Letters to the Editor


In the February issue of THE OUTLOOK a letter by Joe and Alice Sterk objected to the showing of a film “Cabaret” at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center. The following reply by Dr. William Spoelhof, president of Calvin College, promised at that time, has been made available for this issue.

I shall limit my reply to just a few observations, because a completely adequate one would require references to Synod’s The Film Arts Report and Synod’s action on it, the Film Arts Policy statement of the College, the incident to which the Sterks protested and our conference, and the subsequent actions taken by the administration and by the protesters. Here, then, are the most pertinent observations.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Sterk’s letter of protest gives a very brief report of a two-and-one-quarter-hour conversation. Paraphrased remarks ascribed to me are recognizable but, in the sense that they are not in the context of the whole discussion, these paraphrases are inaccurate. To debate each paraphrase would require even more space than to reproduce the whole two-and-one-quarter-hour conversation. Moreover, many more statements were made by me and also by them which go unreported.

For the record, however, I assert the following:

(a) The word “academic,” in referring to the purpose for showing films, was used alternately with “educational” and then to distinguish such films from superficially entertaining films.

(b) The film was not commercially advertised in the Press. It was listed under “Coming Events,” which column lists all the events in the city as taken by the columnists from handbills of cultural events scheduled for the year. This was not, in other words, a paid commercial advertisement.

(c) The term “sophistication” of youth, when used by me, referred in part to youth’s maturity of judgment, but especially to their knowledge of the film arts, in which I and most persons of my generation in our constituency have little expertise.

(d) “Being Reformed” and “having a world-and-life view” were terms used to refer to the whole range of learning and culture and not to that particular film as such. In fact, it was in the specific context of modern literature that this part of our conversation took place.

(e) I did make a defense of the film art series, of which the disputed film was one. I made a defense of the whole series, not on the basis of having seen the disputed film, but on the basis of the Policy Statement and my confidence in the members of the Council responsible for the selection. I did claim 100 percent confidence in the membership of the Council. Its three faculty members are selected by me, and their Christian commitment and dedication to the goals of Christian education are known widely in the Church. Its four students, one of whom is the non-voting chairman, are selected by the Student Senate. They are responsible, mature Christian students.

(f) The term “future films” referred to the possibility that other films could contain some material which the protesters could view as being objectionable. Such could also be the case with many a T.V. film viewed in our own homes. This statement does not constitute an endorsement of that which is objectionable, but it is an acknowledgment that a film might contain material on what we know to be the sinful condition of human nature and modern life.

2. The description of the film in the Sterk’s letter is how the protesters saw or interpreted the film. Their letter appears to minimize or disregard the point of the film while concentrating on the reference to decadence. From my reading a number of reviews and hearing the opinions of Christian reviewers, I learned that the film did contain frank material, the inclusion of which could be considered to be debatable. It was not an X- or R-rated film as some persons who have read the Sterk letter assumed. The Senior Scholastic, a magazine for high school students and one found on the shelves of our own high schools, concludes a highly laudatory review of the film with the note: “Cabaret has received the Senior Scholastic Merit Award as an outstanding motion picture recommended for mature students at the upper level of high school.” It is PG-rated for mature high school students.

Lacking in the film is that which Dr. Mel White notes in Eternity magazine when, lumping some six films together in this one-sentence review, he states, “seldom if ever do these [great film directors] lift even a trembling finger to point man’s way to sexual redemption and renewal.” Dr. White here expresses an ideal devoutly wished for, but I have not once seen that in any film, although my experience is restricted almost wholly to infrequent viewing on the video.

Because there exists the gap between the ideal expressed by Dr. White and the character of the modern film, we have adopted the practice, when showing a film which might raise some questions as to meaning or intent, to preface the showing by an appropriate commentary or follow it by a group discussion. In the case of the disputed film this was not done because the chairman thought that the point of the film was so obvious that to say anything about it would be pedantic. We are sorry that this was not done. It might well have helped the protesters in accepting the message of the film.

3. My contact with the Sterks is restricted to one two-and-one-quarter-hour conference. They impressed upon me with their straightforward, zealous, sincere concern for the Church and her agencies. I found them attractive persons. We parted without arriving at an agreement, following a beautiful prayer given by Mr. Sterk. I was of the impression (now obviously erroneous) that, although we did not agree on broad issues of a Christian’s perspective on the world and culture, we did respect each other’s point of view (and I still respect theirs). I was, therefore, surprised and disappointed to learn of their subsequent methods of airing a problem throughout the Church.

4. My colleagues and I are deeply committed to the cause of Christ and to seeing His will done in the area of our address as a college to learning and culture. After all these years I wish this could have been assumed. We also assert that we must constantly reexamine and find our own Christian perspectives. This incident has once again prompted us to do so. Know that we are motivated by a genuine concern for Christ and His kingdom. This is our calling and our daily work.