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Pastor laments Tweets prior to youth’s suicide

UPDATED Aug. 13, 11:30 a.m. with an expanded 7th paragraph

MOUNT VERNON, Ga. (BP) — A spokesman for the family of Ergun Caner, whose son took his life July 29, said they are encouraged over a statement of repentance by a Montana pastor who has faced criticism for several exchanges with the youth via Twitter.

“We’ve kept our ears close to the public chatter on social media surrounding the untimely death of Braxton Caner, son of Dr. Ergun and Jill Caner, including the most recent pronouncements of contrition by Montana pastor Jordan D. Hall,” said Peter Lumpkins, vice president of communications at Brewton-Parker College in Georgia where Caner has been president since December.

“Know we are encouraged Rev. Hall finally admitted his social media attack on a fifteen year old boy was both inappropriate and sinful,” Lumpkins said in a statement to Baptist Press today (Aug. 12).

“We’re further encouraged Hall has vowed to back away from his relentless character assassination of Braxton’s dad, Ergun Caner. Finally, we hope and pray Hall’s public contrition about his sinful harassment of the Caner family will inspire other cyber-bullies in several states including Arizona, Florida, California, Virginia, Georgia, and even foreign countries like Canada to learn from Hall’s experience and cease their harmful and sinful attacks upon the Caner family. It’s time to stop social media abuse.”

JD Hall, pastor of Fellowship Church of Sidney and one of the leaders of a group named Reformation Montana, addressed the exchanges with Braxton Caner in an Aug. 11 podcast titled “A Final Word On The Braxton Caner Saga.”

On July 2, Hall had written in the last of three Tweets challenging the moral content of some of the 15-year-old’s posts: “Because of your age, I’ll discontinue our convo. But if you ever want to speak or seek truth about your dad, email me.”

Hall also posted a subsequent blog titled “On Caner’s Son.” The post, later on July 2, which has been removed from the Internet, reflected challenges Hall had been waging against Ergun Caner, a former dean at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and popular conference speaker who often told of being raised as a Muslim before his conversion to Christianity. In a July 5 addendum, Hall said he had taken the counsel of trusted friends and was now seeing his contact with Braxton Caner as inappropriate.

Hall, in the Aug. 11 podcast, though doubting that the Twitter exchanges with Braxton Caner contributed to the youth’s suicide nearly four weeks later, stated that he is “unequivocally, completely broken” over the circumstances.

In “certain online forums, there was an immediate rush to tie the young man’s suicide to that brief social media exchange…,” Hall said, reading a statement he had delivered at Fellowship Church the previous day.

Hall said, “Some of Caner’s associates have accused me of ‘cyber-stalking’; ‘harassing’; and ‘bullying’ the young man. People are angry. They want someone to blame.” Hall added that some of his friends “asked me if my heart was right in calling him out.”

Hall said he now realizes, “I did not do it in the right spirit or out of the right motivation. It was sinful for me to challenge him publicly like that. I was not thinking or acting pastorally in how I addressed him. I certainly would have treated one of my own flock differently, albeit still directly…. News of his death hit me hard, and I was immediately smitten with shame for the lack of grace in my public interaction with him.”

In the weeks before his July 2 exchanges with Braxton Caner, Hall said he had been implementing the counsel of friends to change the contentious tone of the issues he has raised about the Southern Baptist Convention during the past three years.

“It is hard being both pastor and warrior. They don’t go well together,” he said, lamenting, however, that it was “too late to spare me from the consequences now engulfing me. In one sense, I am reaping what I sowed. When you live by the sword, you die by it.”

Hall said, “This terrible, terrible tragedy has accomplished two things (1) I am broken. I am unequivocally, completely broken. I am a crushed man. My spirit is crushed. I am sorrowful. I am hurting. (2) This has forever changed me, in more ways that I can currently comprehend….

“[T]he things of the world grow strangely dim,” Hall reflected, “and what seems to burst forth in high-definition clarity is a blood-soaked, rugged cross where all our sin was atoned for. … [T]hat’s certainly the only source of comfort: a blood-soaked, rugged cross and an empty tomb.”
JD Hall’s statement to Fellowship Church of Sidney (Mont.) can be accessed here. Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).