23 comments on “Moral Dilemma Dialogue: Machine Gun Preacher

  1. Dilemma #1: Not much of a dilemma in my mind anyway. Many expected and longed for Jesus to take up arms as Messiah. After all, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while being ushered in by palm leaves and cleansed the temple in the same way Judas Maccabaeus did at the start of his revolution roughly 100 years before. Peter was armed in Gethsemane and the people were anxious to take up arms against Rome. Yet Jesus told them to repent of that; turn back and go the other way. He could’ve spread his kingdom by force–there was plenty of injustice to go around–but instead chose the cross. To believe that violence has any ability to spread the Kingdom seems to me to miss the entire point of the Kingdom. Violence begets violence.

    Dilemma #2: I understand what you’re getting at but I just wonder if they were trying to depict what his “calling”. It appears to equate his calling to the Sudan with an unhealthy obsession. I don’t have too much to say about that because I haven’t seen the movie and the trailer doesn’t show that much about it.

    Thanks for the review. Even though I’ve never heard of this movie, it has been my favorite review thus far. Keep the helpful reviews coming!

    • Dilemma 2:
      This is exactly what we are being shown in Sam Childers. Sam is an addict. He’s a violence addict, a drug addict, an alcoholic, and basic adrenaline addict, which is why we start the movie with Sam getting out of prison.

      When Sam finds God he becomes an addict in God. When he finds out about Sudan, he’s addicted to helping in Sudan. The problem is that he focuses on helping, but allows the violence to creep in and block other Godly aspects, such as caring for his family. I don’t think anyone would say they can walk the path by doing one Christian aspect and ignoring others.

      Though we aren’t given great insight on the correcting of this, I do believe that Sam repents of this and corrects it. In the real story of Sam Childers we can see that his family later becomes involved with his Sudan mission and helps him out. We can also see a genuine loving relationship between he and Paige.

      Thank you for commenting.
      If you get a chance to see it, it’s worth the watch. It’s a pretty intense movie, but it does have some great messages.

      ~ III

  2. This is one of my favorite movies, and while I do think Sam could have done a better job of balancing his call in Sudan and his time with his family, I wonder how Paige, or others in her position would feel if they were in-fact one of those african kids that the rest of the world has forgotten about; i wonder how Paige would feel if people raided her house, and burned down her neighborhood, and murdered all those around her. Even lower-class americans live in luxury compared to the families in the Sudan.

    Yes, Sam should have been more communicative with his daughter, and he shouldn’t have given away all their savings, but what drove him was something that no other americans cared about which was to protect these families in the Sudan, and offer them some kind of hope for a future. Sam wasn’t acting selfish; he was being selfless; he was giving them everything he could; the reason it was such a struggle is b/c no one else would be as selfless and help. If there were more out there willing to help then Sam wouldn’t have needed to do as much as he did.

    Paige had her mom; it’s not like she had nothing. And I resent the way she referred to them as “black babies” and shows what a typical and arrogant american attitude she has towards others.

    I just cannot bring myself to believe that God was displeased with Sam’s selflessness to help a community that no one else would; to me, he’s a man of much stronger faith than your average american christian who gets married, has a family, and goes to church a couple times a week; at church there’s all this preaching about “changing the world”, etc. but it’s mostly TALK – where as Sam is actually DOING IT and to me THAT is FAITH! Not sitting around a church talking, but actually going out and making a difference.

    And of course violence isn’t a good thing, but the violence inflicted by Sam is only to PROTECT from those who come to murder! I guarantee you that if the tables were turned and Paige was the one living in the Sudan and some dude came there and protected her village with guns and ammo that she’s be appreciative. But Paige can’t come out of herself for 2 seconds, and realize her father is a hero – and a man of faith.

    It’s not as if he comes home from work every night and totally neglects his daughter, while playing football with the neighbor next door; this guy is off on another continent, fulfilling his calling; he is taking action instead of just talking. It seems that’s about all the american church does is talk, talk, talk; if they took more action, and were willing to sacrifice then the church would have a LOT more impact on the world. The modern day church is soft, therefore ineffective. So, when someone like Sam Childers comes around he looks crazy – and maybe he is crazy; maybe to truly live by faith as the Bible says IS to be crazy! The Bible says we will look crazy.

