At its February 2014 meeting the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church adopted a beefed-up mandate for the Banner advisory council. The Banner is the official publication of the CRC.
Last fall, the board spent hours dealing with the fallout of controversial articles that were printed in The Banner, including bringing in The Banner’s editor, Rev. Bob DeMoor, to explain his rationale for printing them. DeMoor apologized for the way the articles were presented, and the board accepted that apology. (See Board of Trustees Expresses Disappointment, Keeps De Moor as Editor of The Banner).
The board also appointed a subcommittee to review the mandate of The Banner’s editorial council. The editorial council was put in place when The Banner started going to every household in the denomination rather than remain subscription-based. It was made up of three members of the board and three members of the board of what had been the Faith Alive agency where The Banner was housed administratively.
The council advised The Banner’s staff on editorial content and also had a role of adjudication. As part of that process, sensitive articles about denominational leadership were shared with the executive director prior to publication for right of comment. Were a situation to arise that The Banner’s editor and the executive director could not come to agreement on whether or not to publish, the editorial council would adjudicate, and its ruling would be binding. That adjudicatory process has never been invoked.
However, after the controversy last fall, the board decided to review and recommend ways to beef up that council’s mandate.
Now called the Banner advisory council, it is made up of three members of the board and three at-large members chosen from a slate of names agreed upon by both the Banner editor and the executive director.
Under the new mandate, the council’s primary function is to advise the editor of The Banner on editorial policy and function. It may also advise the editor on matters the council believes affect the publishing of a denominational magazine. The scope of ‘sensitive’ articles was enlarged to include articles not necessarily about denominational leadership. It will also continue to serve a conflict resolution role.
In bringing to the board the new mandate, the board’s sub-committee noted, “The mandate has been somewhat broadened to give advice not only on editorial matters but also to advise on issues related to the functioning of The Banner. . . . One of the values that guided our discussion was that we did not want to create a super-editor . . . regarding editorial policy. It is not an [executive director] prerogative to overrule the editor in any area, nor the other way around.”
Some trustees were not entirely happy with the new mandate, noting that it lacked as much power as they’d hoped. Trustee Darren Roorda said that his recollection of the discussion last fall was that the board was looking to strengthen the role of the advisory council. “I’m wondering if there is another piece to come to push in that direction,” he said. Trustee Gary Systma, agreed. “I too was left with the impression that [the new mandate] would not put us in the same position again as September.”
Deputy executive director Peter Borgdorff noted for the trustees that the subcommittee was not instructed to do a study of the role of denominational magazines, but to specifically look at the Banner advisory council mandate.
Trustee Ken Baker, who was on the subcommittee, pointed out that what had happened in September was an aberration, that the system that had been in place for nearly a decade had functioned well. “We sought to strengthen the mandate while respecting the understood editorial freedom of The Banner,” he said. “It was a very delicate walk over the past five months. I think we addressed the narrow mandate we had.”
For his part, The Banner’s editor is happy with the new mandate. “I believe the new mandate appropriately responds to the new situation where the magazine is no longer accountable to a church board. The council will continue to allow church representatives to speak into the direction and operation of The Banner and hold it accountable. That direct relationship with folks from the pew is indispensable,” DeMoor said. “The mandate also continues to maintain the important balance between the values of editorial freedom and appropriate participation of denominational leadership. I am very optimistic that this will lead to a productive arrangement that will serve our readers and our denomination very well.”