Two of the mainstay publications in our home while I was growing up were the daily newspaper and The Banner. One kept us up-to-date on events of neighbourhood and nation; the other helped us place those events into a larger context in a world that belonged to God.
I'm still a loyal follower of that daily newspaper (I even work there now), and I remain an avid reader of The Banner.
Like my newspaper, The Banner has become more than a print publication; it also is a presence online at thebanner.org and on Facebook and Twitter – multiple platforms that, among other advantages, make The Banner more accessible to real-time conversation among a wide range of world readers about matters of faith, culture and theology.
But two articles published last year led some to wonder whether The Banner had changed its message along with its medium. Did publishing a piece about theology and evolution diverge from The Banner’s mandate to “stimulate critical thinking about issues related to the Christian faith and the culture of which we are a part”? Did an article about singles and sexuality address a tough issue many are grappling with, or did it imply our view of scripture is wrong?
Weighty questions, and the topic of much debate online and in print, at dinner tables and at consistory tables. People expect much from their denominational magazine – they want it to offer comfort and challenge, to build the church and deconstruct societal norms, to be a voice for those who are assured of their salvation and for those who doubt. Did it stumble in its practice and mandate?
Synod in 2014 accepted an apology and regrets from editor Rev. Robert De Moor at the way the pieces were presented. Synod lamented the articles, saying they had caused harm and confusion, and called for a review of The Banner’s mandate.
A mandate review committee led by Rev. Kenneth Baker completed its work early this year and its recommendations (endorsed by the board of trustees) will be deliberated by delegates at Synod 2015.
They include an affirmation that the 1998 mandate is “fundamentally sufficient,” that the issues that arose were not the result of faulty policy but in how that policy was interpreted and implemented.
The recommendations that emerged after much discussion by the review committee ask Synod 2015 to bring more clarity to the mandate to help an editor discern how best the publication can build on our Reformed identity while continuing to connect with our society.
It asks that The Banner not just stimulate critical thinking about Christian faith but that it do so “in a way that encourages biblical thinking about these issues, in line with our confessional heritage.”
The publication, it goes on to say, should also equip us to make sense of the daily barrage of information and influences by “(offering) tools … to seek, learn, worship and serve as Reformed Christians in contemporary society.”
The committee also offered some observations it hopes synod would note: that regular consultation take place between the editor and Executive Director of the CRCNA – any hot-button issues can then be flagged for further discussion. It also suggests different formatting styles within the magazine help readers distinguish between official CRC agency reports and submitted columns and features and editorials.
Following those recommendations and suggestions will help The Banner – within a clearer framework – adapt to changes taking place in the church and in the world. Because we all communicate differently now, the committee notes. The Banner is still the paper-and-ink version that arrives in church mailboxes each month and it is the zeros-and-ones that give it a daily, interactive online presence, a presence that is likely at times to have a different structure and tone and function as it seeks to inform and grow the kingdom. The review committee asks that those interviewing for the position of new editor be a citizen of both the print and online worlds.
Lastly, synod will be asked to endorse and approve Rev. Leonard Vander Zee as interim editor of The Banner as Rev. De Moor is retiring after 11 years as editor to take up a full-time pastor position (which had been half-time while he was Banner editor) at West End CRC in Edmonton.
From 2006 until his retirement in 2011, Rev. Vander Zee shaped the denomination’s publication arm as head of Faith Alive Christian Resources, which produces our denomination’s curriculum and study materials for children and adults. His 44 years in ministry also include serving five CRC congregations as pastor. He is also the author of several books and articles.
Synod 2015 will be asked to set up a search team for a permanent editor, whose name would be put forward by the following year’s synodical gathering.