Machine Gun Preacher

Machine Gun Preacher tells the fascinating true-life story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing gang biker who converted to Christianity and devoted his life to protecting children in Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda from the vicious LRA. Childers (played by Gerard Butler in the film) founded the organization “Angels of East Africa” and opened an orphanage in Southern Sudan to protect the area’s  vulnerable orphans.

The “machine gun” part of this story is that Childers doesn’t just rescue children from the evil clutches of the LRA. He fights back with violence and kills the villains. With machine guns and sniper rifles and other such things.

What the film raises is not a new question, but it’s certainly a timely one: Should we combat violence with more violence? When does the cycle of violence & revenge end?

Preacher adds the further layer of Christianity to the question. Sam Childers is a Christian, a preacher, a representative of Christ. He sleeps in a mosquito tent at the orphanage with a Bible in one hand and an AK47 in the other. Should he be protecting the innocent victims of the LRA by shooting back at the LRA? Is there any other way to do it?

The film doesn’t answer that question. Childers is represented as a very flawed hero and certainly isn’t portrayed as a man with a halo. There are serious questions about his methods, his vigilante persona, his role in the sometimes problematic tradition of “white man comes to save the day in Africa, recklessly and without much context.”

Still, it’s hard to point out his faults when the rest of us aren’t doing much to help the kids who are suffering every day under the brutal violence of the LRA: kids whose lips and noses have been cut off, kids forced to kill one another, 3-year-olds who’ve been raped… Childers argues that unless he and his fellow fighters arm themselves and go after the LRA, they would just continue victimizing the children and terrorizing the region.

Over the end credits of Preacher, the real Sam Childers poses a question: If you had a child who was kidnapped and I said I could bring them home to you, does it matter how I bring them home? It’s a provocative question to end on and one meant to spark discussion as audiences leave the theater.

At a time when the death penalty, the justness of war and other “is killing ever right?” issues are on the forefront of debate (both in Christian circles and beyond), a film like Preacher is helpful addition to the discourse. It’s not a perfect film and perhaps not as subtle as it could have been, but it makes very personal and humane the question of violence as a moral means to justice and liberation.

5 responses to “Machine Gun Preacher

  1. This is a question I’ve come in contact with in Peru. During the 80s and 90s, the people of the Andean countryside were caught between a terrorist group and the military, many losing their innocent lives. Does one sit and pray, or pick up a gun and defend oneself?

  2. A lot of people, both ardent Christian and otherwise, question Sam Childers’ methods of rescuing children from the LRA. It could NOT be done without being armed with the ability to fight back. Sam would be dead and those kids would still be with the LRA being raped, abused and starved. In the area where the AOEA orphanage is, there haven’t been any villages raided for the past two years; and Sam is now able to focus on feeding programs and digging water wells in South Sudan and Darfur. “Thou shall not murder” is not the same as “thou shall not kill.” The LRA murders. Sam’s SPLA unit kills only when it’s attacked–and that’s not murder.

  3. Many times it feels that the only way to end oppression is to fight back. Currently, in Mexico, a civilian organization was created to combat the drug Cartel known as Zetas. The organization fighting back call themselves the “Matazetas,” roughly translated to Zeta Killers. They wear masks to hide and protect their identities. They fight back by kidnapping, questioning, and ultimately executing the captured Zetas. In the process, they gain information about corrupt public figures such as politicians and police officers. The Zetas have been around for years now; it seems that violence is the only way to end violence in this case, as well as in other cases such as the one described in the post. To reconcile using violence to end violence, from a Christian perspective, I want to introduce a verse that I believe gives legitimacy to this. In Matthew 5:9, the Word tells us “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Many people, and at one point including myself, view this peacemaker person as one who steers away from violence, seeking alternatives to violence, turning the other cheek when oppressed, and perhaps even allowing atrocities to occur without actually fighting back. Barnes notes on the Bible define peacemakers as “Those who strive to prevent contention, strife, and war.” The premise in that definition is that peace already exists, and therefore a peacemaker is one who strives to maintain that peace. This Premise is flawed. For one, if peace exists, meaning contention, strife, and war are nonexistent, we would not need a peacemaker; and for that matter would not even need a peacekeeper (which is what I think Barnes is defining.) Conversely, if contention, strife and war exist, then someone who strives to prevent them, has already failed in his attempt. A peacemaker is different than a peacekeeper; a peacemaker must, perforce, only exist in a space where peace is nonexistent. Sam Childers, therefore, meets the criteria for being a peacemaker. He does not seek to prevent contention or strife, but strives to eradicate existing “un-peace”, and bring in peace to a space where children are being raped, murdered, mutilated, robbed of their innocence and most importantly deprived of an opportunity to an encounter a loving God. I believe this legitimizes Childers use of violence against an evil force in order to bring in Peace after all else fails. At the same time, I believe it is also important to be grounded in the Word and pray for violence to end. Jesus said Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

    I’m sure that looking at that verse through this lens makes it extremely difficult to be a peacemaker, and to be called a child of the Most High God.

  4. Looking forward to watching this and see how the film displays those questions…

  5. Pingback: PVR Pictures is the Official Distributor of Machine Gun Preacher in India - WOWlz

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