Norm Miller serves as Director of Communications at Truett-McConnell College (TMC) in Cleveland, GA. Before going to TMC, Miller served for a number of years as a denominational journalist. He was writer and editor in the public relations department of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, staff writer for the IMB, and in 1998 was named news and information director for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Al Mohler (//link). Words—written words—have been the giftedness God gave to Norm and, as his journey in Southern Baptist life attests, many have seen this gift and desired his gift to be used for God’s glory in their respective fields of harvest. I'm glad to call Norm Miller my friend.
Even so, while Norm’s literary wells have yielded many Southern Baptist agencies and entities refreshing spring water, it’s more than possible his giftedness as a wordsmith might have a tendency to choke others. As an example, only this week a single, two syllable word Norm wrote choked a sitting president of a division of one of Southern Baptists’ prized possessions, LifeWay Christian Resources. Dr. Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research explains as he chokes and coughs over Miller’s word in a post entitled, “Paige Patterson is not a Traitor”:
“Recently, I was accused of “treason” in an online comment by an employee of a Cooperative Program-supported college in Georgia. My crime? I’m general editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum that quotes Wesleyans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. Apparently, in this person’s mind, quoting people from other denominations is sufficient evidence to deem one a traitor (according to Webster, a traitor is “one who commits treason”).
Now, to be sure, this is certainly not the first time that I have been criticized… But in this case, both the use of strong language with the word “treason” as well as the charge itself seemed to warrant comment… Banning non-Baptist books to “protect” lay people does not bode well for our future.
This kind of Southern Baptist isolationism and elitism does not serve the mission of the churches of our convention, and it certainly does not serve the kingdom of God well. Pastors and leaders in our convention have always benefited from books and commentaries written by Biblical scholars from other traditions. We glean insight from people throughout church history, and we can learn biblical truths from people in other denominations.
According to Stetzer, he was accused of “treason” and therefore being a “traitor” since, Webster, according to Stetzer, defines a traitor as “one who commits ‘treason.’” For Stetzer, his role as "traitor" was leveled by Miller because of Stetzer’s general editorial duties over a curriculum which quotes non-Baptist materials and thus, for Miller, stands as “sufficient evidence to deem one a traitor.” To redeem himself from Miller’s allegedly treacherous charge, Stetzer reels in a 22lb large-mouth to make his case. Conisder: Paige Patterson is not a traitor since he quotes non-Baptist sources in his recently released scholarly commentary of the Apostle John’s Apocalypse. Hence, reasons Stetzer, how can he [i.e. Stetzer] be a traitor if LifeWay Resources quotes outside sources in its biblical curriculum? Case closed! The 22lb large-mouth won the trophy!
But that’s not all the chokin going on.
The Second Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention puts up not one, not two, do I hear three provocative posts about Stetzer’s choking and coughing over Miller’s single two syllable word? The difference, however, between Stetzer and Dave Miller’s three posts (one post of three was by Alan Cross) remains undeniably striking. The choking and gagging taking place on Dave Miller’s platform1 over Norm Miller’s single two syllable word is almost too much to take. One would expect somebody to kneel over and die given the wheezing, gasping for breath, and erratic jerking motions while many lay swooned all over the floor. Norm Miller’s literary crime? One two syllable word2—treason.
Here’s some of the whoppers being made:
- “It was an outrageous and saddening comment” (Dave Miller)
- “It is a comment that simply boggles the mind” (Dave Miller)
- “Norm Miller’s rhetoric here is sad and destructive” (Dave Miller)
- “It seems that he is accusing Stetzer of attempting to destroy the SBC from within” (Dave Miller)
- “It is a serious and slanderous charge, one which Miller should retract and for which he should apologize” (Dave Miller)
- “As long as we protect ungodly rhetoric… such slander toward a brother” (Dave Miller)
- “Dr. Miller’s invective statement is beyond reprehensible” (Scott Gordon)
- “That’s definitely a statement that is overboard” (Doug Hibbard)
- “As for Norm Miller and Truett-McConnell, I would hope that in the case of no direct and public apology towards Bro Ed Stetzer, the school will then at the very least publicly censure Norm Miller. And if that does not happen, the Georgia Baptist Convention should publicly rebuke the school as a whole” (“svmuschany”)
The obvious sentiment of this sampling is that Norm Miller’s word “treason” constituted personal slander so severe, that, barring an official apology from Miller, he should be taken before a tribunal of some sort (school, convention, etc) and definitively censured for the literary criminal he is. According to these particular chokers, Miller grossly slandered Stetzer with “ungodly rhetoric”; rhetoric which is “beyond reprehensible,” “outrageous,” and words which “simply boggles the mind.”
