The Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church has expressed its disappointment with the situation that resulted from the recent publication of two controversial articles in The Banner, the official publication of the CRC.
However, it accepted the apology of editor Rev. Bob De Moor for what he acknowledged was an error in his editorial judgment for not more clearly indicating that the articles were intended to promote conversation, not be presented as official positions of the church.
The board declined to remove De Moor from the editor’s chair, despite requests from some church leaders. The decision came after several hours of discussion behind closed doors at the board’s meeting last week.
In recent months, The Banner printed two controversial articles: one on human origins by Edwin Walhout and another about Christians cohabiting by Harry Van Belle. The articles caused anger and disappointment among many church members. Many called or wrote to De Moor.
In addition, more than 120 communications were received by executive director Joel Boot, including 24 from church councils. Two classes (regional groups of churches) requested that De Moor immediately be dismissed from his role as editor.
In a conversation with the board, De Moor explained the steps that take place before an article gets printed in The Banner. He also pointed out that Synod 1998 mandated The Banner to “permit people of the church to voice their views and reactions even though some of them may be unacceptable to others in the church.”
But, De Moor said, he erred on the part of the mandate that says that Banner material should edify and educate the readers. “I think I should have gone back to [Walhout] and said ‘We think what you are doing is worth considering, but what you do need to do is set a better tone in this article, raise the issue in a more pastoral way.’” De Moor also expressed regret for the timing, running the two articles in two consecutive issues of The Banner (June and July).
De Moor printed an apology on The Banner’s website and in the August print edition.
Some trustees were not convinced, with one suggesting that De Moor should resign.
De Moor noted that synod has said that The Banner has a role in addressing challenging issues. “There are two ways [to deal with issues]: simply hide your head in the sand, [or] raise issues, get people’s attention, and then get people to answer in ways that are helpful.”
That said, the process for approving sensitive articles has been broadened, with a push toward more opportunities for review of articles, something De Moor agrees with. “It preserves the integrity of The Banner’s editorial freedom and responsibility as outlined by synod,” said De Moor, “[and] it recognizes that denominational leadership has a stake in what is published in The Banner, given the fact that many readers do not distinguish between the one and the other.” He also noted that a process like this would have helped him to make wiser editorial decisions “that would have prevented much of the backlash we received and would have served our readers much better.”
In declining to dismiss De Moor as had been requested by Classes Illiana and Minnkota, the board noted that “history has proven that [De Moor] is a capable editor, and this mistake is not a reflection of a pattern.”
The board also appointed a subcommittee to review and recommend measures to strengthen the mandate of The Banner’s editorial council, a group made up of three members of the Board of Trustees and three at-large members. That council is mandated to provide advice and support for the Banner staff and, if necessary, to resolve any differences regarding content that arise between the denominational leadership and The Banner staff. To date, the editorial council has never had to adjudicate such a difference.
That subcommittee will report to the board in February 2014.
“I am grateful for the [board’s] careful work in coming to a response that is both fair and helpful,” De Moor said in response to the board’s decision. “I have certainly learned from this painful experience. I pray that the Lord will use it for good: to allow us to have more edifying conversations as we ‘speak the truth in love.’”
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