After impassioned debate about the direction of its denominational magazine, The Banner, Synod 2014 ordered a review of the magazine’s mandate and expressed “lament” about its publication of two controversial articles (“Tomorrow’s Theology” by Edwin Walhout and “Sex, Intimacy, and the Single Person” by Harry Van Belle).
The articles in question, published last summer, called into question traditional Christian doctrines in light of modern science and suggested that the Christian Reformed Church consider dropping its opposition to premarital cohabitation. Synod unanimously adopted a resolution saying the articles “have caused harm and created confusion” in the CRC.
“Synod has higher expectations of discernment, insight, clarity, and direction through difficult and complex issues of our time,” synod declared.
However, delegates turned down requests from two regional church groups and one congregation to remove The Banner’s longtime editor, Rev. Robert De Moor. De Moor did not write the articles but had apologized, in print and to the Board of Trustees, for how he presented them. He did so again to synod and received a standing ovation from the delegates.
“I do not get tired of saying ‘I’m sorry’ because, brothers and sisters, I love you,” said De Moor, referring also to the CRC’s creeds and confessions. “So I offer to you once again my deep and heartfelt apology for the way I allowed those two articles to be published in The Banner.
“I have not served you well in the kind of editorial direction I gave,” he added, saying he should have worked more closely with the writers to shape more helpful articles. “And so I’m sorry, I really am, and I ask for your forgiveness.”
Delegates directed the CRC Board of Trustees to ensure a review of the magazine’s mandate, approved by synod in 1998, which calls on it to “edify and encourage Christian living” and “stimulate critical thinking about issues related to the Christian faith and the culture of which we are a part.” The review instructs the BOT to clarify how the magazine can fulfill such aims “while affirming Scripture and our confessions” and report back to Synod 2015.
The Board of Trustees previously approved a revised oversight process after meeting with De Moor last fall. The Banner Advisory Council’s role has been strengthened to advise the editor on magazine content as well as resolve conflicts about Banner content between the editor and the CRC executive director. Synod called those moves “appropriate first steps” for addressing concerns about the articles.
Delegates’ actions were recommended by an advisory committee that met with De Moor and two trustees. Committee reporter Rev. Michael Johnson said members also studied six formal requests (overtures) and two letters objecting to the articles, as well as one letter from Classis Eastern Canada supporting De Moor and affirming The Banner as a safe place for such discussions.
In more than two hours of debate, many delegates strongly criticized publication of the articles, while some defended the magazine’s right to do so. Critics charged that such articles have alienated and even chased away church members. Some called for an official retraction.
Glenn Palmer, an elder from Classis Hackensack, said his congregation has discussed whether to leave the CRC, and one family has done so. He said one of the articles, “Tomorrow’s Theology” by retired CRC minister Edwin Walhout, contradicts confessions that say Adam was a historical person.
“Which CRC is the true CRC?” Palmer said. “The confessional CRC or The Banner CRC?” He charged the magazine with “a pattern of misconduct” beyond the two articles.
A minister from Classis Minnkota, which requested De Moor’s removal and repudiation of the articles, said they had caused church members to mistrust denominational leaders.
“The way the articles addressed the issues led not just to shock, but to feelings of betrayal by many of our members--betrayal by their church of their values, of their beliefs,” said Rev. Randall Raak.
But other delegates and officials strongly defended both the magazine’s editorial content and De Moor’s leadership. Elder John Venema of Eastern Canada asserted that vigorous questioning is part of the CRC’s own rebellious history.
“Remember the reformers were going against all the established doctrine of the church,” Venema said. “Yet they spoke up and created a dialogue. Through that dialogue we found a way to the truth.”
While the articles had “a certain shock value,” that’s not necessarily bad, said Rev. Gary Bomhof of Classis Alberta North. “Isn’t this the way things are supposed to work, that we stimulate some thinking?”
Peter Borgdorff, deputy executive director of the CRC, stressed De Moor’s theology is not on trial and that the Board of Trustees stands with him “in support of 10 years of excellent service.”
De Moor said he welcomes a review of the 1998 mandate to clarify the denomination’s expectations of The Banner and provide direction for editors. He also said he would “prayerfully consider” whether he should remain as editor. “Perhaps I would like to serve a wee bit longer,” he told delegates.
Synod 2014 is meeting at Central College in Pella, Iowa, from June 13-19. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at www.thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit www.crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.