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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2010

Falwell's Liberty University investigates claims president from Ohio made about Muslim past


LYNCHBURG, Va. — Liberty University plans a formal investigation into questions about the background of the school's seminary president, who says he was raised as devout Muslim in Turkey and converted to Christianity as a teen.

Ergun Caner, named head of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005, said then and in later years that he grew up in Turkey in a Sunni Muslim household and converted to the Christian faith as a teen.

The News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg reported that documents it obtained from a Columbus, Ohio, court indicate Caner was born in Sweden and moved with his parents to the U.S. four years later.

Bloggers initially questioned details of Caner's background, made in public statements and on his website, and their concerns have since been reported in Christianity Today, a magazine aimed at evangelical Christians. The magazine reported the questions have centered on the depth of Caner's family's Muslim faith and where he was raised.

Liberty, one of the nation's largest evangelical Christian universities, announced on its website it was launching an investigation as the reports spread.

"Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs," Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement posted on Liberty's website. "However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry."

Caner did not immediately respond Tuesday to a telephone message left by The Associated Press at the seminary or to an e-mail.

The university said its provost, Ron Godwin, will form a committee to investigate the allegations. A report is due by the end of June.

"I'll have nothing further to say until the review is completed," Godwin told the AP.

A Liberty spokesman also declined comment.

On his website, Caner said he and his two brothers were raised as Muslims until his conversion in high school.

"After his conversion," a short bio of Caner says, "he pursued his call to the ministry and education."

Caner and his brother, Emir, were popular on the lecture circuit after the September 2001 terrorist attacks after they wrote "Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs."

Liberty was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority. He died three years ago.

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