    The reason Sam got so upset when Paige asked about the limo money was b/c he sees how spoiled the kids in america are; she’s worried about a limousine while other kids her age, and younger in the Sudan are worried simply about surviving the night. Yes, Sam should not have snapped at her as he did; he should have sat down and explained things to her in a way to inspire her to get behind what he’s doing – but he is a man, and he isn’t perfect.

    • Hey Gary, thanks for weighing in! You bring up some good counter-points there. Your point that Sam was actually DOING something and THAT is faith is pretty reflective of James ch. 2. As for the violence I think a corner was turned sometime shortly after his wife told him to rebuild what the LRA had destroyed. Seemed as though he went moreso on the offensive after that, seeking out confrontations and firefights rather than remaining defensive of the children. I don’t believe that is the right approach.

      Paige certainly has a tough time dealing with her father’s absence. You are right that she had her mother, but remember too that Sam had just spent who knows how many years in prison away from his family, then he is off to Africa for large chunks of time. In my opinion she is perfectly within her rights to be selfish with her father’s time. Every child deserves their mother and father to both be around. But you’re also right in that Sam was doing a sacrificial work for the children in Africa. And how do we square that with 1 Tim. 5:8? Perhaps if you have a family then your calling to help those abroad should consist less of your time and more of your finances. That’s a tough balance to strike.

      Also, I don’t think it follows that a person’s faith is weaker because they “get married, have a family, and go to church a couple times a week”, rather than do as Sam did. I see that as a difference in talents rather than in faith. I think Eph. 4:11, 12 confirms that.

      Thanks for the comment Gary, much appreciated!

    • Gary: Good insight. I can’t say I disagree with the viewpoint about our poor children being in luxury compared to those of Sudan. The atrocities that take place there and in other countries make me wonder why rebel leaders like that are allowed to live and yet we spend millions to find leaders of other sects. (Another dilemma for possibly later.)

      I still stand that Sam was doing wrong by his family. He has an obligation to them to meet their financial and emotional needs.

      Shortly after the limo scene Lynn and Sam argue as he’s leaving with all of their money. Lynn tells him that even his congregation can see how far he’s slipped from God. She tells him he needs to get right with God and Sam says he’s given up on God; that he doesn’t see him around anymore.

      I believe Sam corrects this at the end when he steps out if his hut a softer man and shares a video of his daughter with the kids. I watched several interviews about the real Sam Childers and it showed how later Lynn and Paige were asked to be involved and they began to travel to Africa with him and visit with the kids.

      I believe Sam repented as a Christian for not handling things in a Christian manner with his family, but what we see in the movie is only the mishandling of them.

      I appreciate you commenting.
      We are looking for feedback and discussion just like this.

  3. Interesting dilemma here guys. I haven’t seen the movie so my comment will be based on your characterization of it in the post. I don’t see Christians as strictly pacifists even though many were in the first several hundred years of our faith’s history. I believe there is a misunderstanding of “turn the other cheek” Matt 5:39 that drove many of our brothers and sisters to willingly commit themselves to die rather than resist or flee (and that’s for an entirely different conversation, really). If the purpose of killing someone is to protect an innocent life, then I believe the Christian is justified to do so. But this scenario should be a last resort in my opinion. The question is (since I’m ignorant of the plot): Was what Sam did in the movie his only recourse? I think of the Underground Railroad in the 19th century that relied on a network of like-minded people working together to achieve a noble goal. Was Sam (that’s my son’s name, by the way) lobbying for help from others and getting nowhere so that his only option was to get locked and loaded? Also, since he was a preacher, how did Sam reconcile his actions and the clear injunctions listed in 1 Tim 3:3-5? Sounds like, even though he had noble aspirations, he was failing to meet the standard biblical responsibilities of a father, husband, and pastor. The question I have is: If doing a good thing causes you to neglect responsibilities in other areas, is it really good after all?

