The Bananer, the much-storied lampoon of The Banner, turned 40 this past year.
Luke Reinsma and Steve Sieberson created The Bananer in 1970, when they were both seniors at Calvin College. They were reunited at a class reunion in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the first time since their caper rocked the Christian Reformed Church.
The Bananer included a mock meditation on a passage from the fictional book of Hezekiah, the confession of a young woman who had kissed her boyfriend at a drive-in movie, an advertisement for “Warp College” in Slough Center, Idawa (referring to Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa), and obituaries for alter egos of The Banner editors themselves.
John VanderPloeg, Banner editor at the time, fired off a four-page editorial titled “Do we just laugh this off?”
A scathing editorial in the Sioux Center (Iowa) Christian School Bulletin resulted in Sieberson’s parents leaving the CRC. And an accusation of producing “religious pornography” was leveled by the consistory of Reinsma’s local congregation.
Sieberson recalls Calvin College president, Dr. William Spoelhof, showing him a thigh-high stack of complaint letters and stating, “This is going to be the death of Calvin College, and drive me to an early grave.”
Spoelhof, in fact, lived to a ripe old age, passing away in 2008 just shy of his 99th birthday.
Sieberson and Reinsma agree that Spoelhof is the unsung hero of the story. He contributed to Calvin’s history of allowing vigorous debate and did not kick them out on the spot.
At their 25-year reunion, Spoelhof gave Sieberson a hug, saying, “I’ve waited for 25 years to tell you that I loved The Bananer.”
Reinsma and Sieberson believe that the notoriety of The Bananer is owed to the fact that it hit at a particular moment in history when segments of the Christian Reformed Church were clashing.
Reinsma, 62, is on the faculty of Seattle Pacific University and attends Northminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Wash.
Sieberson, also 62, is Episcopalian and a member of the law faculty of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
Calvin College, located in Grand Rapids, Mich., belongs to the Christian Reformed Church.