IS A GEORGIA BAPTIST COLLEGE COVERING UP RACISM?

BY WM. DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR.

The Bible says, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).

Three witnesses recently came forth to deliver charges of racially offensive comments from the lips of Dr. Ergun Caner, who recently resigned as President of Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Georgia. Dr. Caner did not resign when faced with the allegations of racist remarks. His trustee board—including Michael Pigg, a Black trustee—all stood by him. They did not consider the testimony of three witnesses reliable enough for them to hold Ergun Caner accountable for his racist speech. When the then chairman of BPC Trustee Board was given testimony of Dr. Caner’s racist and vulgar comments, Gary Campbell’s response was: “Why are y’all making a bigger deal out of this than it is?” according to Dewayne Bynum, Director of Plant Operations at BPC, who also reported to the trustees, racist comments made by Dr. Caner. Bynum further reported that Dr. Caner’s comment to his (Bynum’s) attorney was “It was no big deal”!!! What incredible, irresponsible responses to racist comments of the most vile, vicious, and vulgar sort…“It was no big deal”!

People underreport racism for the same reason women underreport rape. Why? Because there are a great number of people who categorically dismiss, disregard, deny, deflect, defend, marginalize and seek to destroy anyone who would dare reveal to larger circle closeted racism. The way the BPC trustees have handled, or mishandled, the reports of racism on their campus would discourage anybody from ever reporting acts of racism there.

If we are going to root out racism in society, we must gather the intestinal fortitude to gracefully, lovingly, humbly and truthfully confront racism, whenever and whenever it raises its ugly head. We cannot conquer what we do not confront. We cannot fix what we don’t face. In order to defeat racism, we must confront racism.

Gary Campbell became acting President at BPC for a few days following President Ergun Caner’s resignation and before the appointment of Dr. Charles Bass as the interim President. During Campbell’s brief presidency, he fired Dr. C. B. Scott, one of the Vice Presidents at BPC, because Dr. Scott reported to the trustees and the executive staff at BPC the allegations of Dr. Caner’s racist remarks. Seriously, BPC? You would fire a man for reporting racism, at the same time that you want to recruit minorities to your campus? Now that we know for certain how the BPC trustees will handle allegations of racism, we also know that it is not a trustworthy place for minorities to attend, if matters of race have to be adjudicated by the current trustees.

When faced with inappropriate sexting communication allegations, the BPC trustees allowed Dr. Caner to resign. But when faced with allegations of racist commentary, the BPC trustees wholeheartedly gave support to Dr. Caner. The racial indiscretions should have been just as weighty to the BPC trustees as the “inappropriate” communications allegations.

Perhaps if Dr. Caner had been held accountable for inappropriate words in the past regarding women and the Black church, things wouldn’t have ever gotten to the place at BPC where Dr. Caner would have been comfortable communicating irresponsibly, racially and sexually.

In a recorded sermon a few years back, preaching at a men’s gathering in an Ohio church, Dr. Caner shows certain insensitivity toward women:

 “Dr. Caner, do you believe in women behind the pulpit? My answer is well, yeah, of course, how are they going to vacuum back there unless they get behind it….[laughter, and hoots and hollers]…..and that’s going to be in half of your pulpits next Sunday. FEEL FREE!!! I LOVE THAT LINE!! But you know one line like that shuts it all up, ’cause they’re not going to talk about it, and they’re not going to talk to you for a while, which is good, which is good.”

I would certainly pause before I considered sending my daughter to a college presided over by a man who reflected the mindset revealed by the statement above. The attitude and mindset behind the above statement suggest that he holds women in less than high esteem.

