How Can the CRC have a Voice with its People Today

I wrote this comment for the discussion of the purpose of the Banner on the Network

My fear for Synod is my expectation of a comment discussion, that we will spend time wandering around debating sex, science and the worthiness of our present editor. Discussions of sex, science and the worthiness of whatever editor we presently have will always be with us, it seems to me foundational question is the question of this article, “What do we want from The Banner?”

I think most of us will agree the denomination needs to be able to manage a number of missions at once:

1. Prescriptive Faith formation and doctrinal instruction. The assumption of the Banner for this mission and the felt betrayal by the two articles in question and the editorial decision to put them through is what is drawing all the heat. OK. but if this is the mission of the Banner then we should say so.

2. Creating space for exploration. Tolerating divergent even heterodox ideas. When I work with people, in and out of the church I encourage them to speak their minds and their hearts and I value honesty over correctness in this mode. Most of us get this as a necessary part of a process for individuals and communities to work out their faith and figure out how what they believe fits, or does not fit with the catholic church. Should The Banner be a space for this? Our current “mission statement” for the Banner seems to suggest it, and given the limited media modes of communal conversation in most of the 20th century it fits. The question is whether it fits the present realities of The Banner as print medium combined with its promotional mission (which is a separate mission from points 1 and 2 here).

When the matter of adopting the Belhar arose the most interesting question for me was “how would our denomination manage a communal conversation and decision of this magnitude?” My conclusion based not necessarily on observing the outcome as much as the process was “not very well”.

Questions of sex and science along side the matters of power and privilege which the Belhar sought to address are large and broad conversations that the church must engage because society is engaging them. If the church wants to have both influence and a voice we will need to figure out how to do so.

James Schaap has been the CRC historian for the late 20th century. The piece he wrote for the 150th anniversary of the CRC  noted that the reality of our place in our time is that we’ve lost the ability to control the question. CRC minds and hearts, of laity and pastor alike are shaped far more by voices outside the CRC than inside. No decision on the Banner will change this. We will not have the kind of voice in the Banner that we had in the days before TV and then the Internet took possession of the agenda. The question we must ask is how will we steward the conversations we

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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6 Responses to How Can the CRC have a Voice with its People Today

  1. Josh says:

    Paul… a very insightful piece in the present situation of the CRC and the expectations of The Banner. From my perspective, what I’ve been seeing is that there are a number of different expectations of The Banner and its editor. There also seems to be a number of different interpretations of the present mandate for The Banner. Even the definition and interpretation of the “kitchen table” illustration of the purpose of The Banner is different by many.

    One of the prevailing issues at hand that I am seeing is who is in control of the overall direction of The Banner and ultimately the CRC. Is it Synod? Is it the Board of Trustees? The BOT called in Bob DeMoor and spoke with him, accepted his apology, and made their decision. Some say that the BOT is the final say and leave it alone. Those who are bringing their overtures to Synod are saying that Synod is the one who has the final say in this. Who is correct? To whom is the editor ultimately accountable to–the BOT or Synod? If Synod is then the power ultimately lies to the classises, councils, and members of the denomination who bring the overtures to Synod and send delegates to Synod to represent and speak the mind of classis in the leadership of the CRC. If the BOT is then the power lies with them and not the classises, council, and members. It seems that members in the CRC are confused about who is leading and who has the final say in the denomination.

    These bleed over into the direction, vision, and mandate of The Banner. I like what you stated in your comment on The Network, The Banner has a specific readership. If they are trying to reach out to a greater circle of readership, then they need to make that abundantly clear. My thought is that if they are alienating their readership without informing them what The Banner is attempting to do and in doing so they are not fulfilling the mandate of The Banner. I believe that those who are bringing the overtures to Synod are part of the main readership that The Banner is alienating. I observe then that they see that Synod, not the BOT, has the final say about The Banner and therefore are asking Synod to make the final decision not the BOT.

    What are your thoughts on who has the final say in the overall direction of The Banner–Synod, the BOT, or a little of both (if both, what is the split)?

    (sorry for the long comment)

    • PaulVK says:

      Synod as currently constituted has the official, final authority in the CRC. Synod keeps delegating to the BOT which impacts actual authority. Both institutions live within communities further complicating it. You can get a sense of that in Dave Feddes’ comment about Ken Baker’s position. Communities always have informal leadership structures and implicit leaders. Ken Baker is one of them.

      The system is not fictitious, however. If Synod speaks clearly the BOT and the other denominational assets will have to follow.

      Keep in mind that while The Banner question might be the hot item on this year’s agenda the key movement which will be more perfunctory will be the approval of the new ED. This Banner flare-up, and the opportunity to explore the issues beneath it are exactly the kinds of issues the new ED will have to figure out. The ED position in itself doesn’t have much power, but if cultivated correctly can have deep influence. Steve Timmermans knows how to use both power and influence. I am eager to see what he does.

      Thanks for your comment. Comments are always welcome, long or short.

  2. David Feddes says:

    Paul, you observe that “discussions … of whatever editor we presently have will always be with us.” Since at least 1980, “whatever editor we have” has been theologically left of the CRC center, and objections to Banner content have come from those who resist its leftward leadership. Also, for 32 of the past 35 years, Banner editors have been Canadians who considered it part of their mandate to be provocative.
    This uniformly leftward choice of editors is related to the overall leftward slant of Board of Pubs/Faith Alive throughout this time period. (For instance, Walhout was a longtime fixture there.) If I recall correctly, when John Suk was nominated for editor, another finalist was Dr. Carl Zylstra, an eminently qualified person from the CRC’s center who had earned a Princeton Ph.D. and was later President of Dordt College. But the nominating body did not submit Dr. Zylstra’s name as part of a duo for Synod to select from; they presented John Suk as a single nominee.
    We haven’t had a Banner editor from the center or right of the church for decades. If the Banner continues to be published, maybe we ought to find out what it would be like to have an editor from the CRC mainstream who does not think that provocateur is part of his job description.

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