keep him from the temptation of embellishing his testimony.

Sadly, to this day, the story gets worse. The Caner debacle continues, as he is still being paid by Southern Baptists in Georgia as a college president, while Jerry Vines and others who bear responsibility in the hoax will not come clean. The longer Vines and Patterson and Graham stay silent - the more long-term damage will be done to the Christian faith. There is the Caner lawsuit against Jon Autry and Jason Smathers for their publishing of the Caner speeches to the Marines in 2007 - still working its way through court. And probably more lawsuits from Caner. And Caner continues to get audiences in Southern Baptist Convention churches.

But maybe the saddest part of all of this Ergun Caner saga is this: modern evangelicalism is now beginning to resemble the same phoniness of professional wrestling. Maybe Caner was just a sign of things to come. Small churches with real pastors who want to minister to people are struggling and failing - while the large mega churches with the rock-star preachers seem to be thriving. Yet these men now are being exposed as grand marketers, using their churches and their notoriety to build their brand and build their market share. That Caner still exists in the evangelical community as a man with any credibility just serves to further blur the lines and confuse the difference between what is real in the Christian faith, and what is fake. We now see Mark Driscoll using church money to buy a fake "New York Times #1 Best-Selling Author" designation, and we see Steven Furtick using his notoriety to build a mansion - while Ronnie Floyd - the next SBC president - along with most mega church pastors now preaches a prosperity gospel that shamelessly requires 10% of one's gross income to be handed over to their church to avoid the curses of the God that loves them.

Sadly, America is watching all of this unfold. And when they see Ergun Caner, Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll, Robert Morris and Ronnie Floyd as the faces of modern, mainstream Christianity - they are also seeing Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, and "The Undertaker" as faces of professional wrestling.

And to most Americans, they can't tell the difference:  all showmen, performers on stage, performing in front of cheering, star-struck fans, selling their stories to earn a buck and gain notoriety, and the only people still buying the tickets are the most gullible among us.

21 comments:

An Attorney said...

Great post. Thanks for all you do.

Debbie Kaufman said...

My biggest problem with Ergun right now, and is also telling about those who follow him is that he is violent in his warring against others in the Christian faith. He bills himself as a Warrior and according to the trustees at Brewton Parker, is why they hired him.

His tats and beard convey that of a warrior. His demeanor conveys a warrior. Maybe wrestler will be his new persona as it seems he wants to bury Ergun Michael Caner who appeared to be a compassionate minister before 9/11. That is too bad, because Ergun Michael Caner who was there for those in the tragedy of the Columbine shooting, is that type of man churches and Brewton needs, not this crazy man who jumps in pools and promotes wrestling.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Hi Debbie - I don't think that old Ergun Caner exists. Michael Caner, whoever that was back in the late 90's is no longer. Similarly, does Terry Bollea exist? He has been transformed into the personna of "Hulk Hogan". While it is a stage name, I think Terry is now "Hulk Hogan" in every facet of his life.

When you hit the big time and gain notoriety with your fake personna and the love and admiration (and $$) it brings, I imagine it does something to transform you into that personna you created. That is why Caner CANNOT "repent" as so many are infatuated with calling him to do. Repent of who he is?? He can't! It is no use to call him to repent, it is a waste of breath.

Those who can clean up this mess are Jerry Vines, Paige Patterson, and Jack Graham. If these men came forward and gave a full account of how this started, acknowledge publicly that Caner pulled a hoax and they regret their part in it and condemn it, things could begin to get fixed. But they won't. It might tarnish their legacy, and might get their stained glass window at SWBTS pulled.

But Caner is now who he portrayed for 9 years in the Christian limelight. I'm not sure he even remembers Rev. Michael Caner. He is now the former terrorist Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner - and when he speaks he is more careful in how he portrays himself, but he still carefully masks the fact that he came here as a 2 year old. He wants his audiences to still make connections that don't exist. It is still his schtick, and always will be.

bobfelton said...

Tom, I think you're right about creating a public persona which then becomes a burden that has to be lived up to, and that Caner has done exactly that. It never ends well, however: Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson come right to mind, and there are doubtless many, many others who couldn't maintain the character they created and eventually crashed.

Anonymous said...

"That is why Caner CANNOT "repent" as so many are infatuated with calling him to do. Repent of who he is?? He can't! It is no use to call him to repent, it is a waste of breath."

Are you a Calvinist? If you're not I don't see how you can believe that someone cannot repent. Even some Calvinists would say that everyone has the ability to repent. Your statement sounds like what is often referred to as "hyper-Calvinism."

Ron and Connie Rilee said...

Ergan's in good company with Todd Bentley, who is a rabid WWE fan, and as we all know, uses the moves he learned in his "healing revivals". Also along the phony vein, I have seen Dibiase on TBN since his conversion. Truly is a small world.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Am I a Calvinist?? LOL!! No, just a hyper-common-sense-ist! Your religiosity blinders keep you from seeing things as they are, and you're trying to fit everything into your religious categories. It is clear: Ergun Caner IS the fake personna of "Ergun Mehmet Giovanni Caner", ex-Jihadist trained to do that which was done on 11 September. He IS that person. He can't/won't "repent" of being what in his mind he really is. And oh yeah, one minor detail: to "repent" would cost him lots and lots of money that he has earned. So he CAN'T repent, he WON'T repent, and I don't care. And to call on him to "repent" would be a waste of my time! I just want to make sure that people know who he is, and hopefully prevent another Caner from being created at the next opportune time. I was part of his hoax, I was in the crowd in November 2001 when Vines thrust this phony persona upon his church members, and I don't want that to happen ever again.