    • NP: That’s really what it had lead Sam to doing: a good action with neglect to responsibilities. Indications are that Sam corrected this and found his way back to being the husband and father that God wants us to be. He doesn’t tell Paige that he’s sorry directly that we see, but he takes time to call her from Sudan and play their word game that is a special bond between the two of them. A softer side of Sam, the original man that showed up in Sudan, seems to return.

      If you get a chance to watch I, it’s a good flick. It’s pretty edgy, especially at the beginning, but it helps us see where Sam is coming from before he finds God.

      Thanks for replying to us. If you get a chance to watch it, hop back on and gives us your perspectives, too.


  4. Good points made on both dilemmas! I pretty much agree in general with both, but I may depart from an all out pacifist view in favor of some allowances for self-defense. I don’t know if you were taking the pacifist position there, Logan, I’m thinking of the end of Jesus’ ministry as he was preparing his disciples for a time when they would be without him. In Luke 22 he tells them that whereas before they did not need a money belt or coat or anything, they would now need those things, they would need to be prepared. In that he included needing a sword (Lk. 22:36). I don’t know why he would tell them to buy a sword if it weren’t to protect themselves. However, we have the numerous examples in scripture and general history of the martyrdom of the apostles and other disciples for their faith. So, I think an argument could be made that using violence for your self-defense is justified, but when you face persecution and even violence because of your faith then using violence in return is prohibited. Rather, a scriptural and more spiritual response is to either flee (example of Paul) or consider it an honor to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41, example of Stephen in Acts 7).

    On the second dilemma, while Paige certainly seemed like a bit of a spoiled brat at times, Sam was definitely neglecting his responsibilities toward his wife and his daughter as a man, and as a follower of Christ.

    Great post!

  5. See, to me, the way Sam became angered by his daughter asking for a limo, etc. was just a phase as he was still processing everything going on in the Sudan; it’s much different seeing it than merely hearing about it. You also have to take into consideration that he JUST became a Christian after leading a life of crime; of course you can have that Damascus Road experience as Sam, and many others do, but just don’t expect them to be polished; even the most mature Christians are far from perfect, so of course someone like Sam Childers is going to make some mistakes along the way…

    I guess the thing that irks me is here we are living our cushy lives in America and preaching to others how to live and be Christians, etc. when you have a man like Sam Childers who is risking his life to help others, and being totally selfless, similarly as Jesus was on the cross – but yet instead of acknowledging what an incredible man of faith he is, we’re nitpicking b/c he snapped at his daughter – in what I would even consider a righteous anger – as Jesus had when he kicked over the table in the temple and shouted “How dare you make a market out of my church!”

    I feel I’m one of the more bold Christians I know, and I am not afraid to tell people what may be uncomfortable for them to hear at times – but with that in mind, I am a complete coward compared to Sam Childers. I could never go out and do what he’s doing. And neither could about 99.9% of other Christians in this country; so I guess I am saying that until we actually can go out and do what Sam’s doing then we have no right to judge him…

    And I always thought that little spat he had with Paige would blow over, anyway, and that she would come to understand and appreciate what he’s doing over there and be ultra proud of him for having the courage to do so…and that’s what does happen (as far as I know) which is why I never saw it as a major issue to get on Sam about.

    Now, if this was a continuous pattern that occurred on a regular basis when his daughter or wife approached him, then I would say it’s an issue to be addressed. But the outburst at Paige, and remark about giving up on God, etc. was just frustration and emotion stemming from all he’s witnessed over there, and him trying to process everything.

    I mean have you ever been frustrated and felt like giving up on God?

    I have several times. And I don’t feel like God is gritting His teeth at me, waving His fist, and saying “How dare you doubt me!”

    I think He allows us to have our moment, and then get back up, dust ourselves off, and build our faith back up – which is what was going on with Sam.

    I honestly think the most important thing God wants from us is to acknowledge His existence. I think ignoring Him hurts Him more than anything else.

    I think God would much rather have us yell at Him and be frustrated, then to simply not acknowledge Him at all.

