|Shiao Chong, the executive director-elect of The Banner.|
Given this situation you might think that the outgoing interim editor for The Banner, Leonard Vander Zee, would spend his last few months trying to avoid the writing or publishing of articles that would raise the ire of what looks to be a substantial part of The Banner’s potential readership. Alas, no. Vander Zee has instead decided to write an editorial challenging the decisions that Synod 2016 made with regard to how we as a denomination are going to handle the topic of human sexuality.
Some – including Vander Zee – will probably argue that as a churchman writing for a church magazine Vander Zee is within his rights to be a ‘prophetic’ voice. If so, as a prophet the least he could have done is accurately describe the actions that Synod 2016 took. Instead, his prophetic utterances not only misrepresent Synod’s decisions, but they sometimes do so even blatantly.
The bulk of Vander Zee’s ire, however, is directed toward the way Synod 2016 crafted the new study committee on human sexuality. Specifically, Vander Zee is upset that Synod required that the people appointed to the study committee would have to “adhere to the CRC’s biblical position on marriage and same-sex relationships.” According to Vander Zee, this decision amounts to Synod determining “to silence the voices of all who disagree and to bar them from the table.”
In saying this, however, Vander Zee fails to mention important details about the mandate and composition of the new study committee. First, although correct that the committee members must initially “adhere to the CRC’s biblical position on marriage and same-sex relationships,” Vander Zee fails to mention that an important part of the committee's work will be to “dialogue with…untraditional conclusions arising from arguments about a new movement of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 15), as well as conclusions arising from scientific and social scientific studies” (Acts of Synod 2016, Art. 68). Although the committee may provide a “potential critique of” these new arguments and conclusions, it is not required to do so. Indeed, Synod 2016 left open the possibility that the Spirit might compel the committee members to come back to Synod 2021 asking that Synod completely revise the denominations position on same-sex relationships and marriage.
Second, Vander Zee also conveniently fails to mention that Synod 2016 required that one person either on or off the committee be chosen to serve in the position of a protector fidei, i.e., a devil’s advocate. This person’s job is to ensure that the committee members are at least aware of the best arguments against the committee’s emerging consensus. Trusting that the scholars on this committee actually know how to do responsible research and trusting that the protector fidei does their job, it is accordingly difficult to see how any voice will be ‘silenced’ on this new study committee.
So, Vander Zee misrepresents Synod 2016’s actions on two counts. First, he misrepresents Synod’s actions by insinuating that the committee members must conclude that the historic Christian position on same-sex relationships and marriage is Scripturally sound. This is simply not true. The committee is free to follow the evidence wherever the Spirit takes them.
Second, Vander Zee misrepresents Synod’s actions by saying that “Synod determined to silence the voices of all who disagree and to bar them from the table.” This also is simply not true. Those who disagree with the CRC’s biblical teaching on same-sex relationships and marriage are still confessing members in good standing within the church and their voices will have a place at the table via books, articles, and personal interactions as well as through the office of the protector fidei.
I truly do wish Chong the best as he takes up his new position as editor of The Banner. I hope and pray that The Banner will someday resonate again with those many churches that it supposedly represents. Unfortunately, Vander Zee’s July editorial only makes accomplishing that goal only that much more remote and, accordingly, makes Chong’s new job that much harder.
A former edition of this post suggested that Vander Zee's editorial would raise the ire of "what looks to be a majority of The Banner's readership." As a result of subsequent discussions, I have altered that statement to read "what looks to be a substantial part of The Banner’s potential readership." This revision looks like a more responsible statement to make given the lack of reliable statistical analysis of CRC views.