Many of our readers have either read or read about a publication of the Calvin College Chimes staff calledthe bananer. This diabolically clever and devilishly humorous little publication was in every respect—in appearance and format and contents—a wicked lampoon, or parody of The Banner. It was, in fact, so much like the latter in appearance that one could easily pick it up for The Banner, only to discover when he began to read that it could not possibly be the weekly magazine of the Christian Reformed Church. It mocked shamelessly the Christian Reformed Church, calling it throughout “the Philistine Rewarmed Crutch.” It mocked Scripture and The Banner’s use of Scripture. It mocked morality and apparently what it deemed to be the church’s attitude toward morality. In fact, it mocked virtually every department in The Banner and many a phenomenon in the Christian Reformed denomination.
It is not my intention to give a full review and detailed criticism of this diabolical little publication. In fact, it had not been my intention to react to it editorially whatsoever. Nor will I do so now. However, the reactions to this lampoon have now turned virtually full circle, from indignant condemnation to qualified approval. This I deem to be more serious than the original publication of the bananer itself. And to these reactions I wish to react editorially: for they are significant.
First of all, in the June 19 issue of The Banner, Editor John Vander Ploeg (now retired) responded in righteous indignation by means of a lengthy editorial in which he condemned the bananer from beginning to end in no uncertain terms as sinful and publicly offensive. In fact, as I think back, it seems to me that this was one of the most outspoken editorials to come from Rev. Vander Ploeg’s pen during his career as editor of The Banner. In his article he criticized the Communications Board of the Calvin Faculty and Student Senate, as well as the Calvin College Faculty as a whole, for their extremely mild official reaction and for their failure to express themselves about “the wickedness of this thing and the grievous sin against the Lord.” He also criticized the Calvin Board of Trustees for “the meekness and the mildness of (their) reprimand, when the need for a stem rebuke is so obviously in order” as being hardly virtuous in view of the seriousness of the situation. Moreover, he proposed that Chimes should either no longer be college subsidized, or that if it is to continue to be subsidized, there should be insistence upon a “distinctively Christian student newspaper.” And he asked for “full assurance that such a climate is being provided at Calvin College as to encourage, foster, and produce literary writing that is in keeping with the purpose of our church school and not at cross-purposes with it.”
A little later (cf. The Banner, June 26) Dr. Wm. Spoelhof responded in an “Open Letter From Dr. William Spoelhof To The Editor,” in which he expressed his reactions both to Rev. Vander Ploeg’s editorial, and, inevitably, to the bananer. To say the least, President Spoelhof’s reactions were very much milder than those of Editor Vander Ploeg, and even mildly apologetic and defensive of the bananer. He “urged (Rev. Vander Ploeg) to overlook the thoughtlessness of youth in order to uncover whatever thoughtfulness there might be associated with their venture.” He does not specify this “thoughtfulness,” but only assumes its presence. This writer could detect much “thoughtfulness”, and also many thoughts—all of them evil. Dr. Spoelhof, moreover, was prompted by concern for any ill effects which Rev. Vander Ploeg’s adverse publicity would have on youth’s reaction to the church. This writer cannot understand how calling sin by its right name could be responsible for ill effects, however. President Spoelhof, further, attempted to minimize the seriousness of the thing by claiming that it had to be judged from “a college campus orientation.” All in all, he practically denied the sinfulness of the whole thing, as is plain from the following language:
“The students attempted a parody. Such a thing is always a dangerous venture, for it can be greeted either with pleasure and profit or with anger and annoyance. If one accentuates the hyperbole of a parody, anger and annoyance will prevail. This need not be the reading, however. (One feels constrained to remark here that Rev. VanderPloeg did not accentuate the hyperbole, but only called attention to its wicked mockery. HCH)
“Undoubtedly, the students did not give thought to the feelings of those they might offend. I do not defend them for this, nor for their improprieties. (Is “improprieties” a euphemism for “sins”? HCH) But I cannot accept your ascription of unchristian motives and devilish work to the students who were involved. It is this kind of reading of their work to which I object.”