While preaching in the pulpit of FBC, Jacksonville, FL, several years ago, Caner gave an extremely false caricature of the Black Church. Ergun Caner made condescending and stereotypical remarks concerning the Black Church in a sermon preached at First Baptist of Jacksonville, FL. Caner’s observation certainly would not be true of the Black church that I pastor and the majority of Black churches that I’m aware of. Yet, his remarks were met with approving laughter. I don’t believe that he would have made those same remarks in a Black church. Caner essentially said Black churches do not put the preacher up to preach until about 1:00 p.m. That’s not true. Black churches, according to Caner, take up “twelve offerings”. That’s untrue. Caner further stated:

“… you go to a Black church gentlemen, you are not going to have on a blue suit, you are going to have blue shoes to match, and your handkerchief is going to match your tie, and your whole outfit is going to match your car. It’s BEAUTIFUL. And ladies: when we talk about black church, we’re talkin’ about hats. And I’m not just talkin’ Easter hats as some of you may wear, I’m talkin’ ’bout satellite dish hats. [laughter]. Big enough to receive a signal, with a curtain rod goin’ down the front that you can just pull the curtain across”.   [Ergun Caner, The Warrior Church, June 14, 2009]

By the grace of God, I have been privileged to preach over the past thirty six years in twenty seven states, at least seventy five cities, and in over one hundred and eighty pulpits or public venues across the length and breadth of America. The vast majority of those preaching assignments were in Black Baptist pulpits. My point is, Ergun Caner may have had a better opportunity to judge the social mores of the Black church more so than I, but it’s doubtful. I can truly say that what Ergun Caner stated is simply, generally not true. As a matter of fact, I’ve never witnessed what he described. If I stated that White preachers preached in Hawaiian shirts and encouraged married couples in their churches to have sex seven straight days, and wore toupees; that may be true in isolated cases but it would be unfair, inaccurate, and racially stereotypical, without foundation, for to me make such a claim as normative.

Caner owes FBC Jacksonville an apology. Caner owes the Black church an apology. His remarks were damaging to the reputation of the Black church in the minds and hearts of his hearers. One would expect better than this from a college President.

When I read Caner’s untruthful words about the Black church spoken at the major, Anglo FBC, who really couldn’t evaluate whether or not he was being truthful, I don’t find it a stretch to believe that he said the words attributed to him by persons at the Brewton-Parker College that he was President of until recently.

Dewayne Bynum, Maria Garvin, and Zakery Pitt—three witnesses—have all gone on record with first-hand accounts of racial rhetoric espoused by Dr. Caner. All three of them were found to be less than credible in establishing a truthful testimony that Dr. Caner had spoken racially offensive in the eyes of the trustees. My heart bleeds for these three brave citizens of the Kingdom of God, who sought to address this matter biblically by reporting it to the proper authorities. My heart bleeds for Dr. C.B. Scott who would dare provide a listening ear and address the concerns of these two students and one faculty member to the proper authorities.

Dr. C.B. Scott, is not only terminated, but is asked to sign a paper indicating that he will only testify on behalf of BPC against the three witnesses if this matter ever reaches the court system. How sad!!! BPC trustees refused to discipline the man who spoke the racist words, but was willing to fire the man who brought to their attention the racist words. How sad!!!

I am just a voice, crying in the wilderness; but I am going out on a limb, stepping out on faith and asking the BPC trustees to reconsider their decision regarding firing Dr. C.B. Scott. I’m asking that you offer him his job back. As a matter of fact, Dr. Scott has the integrity, scholarship, pastoral and administrative experience, and the backbone to serve Brewton-Parker College through this turbulent transition season in the very position that he was released from. Dr. Scott could help restore wholeness to the school again. His return to the faculty would certainly restore the trust to many, that matters related to race would be dealt with fairly and objectively and not swept under the rug.

Director of Plant Operations at BPC, Thomas Dewayne Bynum, provided the following statement to BPC trustee chairman, yet it was disregarded:

“This is a statement regarding a conversation that I had with Dr. Ergun Caner, President of Brewton Parker College February 5, 2014. I had gone over to the president’s house to talk with Dr. Caner about an email that he had sent days earlier about a potential “cyber stalker” incident. We were talking about the shape of the facilities and what needed to be done to get all of the buildings repaired and/or updated. At this time Dr. Caner said that he was misinformed by the board of trustees about the magnitude of the problems at Brewton Parker. I told him that they may not have known the full extent of the buildings issues because they had been misinformed. Dr. Caner then stated that he believed that they were aware and then said “they nigger dicked me is what they did”, I could not believe my ears and asked him “what did you say” and he then said “they nigger fucked me”. After this l must admit that my mind was reeling and I did not really comprehend much of what was said the next few seconds. We finished our meeting about the buildings (which all took place beside his car behind the house) and I left. Later I spoke with a vice president, Dr. Scott, and related to him that Dr. Caner had spoken to me on a vulgar way but I did not go into detail about what was actually said. I was embarrassed to give Dr. Scott the details at the time and told him that I hoped that it was because Dr. Caner was upset and it was not how he actually felt. Since then I have had conversations and overheard Dr. Caner speak in derogatory ways about African Americans, so I am now convinced that this is a part of his character.” (Director of Plant Operations, Brewton Parker College, Thomas Dewayne Bynum)

Maria Garvin’s statement:

“Yesterday, December 16, 2014, I, Maria Garvin, along with Zak Pitt were told to put in some light bulbs at Dr. Ergun Caner’s home. This was called in around 3:20 PM. Zak and I were let into Dr. Caner’s home by Dr. Caner’s youngest son Drake. Upon entering their home, Drake went to the back where we could here Dr. Caner talking on the phone. Personally, I was under the impression that Drake had gone to tell Dr. Caner that we were there to put in the light bulbs for him, but ten seconds later, Drake returns down the hall and tells us that his dad wasn’t quite ready yet. So Zak and I waited in the dining room area that is across from the front door.

Not too long after Drake had told us to wait, I begin to over hear a few of the things that Dr. Caner was talking about on the phone. One of the first things I heard was an issue that had gone on pertaining to the track team. Juan Castanon had been kicked off the team due to him swearing at the coach Matt Smith and the athletic director Greg “Boo” Mullins. Dr. Caner had his phone on speaker so not only could we hear everything that Dr. Caner was saying, but we could also hear what Juan was saying. Juan begin to ask Dr. Caner about his scholarship money and whether or not he would be able to keep it. Dr. Caner told Juan that he talked to the people in financial aid, and he would be able to keep his track scholarship even though he is ineligible to run through NAIA. Juan told Dr. Caner that he was aware of this to which Dr. Caner asked if Juan had sworn at the track coach and the athletic director. Juan reassured Dr. Caner that this information was false and that he would never do that, and he would never do such a thing to anyone. Dr. Caner then told Juan that Coach Mullins probably pulled his scholarship to try to free up more scholarship money for the baseball team. Juan agreed and shortly following, they both hung up the phone.

Not too long afterwards, Dr. Caner called someone else to which he discussed his previous phone call he had received from Juan. I believe it had to be his brother solely based on the conversation that followed. Dr. Caner was asking for his brother’s advice about what he should do in the situation concerning Juan. His brother responded that he had his VP of Affairs handle those types of situations. Dr. Caner then said that he wouldn’t dare put the individual that he had for that area over the situation because it was Dr. C.B. Scott. He then proceeded to tell his brother why he wouldn’t allow Dr. Scott to be over the situation stating that Dr. Scott doesn’t know how to communicate well with people, he is a terrible teacher, he doesn’t work well with others, he doesn’t fundraise, and to top it off he acts like he is half black. Personally, all of the statements that were made towards Dr. Scott I found obscene because I think he is a nice person, and I’ve never had a problem with him, but for Dr. Caner to say that Dr. Scott acts like he’s half black struck me as odd. What exactly is wrong with being half black or black at all? I was beyond offended when I heard that come from the president’s mouth because I am half black. I also thought that for Dr. Caner to be such an eloquent speaker and well respected leader that that was a very narrow minded thing for him to say, and in that brief moment, I lost my respect for him saying that.