For my part, I thoroughly miss the connection between Norm Miller’s term “treason”—an admittedly provocative term but not necessarily either an unworthy or unuseful term--and what appears in every instance above to be knee-jerk, over-the-top, mindless reaction which lacks warrant in substance. In fact it makes one wonder whether real literary problems exist with Norm Miller’s chosen word “treason” or whether Norm’s word choice provided an occasion for opportunists to plunder the Egyptians, so to speak, by using his word choice as a battering ram to hawk their prized agendas.
Let me show you what I mean.
In the course of the frenzy, Dave Miller repeatedly suggests he “got into blogging mainly for one reason: to oppose those who wanted to define their view as the only acceptable view on issues like this, and to exclude others from identity as Baptists or fellowship in the SBC” (//link; see also here and here). Miller appears to suggest, the way I’m reading it, is his coughing and gagging is at least as much about--and frankly perhaps more about—what he perceives as Miller’s “isolationist” views as it is the Miller’s usage of the word “treason” which he describes as “simply mind boggling,” “slander” toward Stetzer. As Dave Miller indicated, “I was going to ignore this kerfuffle – as is my preference – but I decided to write on it, because this is the issue that has motivated me in blogging since I started.” If the primary issue for our SBC Second VP was actual slander so far beyond Christian decency it “simply boggles the mind,” how may one account for “ignor[ing] this kerfuffle – as is my preference”? Sweet heavens! We turn our heads against such mind-boggling, ungodly slander?
Well, read closer: “I was going to ignore… but I decided to write…because this is the issue that has motivated me in blogging since I started” (embolden added). You mean ungodly slander is “the issue” which got Dave Miller blogging? No. Not slander. Dave Miller tells us what he means:
“I blog to encourage and instruct, when I can. But I also blog to oppose the “we are the true Baptists, you are not” attitude that was behind Norm Miller’s comment (in my view)”
Let’s see. Dave Miller writes about this “kerfuffle” because he opposes what he believes is an “isolationist” attitude behind Norm Miller’s comment? Question: supposing for the sake of argument, Norm Miller is every bit the “isolationist” the SBC Second VP, along with the pack of critics, have gagged and coughed about over the last few days. Suppose it is so. And, the reason I say suppose, is frankly because no one has actually shown that Norm Miller is an isolationist, whatever they mean by the term. Norm’s comment certainly doesn’t demand we describe him an isolationist. Even more, given Norm Miller’s erudite response to his critics, the notion he is any kind of “isolationist” Dave Miller and company have so implicated him to be should be laid to rest.
Even so, suppose Norm Miller is a mean-old “isolationist.” So what? Ed Stetzer, Dave Miller, Alan Cross, et al can scream to the mountaintops their views against the alleged “isolationism” of Norm Miller (whatever the heck they mean by that), but call for a gag order toward an “employee of a Cooperative Program-supported college in Georgia.”
Oh yes. This is Baptist alright. I almost forgot.
The irony goes deep and strikes rock. Stetzer, Dave Miller, Cross, and company squeal like poked pigs for people outside Southern Baptists to be heard in our denominational curriculum all the while seemingly doing what they can to shut a person up inside Southern Baptists from being heard concerning our denominational curriculum.
Oh, yes. This is Southern Baptist life in the 21st Century.
Meanwhile, let’s go back to the occasion which gave what Norm Miller surely believes is an unhealthy leaning toward ecumenism, the usage of the term alleged to be ungodly, outrageous, saddening, mind-boggling, destructive, slanderous, invective, beyond reprehensible, overboard —the two syllable term, treason.
