Saturday, December 7, 2013

Preaching About the Wrong Man

This was originally going to be a post bemoaning the "ethics downgrade" plaguing American evangelicalism. Since Mark Driscoll and Ergun Caner are back in the news for their various violations of ethics rules accepted even among the most virulently secular, I was planning to compare the response of secular organizations in similar situations, and axe why the American district of the City on a Hill has lower standards than those in the valley.

And that would be an easy post to write, would it not? Recount some stories of people fired or expelled from hostilely secular schools and companies for relatively minor cases of plagiarism, then ask why Mark Driscoll can brazenly steal the work of others, and the response of the Christian elite (as if that term doesn't explain the problem) is to attempt to destroy the person who dared to expose his self-exalting theft.

Then I could recall the story of George O'Leary, the college football coach who in 2001 was hired for one of the most prestigious positions in his field, head coach at Notre Dame. But when the school went to prepare his biography for their media machine, some discrepancies were found. He had padded his resume three or four decades earlier to help him break into the field, and never got around to removing the padding from his bio. He had a great track record as a coach over multiple decades, so no big deal, right? Wrong. Notre Dame, a Catholic school, exposed the decades-old lies, and fired him immediately.

It would be easy enough to compare that to the case of Ergun Caner, who built a career through lying about, well, pretty much everything. In numerous sermons at churches all over America, he told a life story that simply isn't true. He lied to the Marines, presenting himself as an expert on Islam because of his background in order to train them in Muslim relations (shudder to think of soldiers dying because they followed his advice). Time after time, he told the same story of his life - and when someone finally looked into it, it was a mountain of lies. Did his employer, Liberty University, act as boldly as Notre Dame, especially considering how much more serious Caner's lies are than O'Leary's were? No. They 'cleared' him of lying, saying only that he had made "factual statements that are self-contradictory", and letting him remain on the faculty. Egads.  Now several years and several gigs later, he was hired as president of Brewton-Parker College. Was he hired in spite of his lies? Worse - according to their official statement, he was hired because of them. Specifically, because he remained unrepentant and defiant, and is fighting in anti-Christian ways to destroy those who exposed him. The liar is a hero and paragon of virtue, while the truth-tellers are pagan attackers.

That's not an ethics downgrade. That's hitting bottom and keeping on digging. The folks at Brewton-Parker hit rock bottom, and brought in the dynamite.

OK, so I guess I wound up writing that post anyway. So be it. Anyway, while I was thinking that through, something else occurred to me. I'm going to set Driscoll aside for a moment here - which, come to think of it, is good advice all the time; let the widdle boy-man pee in his own sandbox all he wants, don't worry about him, but be willing to hose him off if he ever realizes how much his diaper stinks and asks for a change.

For now, let's just focus on Caner, with one question - why does it matter so much that he's such a dirty rotten filthy stinking liar? What difference does it make that his life story has him sitting on a throne of lies? Aside from listing the bare-minimum qualifications for an elder, let's do a little thought experiment.

Think about your pastor, and maybe a famous pastor you respect (MacArthur, for instance). Imagine they had lied about some significant biographical details. How many sermons would they have to preach before the lies had an impact on the message? I suspect for many pastors, it would be several months before those stories were in sermons, if ever.

Now do the same with Caner. Find any sermon he preached from about late 2001 to 2010. How much would it change the message if you replace the biographical lies with the truth? Could you find even a 10-minute stretch which wouldn't be any different without the lies? Change Caner's lies about himself to the truth about himself, and his sermons would be completely unrecognizable!

For any faithful pastor, from the MacArthurs and Pipers and Sprouls to the myriad small-church pastors you'll never hear of until heaven - really, anyone who fits the minimum qualifications of an elder - the star of every message is Jesus Christ.

For Ergun Caner, the star of every message is Ergun Caner.

The trail of lies (and the inexcusable actions of his enablers) is disqualifying. But it wouldn't be so noticeable, and he maybe wouldn't have been so tempted to do it, if he didn't preach about the wrong man.