News

New Mandate for Banner Council

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.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (9)

Comments

It may or may not be that the Banner changes described here are a "good thing."  Only time will tell.  But whether or not that proves to be the case, the bigger story here may be about the CRCNA authority structure.

While some Classes pass overtures relating to the Banner that will be presented to Synod proposing this or that change to the Banner, the denominational bureaucracy (ED and BOT) seems to be pre-empting all of that by deciding it should decide and implement any changes needed. 

So exactly how does that fit with the rules we have in place for the CRCNA?  That is, how does follow our Church Order?  One has to start wondering whether authority structure prescribed by our Church Order hasn't become to the CRCNA what the monarchy has become to England: still there and formally recognized, but in fact not having too much real authority anymore.

This is not so different than our current President and his administration, who have decided to change congressional legislation solely by the act of the executive branch.  Apparently, they too believe it is much too cumbersome to work within the framework of their rules (US Constitution of course) to change existing legislation.

While many of the SPACT responses from CRC members have emphasized the need for the denomination to "de-centralize," this particular act further centralizes.  Again, whether or not this decision proves to be a good one, the greater question, the question of more lasting and significant impact, has to do with how the CRCNA goes about making these decisions.  Increasingly, we have been abandoning Church Order in a de facto kind of way.  Many CRC members believe this is a long term formula for disaster.  Of course, those who want to totally transform the CRCNA so that it unrecognizable from its historical form would likely choose a more centralized form of church government, as represented by how this decision was made.  President Obama seems to want the same as to the United States.

The new mandate keeps the same editor and gives him veto power in choosing half of the people who supervise him ("... three at-large members chosen from a slate of names agreed upon by both the Banner editor and the executive director.") A person gets to choose half of those who oversee him? That's not a recipe for helpful change or meaningful accountability.

A broader mandate for the Banner advisory council does not inspire much confidence. Keep in mind that when Walhout's article "Tomorrow's Theology" was published, the Banner council recorded in its minutes "wholehearted support for the Editor's action" and unanimously declared that "the editor's actions were within his mandate."

Bob DeMoor mentions the importance of "editorial freedom." I'd feel better about the Banner's editorial freedom if the magazine were free from ministry share dollars, the churches were free from the every family plan, and the denomination were free from the Banner's masthead declaration to be "the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church."

The Board of Trustees has not addressed the problem adequately. Now it's up to Synod.

Based on the Banner editorial from July 2013, the Banner's mandate (from synod) is fourfold: to inform, inspire, educate, and challenge its readers. How exactly has this mandate been "beefed up?" This article tells us that a new structure is being put into place, which has more to do with implementation than the mandate/purpose of the Banner itself. I believe the central concern that has been raised over and over again is what informative, inspirational, educational and challenging materials should be printed in our CRC's official publication. "Editorial freedom" includes the right to reject articles do not meet the qualifications of a given publication. Here it seems to only be involved to defend printing anything that gets submitted. We need to work on the mandate of the Banner and I don't see how that is being addressed directly here.

Phillip Westra accurately points out that this article says there is a "beefed up" mandate but doesn't say what that is, even though it does provide some details about a newly  "appointed ... subcommittee."

It would be nice if this Banner article contained a link to the key source documents relating what this article reports on.  I'm sure there is/are documents that contain the text of the newly "beefed up" mandate, and also the resolution passed by whoever created this new mandate and appointed this new committee, and maybe other documents important to understanding what was done.

How about it Gayla. :-)

 

Hi Doug, 

My son tells me to never, ever wade into the commenting section. :) I think there may be some confusion over what got beefed up. It was the mandate of the Banner Council, not the mandate of the Banner itself. That can only be done by synod. Paragraphs 7 and 8 are about how that council mandate was beefed up. I hope that helps.

Gayla: That does help and tell your son you did just fine. :-)

so I don't need a twitter sitter as he says?

 

The part of the council mandate that interests me is the definition of "sensitive articles."

I realize DeMoor wants, as all editors want, editorial freedom.  But the fact is, it is the official magazine of the CRCNA.  It is reasonable to expect the official publication of an institution to reflect (and even defend) the official position of the CRCNA.  That doesn't mean other viewpoints are never published, but it should be clear that the official publication holds to the official position, particularly on matters credal and biblical where the church is competent to speak.

It is a fine line and no editor will be able to walk it perfectly.  It isn't helped by recent synods' propensities for making official statements on a whole raft of issues about which it has no business pontificating.  Makes it a tough job.

Will this Banner council make that job easier?  Will it help DeMoor (or some future editor) walk that tightrope?  Don't know.  Worth a shot.

Thanks for your response, Gayla. I see the distinction between the magazine and its advisory council. I'm still unclear how the advisory council's mandate has changed beyond who carries it out and their process of doing so. People with appreciation and concern for our denominational magazine wonder what guides this advisory council. I appreciate your article. Without it, we would not know how the BOT followed-up on their action from their Sept meeting. I wonder why this did not make it into the BOT highlights from their Feb meeting and why I could not locate them on the CRCNA's website. (I found them on Classis British Columbia Northwest's site here: http://www.classisbcnw.ca/editoruploads/files/BOT%20Highlights%202-14.pdf)

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