Let me first come clean and say upfront that I find Norm Miller’s explanation for using “treason” (including his sincere apology) to be a excellent example of how one should respond to critics. Almost all of us could learn from his superior Christian model (//link). Keeping this firmly in mind, I also must defer from one particular element of his otherwise prime penmanship. When Norm Miller mentions Stetzer’s post at Southeastern Baptist Theological Semniary’s blog, he writes:
“The same dictionary that Editor Stetzer cites defines treason as the betrayal of a trust. So, in an effort to keep the editor on point, he was not accused of being a traitor.”
Yes it is true Norm did not use the term “traitor” and hence it was Stetzer’s term not Miller’s. Nonetheless, if one suggests a person embraces treason, it seems to be a correct inference that the suggestion a person embraces treason implies the person is a traitor. I honestly don’t see anyway around this. Hence, Stetzer’s point is well-taken—at least in it’s softer sense. That is, while Miller is correct in that “traitor” is Stetzer’s term. and Stetzer is incorrect by indicating Miller deemed him a “traitor,” it seems correct to say Miller’s term implied Stetzer was a “traitor.”
In fact, if one isn’t implying a person is a traitor by suggesting the person embraces treason, what is one implying? I’ve asked this question in various forms toward those who continue to deny Al Mohler implied the signatories of the Traditional Statement appear to be heretics by suggesting the Traditional Statement appears to reflect heresy.3 The responses are predictable; the denials remain. Of course, Mohler implied those who appeared to embrace heresy appear to be heretics in the same sense those who appear to embrace treason also appear to be traitors.
For my part, the real question is not whether “treason” implied Stetzer was a “traitor” or not; the term most certainly does imply it. Rather the real question surrounds the term itself—that is, whether the term necessarily exudes the extreme connotations Norm Miller’s critics (including Stetzer) attribute to it, whether the term merits absolute retraction, and whether the term remains so vile and hateful, it constitutes a “mind-boggling” slanderous accusation fitting only to be called “ungodly rhetoric” as our SBC Second VP insists.
The truth is, I think it plainly impossible to make a linguistic case that the term “treason” carries the kind of unnecessary hullabaloo dramatically enacted over Miller’s use of the term. Stetzer says ‘according to Webster, a traitor is “one who commits treason.'”’ Yes, yes. We concede this4. But is this all the dictionary says? Is not the primary usage the “betrayal of a trust” or some such connotation? (at least in Merriam-Webster). The literal meaning rooted in the Latin means a “handing over,” precisely the image Norm Miller appeared to have in mind with his remarks about TGP curriculum being so saturated with other denominationally inspired writings that our people’s theology, in essence, was being “handed over” to those who are not Baptists to theologically instruct us.
In addition, “treason” (i.e. a “handing over”) might only reflect what Miller perceives as a change for the worse in SBC life. For example, only a few years back, Ed Stetzer had this to say about a convention which I love and have committed myself to serve in Kingdom work:
"I've worked for a lot of Southern Baptist entities. I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly… and I can't say I'm impressed with the SBC. I still believe in it, so for me, we've gotten to a place where we have to make some substantive changes… . If I don't see the SBC and my state convention go in the right direction, I will not wait forever to say, 'That's not a good use of my resources.' But I don't think right now is the right time to pull those resources" (//link)
Quite honestly, I’m not sure how SBC employees get by with publicly airing what seems to be their definitive dislike for the entities from which they receive their livelihood not to mention offering what appears to be a covert threat he’ll quit if things don’t go his way. Whatever the case, perhaps the “ecumenical” changes Norm Miller perceives in The Gospel Project--and Stetzer as the “change agent” in getting rid of what he is unimpressed with about the SBC--serving as but one example of “handing over” our Baptist heritage to outsiders, called for, in Norm Miller's mind, a perfect use of the term “treason.” Not “treason” or “traitor” so far as criminal activity goes, and certainly not so far as slanderous accusation goes. Rather “treason” as a term powerfully—and yes, perhaps provocatively—reflecting what he believes to be an unhealthy distancing from our Baptist heritage, a "handing over" as it were of our biblical training to theological outsiders.
