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Festival invites discussion of Anabaptist theology

   
 


Vic Thiessen (centre) is interviewed by Andy Turner, the Vice-Chair of the Greenbelt Trust (left) and Jude Levermore, a Greenbelt Trustee (right) during Greenbelt’s late night “talk show,” called “Last Orders.”

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September 12, 2008
- Deborah Froese

CHELTENHAM, UK — Participation in the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival in England gave Vic Thiessen an opportunity to use the prophetic nature of science fiction films as a springboard for discussions about Anabaptist theology.

From August 22 to 25, more than 20,000 people gathered at the Cheltenham Race Course for Greenbelt, an annual event exploring Christian faith and justice issues in the arts and contemporary culture. Thiessen, who serves as director of the London Mennonite Centre with Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network, reviews film for the magazine Canadian Mennonite. He was an invited speaker along with other noteworthy guests including author and speaker Brian McLaren, author Philip Yancy, musician John Bell and fiction writer Salley Vickers.

Mennonites have been involved in Greenbelt since its inception in the mid-70s. This year for the third year in a row Thiessen focused on issues of film and Anabaptist theology. “It has become a key way for me to subtly introduce our Mennonite insights and distinctives into the wider church,” Thiessen reports. “All my talks deal with some aspect of Mennonite theology, whether it is highlighting the call to follow Jesus, or the fundamental importance of social justice, or the prevalence of redemptive violence in our world or the need for Christian community.”

Anabaptism and Mennonites were brought to the forefront this year through one of the festival’s five featured films, Silent Light, the story of a crisis unfolding in a Mexican Mennonite community.

Thiessen spoke to approximately 1700 people in five presentations over the course of the event. Of the five, his session addressing the search for God in science fiction had the highest attendance. From the classic films, Metropolis and 2001: A Space Odyssey to Alphaville, 1984, THX-1138, and more recent films like Children of Men and this summer’s hit, WALL-E, Thiessen showed how sci-fi films prophetically warn us about futures where the rich minority exploit the poor majority, and governments and large corporations manipulate people with fear mongering and lies to maintain war expenditures.

“Every time I watch one of these films,” Thiessen says, “I hear God calling the followers of Jesus to be the prophets of our time, to challenge the state and the neo-liberal capitalism which puts profit ahead of people, to question the media, to challenge the arms trade and the very existence of the military, to rediscover community, to care for the poor and oppressed, to examine the dangers inherent in our technological advances and to expose our enslavement to screens and consumerism.”

In a country where only a tiny minority of the population attends church, Greenbelt presents a forum for Christianity in the UK. “People in the UK, including evangelical Christians, are looking for a faith with integrity that addresses the needs of our time in a world suffering under war, poverty and environmental crises,” says Thiessen. “This is the kind of faith they find at Greenbelt and this is the kind of faith that will bring people back into the church."