A rare group photo of the Caner brothers and the Liberty debate organizers has been unearthed:
To the left is Ergun Caner, the self-described "intellectual pit bull of the evangelical church" - revealed not as a fierce fighting dog, but a cowardly widdle puddy tat. To the right is his brother Emir, the Straw Man. Next to him is debate moderator Brett O'Donnell who, like many women, can change his mind arbitrarily at the drop of a hat. Finally, the tin man's pointy hat makes it obvious that he is none other than His Holiness, Pope Jerry Falwell himself.
The two debaters that would have affirmed the Calvinism position, James White and Tom Ascol, have both articulated their side of the story on their respective blogs. Short version: After prolonged negotiation that was, from White's and Ascol's perspective, like pulling hens' teeth (see also here and here, both PDF files), they finally settled on a format in August. But recently, moderator O'Donnell decided to "pull rank" and unilaterally alter the agreed-upon format in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. Apparently, the Caners decided to take it; White and Ascol did not, and hence there will be no debate.
It seems that it is not enough for Ergun Caner simply to break his word: he also has to lie about it to try and save face. Writing on his blog, he says:
On Friday as I was flying to a speaking engagement I was informed by my office that Drs. White and Ascol (either one or both of them) objected to the rules established by the moderator, Brett O’Donnell.
As well they should: the details of the debate format were already agreed upon by the parties to the debate, and the moderator had no right to alter those details. His job is to keep time and order, not to dictate to the two sides how they will format their debate.
Dr. White didn’t like the original thesis. He complained.
I can't possibly imagine why, except maybe that the thesis That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity is total blithering gibberish.
He didn’t like the length of the debate. He complained.
I'd say that not having the chance to actually develop a meaningful argument is a fair cause for complaint. On the other hand, I can see how extending the length of a debate might be cause for concern for someone whose arguments consist of glib sound-bites. He might run out of witticisms and wind up looking less brilliant than he fancies himself.
We agreed to the new thesis. And he complained again.
"Baptists and Calvinism" isn't a thesis. It's the title of a high-school research paper. It affirms nothing (although in the context of a debate it might serve to "poison the well" by setting "Baptists" and "Calvinism" as antithetical).
We created a promotion piece. They even complained about the poster.
Actually White called the poster "very nicely done." Doesn't sound much like a complaint to me. However, like the non-thesis thesis, the graphic's implication that "Baptist Calvinists" result in dark, dusty, and empty churches is another not-so-subtle attempt at well-poisoning.
So - it’s cancelled. They quit.
Put another way, the agreed-upon debate ceased to exist the moment Darth O'Donnell ("I'm altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further") arrogated the right to change the terms. White and Ascol didn't quit. The rug was pulled out from underneath them.
Like White and Ascol, I had hoped for the best (and I was looking forward to watching the live webcast when it happened). But I have to admit that I saw this outcome as a definite possibility weeks ago, because a distinct lack of good faith is evident in all of the Caners' correspondence. Shame on Ergun and Emil Caner for lacking the integrity to allow their "yes" to be "yes" (Matt. 5:37). Shame on Brett O'Donnell for his complicity in this fiasco. Frankly, given that the Caners were so willing to go along with his changes to the format, I suspect collusion. And shame on the administration of Liberty University for allowing this fiasco to bring reproach to their own reputation and that of Christ. Who wants to belong to a religion staffed by liars?
Postscript: Emir Caner posts his side of the story: a more irenic blow-by-blow of the situation leading up to the cancellation than his bombastic brother has so far offered. He at least provides a motive for O'Donnell's change of the format: it was too long for the audience. Nonetheless, he still had no business altering an agreement between two other parties, and White/Ascol are still quite justified in rejecting the changes.