The fact of the matter is, however, that the Rev. Vander Ploeg evidently read the bananer in all its objectivity (and gave proof of it in his editorial). The problem was not in Editor Vander Ploeg’s “reading,” but in the material which he read.
Since that “Open Letter” of June 26 no more has been written about the subject in The Banner.
But now apparently reaction to the bananer has come almost full circle. For the new editor of The Banner, Dr. Lester De Koster evidently does not share the righteous indignation of his predecessor, the Rev. Vander Ploeg. Nor apparently does he share Dr. Spoelhof’s minimizing of the bananer and his tendency to excuse it as student thoughtlessness. Dr. De Koster has not expressed himself on the subject inThe Banner thus far. However, Chimes (Oct. 2, 1970) gives a report on the third of a series of four lectures delivered by Editor De Koster at the Oakdile Park Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. It reports that Dr. De Koster characterized parts of The Banneras “unfortunate” and deserving of “reproof.” But he characterized most of the publication as containing “extremely perceptive analyses” of inconsistencies in the Christian Reformed denomination. And he is reported to have said of the bananer, “I found it more instructive than offensive.”
If the latter report is accurate—and it has met with no contradiction on the part of Dr. De Koster—it is evident that official reaction to the bananer has now come almost, if not completely, full circle. It has proceeded from righteous and indignant condemnation to qualified approval. It has proceeded from “devilish” to “more instructive than offensive.”
What is The Standard Bearer’s opinion and reaction to all this?
In the first place, I wish to make it crystal clear that we cannot rejoice in or gloat over the appearance of the bananer or the reactions thereto. On the contrary, we share fully the Rev. Vander Ploeg’s righteous indignation and his forthright condemnation. There was very much in the contents of the bananer which was morally reprehensible. And as far as its method is concerned, even though as Dr. De Koster suggested,the bananer may have put the finger on some sore inconsistencies in the Christian Reformed Church, the method of a satirical and sarcastic and wholly destructive lampoon is altogether ungodly, unworthy of a Christian. It is a blot on the name of the Christian Reformed Church and its college that its sons and daughters of college age respond and are allowed to respond to mother church, whatever her faults may be, in such a fashion as this.
In the second place, we agree with the Rev. Vander Ploeg’s request “for full assurance that such a climate is being provided at Calvin College as to encourage, foster, and produce literary writing that is in keeping with the purpose of our church school.” In fact, we would go further. We would suggest that the bananeris not an isolated student prank, but that it is a reflection of a bad atmosphere at the college and of bad tendencies in the instruction. If the bananer were an isolated symptom, we would not draw this conclusion. But to anyone who follows the college scene, it is evident that the latter is not the case. There is abundant evidence that the sharp lines of the antithesis are steadily being erased. I would even suggest that investigation would reveal some of the same mocking attitude about the “Dutch, white, middle-class, Christian Reformed ghetto mind” on the part of instructors, would reveal that there are faculty advocates of radical liturgical revisionism, would reveal that there are faculty advocates of the social gospel and of social activism of the Father Groppi type. Perhaps students give more radical expression to these ideas than do their mentors—this is the tendency of students, to go farther than their teachers. But I do not believe that students pull these ideas out of their own hats, so to speak. And if I were asked what the root of this increasing blotting out of the lines of the antithesis might be, my answer is: common grace and its debilitating effects!
In the third place, it seems to me that Dr. De Koster, the new editor of The Banner, who is apparently deeply, concerned about the unity and unification of the Christian Reformed Church, would do well to foster that unity by sharing with the churches the—”extremely perceptive analyses” of Christian Reformed inconsistencies, to the end that the churches may share the instruction, rather than the offense, of the bananer>/i>, and to the end that the inconsistencies may be corrected. Moreover, if Rev. Vander Ploeg’s condemnation was incorrect, Dr. De Koster should make correction in the same editorial columns in which his predecessor wrote.