Additional comment by Maria Garvin:

“Recently, a circumstance has occurred that has led us to believe that the president of Brewton-Parker College has been a participant of racial discrimination. However, there have been several instances in which this has happened on the campus of Brewton-Parker. Racial discrimination is a social issue that not only affects students on campus, but also the community around them. Discrimination has become institutionalized, meaning that various systems, with higher education being one of them, make decisions based on race unconsciously and sometimes consciously. Many times racism and discrimination can be taboo, but if we can address it up front, then we can change it upfront. Colleges are a significant part of what a community is, and the students are a huge part of what a college is, as it provides education for students coming from various neighborhoods and high schools. They can become a major turning point for students in building relationships with people of differing backgrounds than their own. If college students can become more aware of racial discrimination and what it means, they will be better equipped, as our country is becoming more diversified. There will be a need to understand racial discrimination and working with others different than oneself in the workforce. Racial discrimination is real and we need to address it. The differential treatment of people based on the color of their skin should not be tolerated.

With that being said, it is imperative that this current situation pertaining to Dr. Caner’s remark be addressed. If it is okay for the president to make such derogatory remarks, then who is he to correct anyone relating to such matters? Moreover, if we can attribute this behavior to Dr. Caner, it is safe to suggest that he condones this behavior seeing as how he displays it himself. A college president must be in tune with the student population, which is almost always comprised of hundreds or thousands of diverse individuals from all over America and around the world. Dealing with so many people and their opinions is a daunting task; the plethora of problems that are possible when several students collide with each other are limitless. However, how can one deal with these same individuals’ problems equally if all of these individuals are not viewed as being equal?

In short, this incident must be handled swiftly and with care. Even if that means contacting a higher power such as the NAACP whose sole purpose is to “inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination” and “ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all citizens” as it clearly says in their mission statement. As a part of the student body at Brewton-Parker and a member of the African American community, I feel that it is my responsibility to aid in this effort.”

Zakery Pitt’s Statement:

“Yesterday, December 16, 2014, I, Zakery Pitt, as well as my co-worker Maria Garvin overheard a disturbing conversation at Dr. Caner’s home. Around 3:30 our boss, Dewayne Bynum, called and instructed us to go to Dr. Caner’s house with some light bulbs. So Maria and I went to Dr. Carter’s house with the light bulbs and were met by his son Drake at the door. We followed Drake inside and as we waited in the dining room Drake went to a different part of the house to notify Dr. Caner that we were there. Drake came back and told us that Dr. Caner was not ready yet, so we were under the impression that he would be out in just a minute. As we were waiting in the dining room Maria and I overheard Dr. Caner talking on the phone on speakerphone. I quickly recognized the voice as Juan Castanon, a student at Brewton Parker. During the conversation Juan was asking about his scholarship money for next semester for track. The athletic director, Boo Mullins, pulled his scholarship because of disciplinary actions regarding the cursing out of Boo Mullins and the head track coach. Dr. Caner asked Juan if he cursed them out and Juan denied it several times. Dr. Caner continued the conversation by reassuring Juan that he had his scholarship and that he would receive that scholarship next semester. The conversation ended at that point.

At this point Maria and I were sure that Dr. Caner was aware of our presence and he would join us in the dining room, but he started another conversation on the phone with whom I assume was his brother, Emir Caner, President of Truett Mcconnell College. He was asking him for advice on how to deal with the situation with Juan and the AD Boo Mullins. Caner said he felt that Boo needed to be checked with his power because he thought the only reason Boo pulled Juan’s scholarship was to free more money for the baseball program. Caller’s brother explained to him that at his school he placed the VP of Affairs over the AD. Caner said that Dr. C.B. Scott was his VP of Affairs and there would be no way that he would place him in that position. Dr. Caner continued by saying some disrespectful comments about Scott. Caner said that Scott was “horrible in the classroom, horrible with people, did not try to fundraise money, and thinks he is half black.” Dr. Caner also continued by saying that Dr. C.B. Scott wanted to be the Academic Dean. Caner and his brother laughed out loud and Caner said that Scott would never be put into that position. After that Caner received another call.