Only someone who lives in a make-believe world of phony thelogical categories would not be able to see what I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Nailed it, Dog.

You say that "Michael Caner (who) COULD have been a credible spokesperson after 9/11 if he had been completely truthful about his real past." People embellish their testimony all the time. A person's "testimony" is really only proof that they have a testimony -nothing else. I think Christians put too much emphasis on personal testimonies. I would rather Caner take the time to actually become an expert on Islam and then he could really have had an impact.

-Moz

Anonymous said...

"Phony theological categories"? I'm not sure what you mean. Do you deny that Arminianism and Calvinism exist? What's "phony" about them?

All I did was ask you a legitimate question, and it was not argumentative in any manner. I took no position whatsoever. Not entirely sure why you reacted the way you did, but in any event it was inappropriate.

"Religiosity blinders"? What the heck does that mean? What in my post exhibited "religiosity"? You don't know me. If you did you'd know that I'm not religious.

Incidentally I agree with everything you say about Caner, except that he CAN'T repent, and on that I'm not sure whether I agree with you or not. Caner disgusts me, and this post analogizing to professional wrestling was spot on.

The absolute only point of my post was to try and ascertain the basis for your assertion that he CAN'T repent. I was not disputing anything you said and I certainly did not intend, nor did I say anything which could even remotely be reasonably construed as support of Caner.

Anonymous said...

I think it is so important what Jesus said on the cross "It is finished"!!No large buildings, no so called sr.pastor, no baptism, no church membership, and no tithing. Just the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Think about it and all the other does and don'ts are insignificant.

Anonymous said...

Phony theological categories? Seems to me like it's pretty phony for someone to claim to be a Christian and also claim that God is so small as to not be able to change someone's heart. Won't repent? Yes. But can't repent? No.

Anonymous said...

FBC Jax is the "big guns" compared to Prestonwood and FBC Dallas? Pshaw. You were a member there too long if you buy that nonsense.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Anon 11:26 - yes, big guns. Jerry Vines. No nonsense.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

11:23 - I didn't say God couldn't change his heart. Who said that? I'm just saying he won't because he can't. What is so hard to understand about that? And Caner thinks himself that whatever he needs to repent of, he has already! So why are some so obsessed with Tweeting that he "repent"?

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

10:06 - I have very little tolerance for people raising issues of "hyper Calvinism" in an issue regarding perhaps the biggest hoax perpetrated on modern evangelicalism in my lifetime. Do I deny the existence of the two categories you cite? No, they exist. In theory and theology, and they are not at all an issue in the Caner hoax, except for Caner blaming his troubles on "Calvinists".

Anonymous said...

OK, now I'm really confused. Apparently something about my saying the word "hyper Calvinism" caused you to lose all sense of rationality.

"I didn't say God couldn't change his heart. Who said that? I'm just saying he won't because he can't. What is so hard to understand about that? And Caner thinks himself that whatever he needs to repent of, he has already! So why are some so obsessed with Tweeting that he "repent"?"

Huh? So, God can change his hear but he can't repent? I'm losing you.

You have no idea what Caner thinks. How could you presume to know that, or what God may be doing inside him?

Anonymous said...

This is why people are leaving these "churches" everyday in droves. Many of the "pastors (?)" are so money and ego driven that the gospel of Jesus Christ is used rather than preached.

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Neptune - I did not let your comment through. I choose not to bring the wife into this conversation. That will have to be done elsewhere. I do appreciate your contributions to the blog but I just ask that we not try to drag the other family members into this.

Anonymous said...

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

i.e., Caner is a lying self-promoter, and Watchdog and his ilk are hopelessly obsessed with hoping to see him suffer so they can get their schadenfreude fix on.

Lauren said...

Caner’s behaviors are textbook Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), so don’t hold your breath waiting for repentance. NPD is clinically an irremediable condition. Whether he can’t repent or won’t repent is a distinction without a difference. Of course God can do anything, but we are talking about a man’s free will here.
Like all NPD’s, Michael must protect the carefully created “false self” (Ergun) at all costs. True repentance (admitting it’s all a fraud) would effectively “kill” the public persona of Dr. Ergun Caner (jihadist-turned-Christian, author, teacher, Islam expert, and college provost). Repentance would mean the end of the media empire, money, status, and power, and it also means that Caner (and his supporters) will be humiliated, rejected, and ultimately, he fears he would be unloved. So it’s never going to happen. Google “NPD DSM-IV” to see the clinical research: it’s rare in the overall population, but we are seeing in more and more NPD’s in megachurch pulpits.

Anonymous said...

Caner is truly dangerous. Physical danger is one thing, but psychological danger is another. I would argue it is easier ot recover from physical injuries. When a liar like Caner gets in someone's head, he owns them...