I’m old enough to remember the day The Bananer was surreptitiously distributed around the Calvin College campus with its masthead designating it as the magazine of the “Christian Deformed Church.” Banner editor John Vander Ploeg was furious, and Calvin President William Spoelhof of Calvin was embarrassed but perhaps also a little pleased with the resourcefulness of his students.
I bring this up for the 150th anniversary issue of The Banner because I think it marks more of a watershed moment than the much ballyhooed burning wooden shoes cover of the 1980s. For many years The Banner was the voice of the Christian Reformed Church. Readers of editors Henry Beets and H. J. Kuiper knew exactly what its values and commitments were and where the boundaries stood.
Now The Banner is less “the voice” of the CRC and more a reflection of its voices. The CRC is no longer your grandparents’ denomination. Where once you could travel its length and breadth and find an identical order of worship, now you can experience everything from a praise band to a liturgy that resembles a Roman Catholic mass. Where once there was wide agreement on moral and social issues in the CRC, now there’s a spectrum of views as broad as the whole gamut of Protestantism.
From young earth creationists devoted to a literal reading of Genesis to theistic evolutionists devoted to the validity of Scripture and science. From those who uphold traditional marriage to those who see same-sex marriage as an answer to the legitimate needs and desires of our gay and lesbian members. From Canadian to American, from Korean to African American, from Latino to largely Dutch ethnic congregations—that’s who we are today. Where in the world does The Banner fit into this magnificent hodgepodge?
I would argue that it occupies an even more important role than ever. The diverse viewpoints and congregations that I describe here tend to occupy their own bubbles. We gravitate to groups of our own kind and pay attention to the media that reflect our own biases. We don’t really hear, much less understand, the other voices of the CRC.
I participate in an email listserv called CRC Voices with a wide variety of CRC members. There I daily encounter a staggering diversity of opinions. Participants sometimes go on rants, but someone usually calls us back to our common identity in Christ and in the CRC. There is, in the end, a sometimes grudging but still genuine mutual respect and a commitment to listen attentively to one another.
Given our present diversity, for the CRC to work we need to have a place to listen to each other besides the floor of classis or synod. We need to listen not just with the prejudice of our own opinion but with a genuine effort to understand the standpoint of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s the critical place of The Banner today. It can no longer be the voice of the CRC, captured by one or another of its factions with each new editor. It must reflect our voices in a way that’s fair, balanced, respectful, and committed to the unity of the CRC. But our readers have their own obligations. They must not assume that when a contrary opinion appears on these pages that it’s The Banner’s position. Rather, it’s one of the many voices of our denomination that we all need to hear and critique with respect and generosity.