The third and final call was from Jennifer Blaylock. She called him complaining about Nikki Jones and Leslie Harrell. Blaylock said that Nikki Jones was repeatedly telling Leslie Harrell to not do something even after Caner told Blaylock to tell Harrell to do it. From Blaylock’s voice I could tell she was very upset and mad, even going to the extent and cursing (“shit”) while explaining the situation to Caner. Caner told her he understood why she was mad but it wasn’t Nikki Jones’s fault. Also, Blaylock was complaining about how Leslie does not know how to do her job because Nikki Jones did not train her fully. Caner responded by saying Nikki Jones will continue training her until fully equipped.

After Caner’s final conversation, his son Drake went back to where Caner was and again told him that we were still waiting. Caner obviously did not know we were still there as he acted dumbfounded. He came to the dining room and said that he could change them himself and he did not need our assistance. So Maria and I left Caner’s house.

Throughout this whole incident I was shocked for many reasons. As the president of a Christian college you should live by a higher standard of professional morals and ethics. The comments made about Dr. C.B. Scott were obviously unprofessional, but were also erroneous. Also, why is Caner believing a student over his administration? Above all, the racist remark by Caner really upset me. If our student population would have heard the things I heard, especially the African-American population, they would no longer want to attend a school under the realm of Dr. Caner. I find myself questioning the leadership and integrity of our president Dr. Caner. In fact, that questioning of Dr. Caner is a prominent factor in my decision to transfer schools this Christmas. I genuinely enjoy this school and the people in it, and would seriously consider coming back if people seriously reconsidered who they have as president of Brewton Parker College.”

According to Maria and Zakery, Dr. Caner referred to C.B. Scott as “half Black.” I have two grandsons that are the byproduct of an inter-racial marriage. Therefore, I found his “half Black” statement particularly bothersome, inasmuch as the context of the words he used suggest that being “half Black” is seen in a negative light by Dr. Caner.

Biblically speaking, how did BPC trustees dismiss the testimony of three witnesses? Actually, there were four total with the FBC Jacksonville statement?

My appeal to BPC is to simply do the right thing. Admit you acted in haste and prematurely in the dismissal of Dr. C.B. Scott. Offer Dr. Scott his job back. And please cease publishing articles that paint Dr. Caner as a victim.

Ergun Caner is a man that I’ve never met. I have no great admiration or disdain for him. I have no axe to grind with Ergun Caner. I am definitely not a Calvinist who is out to win a theological debate against him. He and I probably share in common a strong disagreement with Calvinism. Caner is a man who is hurting. His son Braxton committed suicide several months ago. As a result, Ergun Caner has faced some medical issues in response to his grief over his son that certainly any parent can relate to and be sensitive to.

Therefore, my intent here is to express gratitude, respect, admiration and appreciation for C.B. Scott for his bold, biblical and courageous stand to hold Ergun Caner accountable for racially insensitive and racist words from his mouth. It is not my intent or desire to bash Ergun Caner. If we are going to eradicate racism from this world, we need more men like Dr. C.B. Scott.

My prayer is that God would heal Ergun Caner and his family’s aching heart. My prayer is that the Lord would repair the broken pieces of Caner’s life. My prayer is that God would build Caner up where he is weak and strengthen him where he’s torn down. My prayer is that God would raise up Caner’s bowed-down head. My prayer is that Caner would smile and be set free again from the chains that seem to bind him. My prayer is that Caner would soar high again in ministry and minister to others mightily from the pain of his experiences. Therein may lay the secret to his healing.

I pray that God would meet Dr. C.B. Scott’s every need during this turbulent season in his life and his family’s sojourn. I pray that he, his wife or children will not become bitter, angry or unforgiving. I pray that they will not be weary in well doing knowing that in due season they will reap if they faint not.

I pray that Brewton-Parker College trustees would offer Dr. Scott his job back. At the very least, I pray that they will provide for him a one-year service package with full medical benefits. It is morally reprehensible for C.B. Scott to walk away from BPC with absolutely nothing, while Caner walks with a full one-year salary and benefits package.

In this season, where the Southern Baptist Convention is making quantum leaps forward in race relations, I pray that Brewton-Parker College’s handling of this situation would not be viewed by historians one day as a step backward by a SBC-affiliated institution.

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