Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Mich., grabbed headlines worldwide when it cancelled an October on-campus concert by Canadian indie rock band “The New Pornographers” because of the band’s name.
The college, owned by the Christian Reformed Church, became the butt of many jokes on blogs, websites, and even on National Public Radio’s quiz show “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”
Many people who commented online wanted to know why Calvin booked the band in the first place.
The college’s student activities director Ken Heffner booked the show without consulting other staff because it didn’t occur to him that the name would be offensive, according to college staff.
The band’s name is an “ironic, creative statement with multiple meanings,” Heffner said. “Two people look at the name and have different reactions. It seems that there’s a generational difference. The people concerned are primarily 50 and over, and the unconcerned are younger than 50.”
The band’s music fits well with other musicians the college has hosted, said a college press release, and, of course, has nothing to do with pornography.
“It was a sheer miss, a human miss,” said Shirley Hoogstra, Calvin’s vice president of student life. “[Ken Heffner’s] ‘discernment antennae’ were down.”
Many of those who commented online—including Calvin students and alumni—accused the college of caving to pressure from conservative donors.
“This was never about donors,” said Hoogstra. “This was about ordinary brothers and sisters in Christ who were saying, ‘[Pornography] has been a problem for me. This feels like trivializing it.’”
College leaders wrestled with the decision whether to cancel the show or not, but decided to do so based on 1 Corinthians 8, in which Paul instructs believers not to do something that offends other believers, even knowing that in Christ they are free to do that thing.
“What we said was, ‘Would we be willing to give up a concert for them?’” Hoogstra said. “And the answer is ‘Yes.’”
The college discussed their decision with the band and voluntarily paid the full artist fee.
“I am in this difficult position of both liking the band and wanting Calvin to stay true to its mission, but also understanding the deep feelings that come attached with the work of pornography,” said Calvin College sophomore Scott Genzink. “I wish Calvin had not canceled the concert, but I can understand why people in the community are opposed to the show.
Other students were less understanding. “Calvin is now being written off as a conservative Christian college, unwilling to engage with popular culture,” said Calvin sophomore Grace Hardy. “This is a large backwards step for Ken Heffner and the Student Activities Office, who have worked so hard to create a space for open discussion of popular culture.”
The band booked a venue near the college to replace the canceled show. Geltink planned to organize a group of students to attend the rebooked concert wearing Calvin College garb.
“This is meant to be a sign to the band and to the people of Grand Rapids that while there may be some in the Calvin community that they feel have rejected the band, there is still a large number of people at Calvin who support their artistic expression,” he said.