Five overtures in the Agenda for Synod 2014 call for action related to The Banner. All of them represent responses to last summer’s heat wave generated by the publication of two articles in particular: “Tomorrow’s Theology” by Edwin Walhout (June 2013) and “Sex, Intimacy, and the Single Person – Where Do We Draw the Line?” by Harry VanBelle (July 2013).
Overtures 9 and 13 (from Classis Columbia and Classis Atlantic NE) propose new oversight policies and practices that, in their estimation, would ensure that all articles published will represent views consistent with our commitment to the authority of Scripture and our Reformed confessions. The other overtures (from Classis Illiana, Classis Minnkota, and the Council of St. Joseph CRC in MI) call for synod to remove Rev. Robert De Moor as Banner editor and additionally (in the Illiana and Minnkota overtures) to retract or repudiate the articles in question.
There are a number of assumptions and/or allegations that delegates will have to weigh as they prepare to engage with these overtures.
Is it true (overture 9) that The Banner is not a suitable place for private familial (as in CRC family) conversation and/or open argumentation? Isn’t the kitchen table the place where some of the most vigorous and at times uncomfortable disagreements do in fact take place in the context of trust?
If, as overture 9 contends, “it is unwise and detrimental to the spiritual health of God’s people to expose them to biblically unorthodox ideas in the name of promoting discussion with the goal of stimulating them to growth and maturity,” then where do we draw the line? How many would have argued, and did, in recent history that The Banner was leading us astray by publishing articles that argued for women in ecclesiastical office?
The same question applies to the contention of overture 13 that The Banner “does not need to participate in dialogue for CRC members to encounter views that go against our creeds and confessions.” But what about the cases in which we lack clarify or agreement on the implications of what we confess?
The argument of overtures 10-12 is that the articles in question were, in the words of overture 10, “such blatant and egregious violations of biblical and confessional teaching, and so divisive and disruptive of the well-being and harmony of CRC congregations, that The Banner needs new leadership…” De Moor’s actions have shown that “he can no longer be trusted to conduct these conversations within the bounds of Scripture and our common confessions.”
The question, again, is one of boundaries. The Banner’s synodical mandate (’98) directs it to “stimulate critical thinking about issues related to the Christian faith and the culture of which we are a part.” Do the offending articles seek to do this? One presses the theological implications of evolutionary theory. The other deals with the sensitive question of premarital sexual relations in cases of mature, committed relationships.
Clearly both articles pushed the envelope. Clearly both have stimulated critical thinking. [The Walhout article received a merit award at the Associated Church Press convention held recently in Chicago.] But did they cross the line?
Some readers within and beyond the CRC found the articles stimulating, helpful and engaging, whether they agreed with the authors or not. Do we want/expect The Banner to simply lay out “the CRC position” on such challenging contemporary issues? What if there is no clearly stated “CRC position” but only one that is emerging, in flux?
The overtures acknowledge that De Moor apologized for “the manner and timing of publishing these articles.” When is an apology acceptable? Does a track record of 10 years of faithful and edifying service as editor warrant a greater measure of charity?