What is more, it’s not like “treason” necessitates a definitive response like some other not-so-niceties within SBC blogdom (e.g. "Rapist!” “Heretic!” “P#&!>*&!). The truth is, “treason” is a perfectly good word communicating a powerful message about what seems wrong given certain circumstances.
Listen carefully to the prince of preachers, C.H. Spurgeon as he colorfully employs the term “treason” to get his point across on certain types of sermon delivery (all embolden added):
“That dignified, doctoral, inflated, bombastic style, which I just now called the ore rotundo, is not quite so common now as it used to be… I can imagine Dr. Johnson talking in that fashion… if it comes naturally, well and good, but to mimic it is treason to common decency: indeed, all mimicry is in the pulpit near akin to an unpardonable sin” (Lectures, V1, 126).
Again on commenting on God’s Word, Spurgeon says:
“No one would dream of dividing a stanza of a poet with an explanatory remark; it would be treason to common sense to do so: sound judgment will forbid your thus marring the word of God” (Lectures, V4, 36)
On preaching the doctrine of election, Spurgeon complains:
“In many of our pulpits it would be reckoned a high sin and treason to preach a sermon upon election, because they could not make it what they call a “practical” discourse. I believe they have erred from the truth therein. Whatever God has revealed, he has revealed for a purpose. There is nothing in Scripture which may not, under the influence of God’s Spirit, be turned into a practical discourse…” (A SERMON DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, SEPTEMBER 2, 1855)
It seemed Spurgeon had a favorable attraction to employing “treason” as a description of betraying our common human faculties. He said:
“The general notion of the mass is, that we are everyone of us right; that though to-day. I may contradict some one else, and some one else may contradict me, yet we are all right; and though it is treason to common sense to believe such a thing, yet this is a common idea” (A SERMON DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, JANUARY 17, 1858).
In showing Peter was a false friend to Jesus by rebuking Him, a rebuke which spawned Christ’s needed corrective to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”, says Spurgeon:
“Not only true, but false friends attempt our ruin. Treason creeps like a snake in the grass, and falsehood, like an adder,biteth the horse’s heels” (A SERMON DELIVERED ON SUNDAY MORNING, JANUARY 4TH, 1863)
The usage Spurgeon had of the term “treason” is massive as the simplest search shows.
One might respond, “But Spurgeon didn’t use treason like Norm Miller did.”
My point is not that Spurgeon used the term treason as Norm Miller did. My point is, Spurgeon didn’t use the term treason as knee-jerk critics insist the term treason means. Spurgeon used the term as a colorful image not as slanderous accusation, ungodly rhetoric, and/or mind-boggling verbiage so entirely over-the-top, it calls for swift retraction, meaningful apology, and even conventional censure. And, to mold and limit the term itself into that type of literary usage seems to me to require our denouncing Spurgeon for glibly employing such a slanderous term for his own rhetorical purposes.
But wait. This is Baptist life in the 21st Century after all...
In conclusion, there are terms which qualify for immediate response (see above for examples). But in my view, “treason” is not among them.
Hence, for Norm Miller to not only state the reasons he employed the term—which should have been quite enough—he goes the second mile our Lord counsels and apologizes for its use as well.
Thank you, Norm Miller, for setting an example for which we all may thank our Lord.
1yes, Dave, we’re fully aware you do not own the blog but you are the chief editor there
2yes, some also took issue with the “wolves in the sheeps’ pen” metaphor as well but “treason” is the real culprit
3what is unusually comical is to hear the numberless denials that Mohler implied the supporters of the Traditional Statement appeared to be heretics even when he dubbed the Traditional Statement as appearing to be heretical, denials coming, in some instances, from the same pack of critics who now insist Norm Miller called Stetzer a traitor when Miller did no such thing. The mangled, emotionally-driven logic of internet critics knows few boundaries…
4interestingly, Stetzer might be using an old bound copy of Websters. While I’m not doubting he got his definition from Webster, the online version has something different: “1: the betrayal of a trust: treachery; 2: the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state…” (//link)