    Sam said he “gave up on God”, etc. but you knew it was simply frustration, and he didn’t really mean it – even if he may have thought he did at the time.

    We can all get upset with God all we want…but at the end of the day we always go back to Him. Because once you know God, it’s impossible to turn away.

    His sheep know His voice, right?

    • Hey Gary, that’s a good point you make about going through the phases. I remember in the months immediately following my conversion I was really “in your face” about the Gospel and I think it caught a lot of people off guard. I learned from that and tempered my approach 🙂

      Also, I don’t think anyone here means to belittle Sam’s work to help those in need. So if it came across that way I apologize. I certainly admire his bravery to go into a hostile environment and serve others. However, his story definitely brings up the questions centering around the moral dilemma of using violence to accomplish a certain end. Does a noble goal justify immoral (or at least morally questionable) means? Questions like that is all we were meaning to address here. So, we don’t mean to be dismissive that it was a good and righteous thing for Sam to be selfless and help the children in Sudan in the first place.

      • It took me about 7 years after becoming a Christian to temper my approach; I was a hardcore Pentecostal for a while. lol.

    • Gary, For some reason I didn’t get notice of this comment or I would have replied much sooner.

      I don’t discount anything you said.

      I want to second Gene. My review was in no way to speak about Sam Childers as a true person, the incredible mission he has undertaken in the name of God, or even about his personality as a person. My review was to simply look at a movie character person and try to examine how a Christian should possible handle something differently or even should.

      As a preacher I have even said in front of congregations, my biggest weakness still remains to be my temper. I can’t say that with everything that Sam had been through, had seen, and was struggling with internally that I wouldn’t have possibly reacted the same way. I just know scripturally, it wouldn’t have been what God would have wanted from me.

      I think that’s why the following phone game hit me close to the end of the movie. Sam doesn’t apologize by saying he’s sorry. He shows her he’s sorry by taking time and giving her something that she needs from him as her dad.

      Thanks again for the conversation!


      • I see what you guys are saying about how Sam reacted poorly in the one interaction with his daughter, but since the film addressed the issue and he resolved it as you just pointed out, I didn’t think it was a big concern to address…

        I am more concerned with films that present a moral dilemma, and then leave the audience with the wrong kind of message…

        for example in “Coach Carter” one of the players gets his girlfriend pregnant, and the pregnancy was a big concern throughout the story – and then at the end the girlfriend tells the basketball player “I’ve decided to get an abortion” and it’s presented to the audience like “this is good”…

        In “Antwone Fisher” Antwone Fisher was being made fun of by some of his peers b/c he was a virgin, as if it’s something to be ashamed of; and then on the final scene of the movie he reports to his counselor and says with a proud smile “I’m not a virgin anymore” and the counselor played by Denzel smiles and says “I’m glad to hear that”.

        And that’s what the audience is left with…

        On “The Ledge” there is this Christian man (played by Patrick Wilson) whose wife cheats on him and so he is going to kill his wife, unless the man she slept with will jump off a ledge and kill himself; there was a policeman (played by Terrence Howard) trying to talk the man on the ledge out of jumping, but the man says that he has to or someone else will be murdered, etc.

        Well, at the end of the movie the policeman goes home and sits for dinner with his family – and his family starts to pray before their food, and the policeman blurts out, “Nah, ain’t gonna be no praying in this house tonight” and that’s the end of the movie and the final thought the audience is left with…

        Now, going back on “Machine Gun Preacher” when Sam snapped at his daughter and had a moment of frustration ready to give up on God, etc. that was part of the dilemma – but that wasn’t the solution; notice that by the end of the story Sam had resolved those issues; like you just said, he didn’t apologize through words, but by spending time with his daughter b/c he came to the realization just how important this was….so it didn’t leave the audience thinking that him snapping at his daughter, and feeling faithless was the right decision; it left the audience seeing a man who was working on building his relationship with his daughter and his family – as well as helping residents of the Sudan – and having his faith back in God…

        So, I guess I didn’t feel it was necessary to address Sam’s incident with his daughter b/c the film clearly conveyed that it was wrong, and Sam realized it, and resolved it; so I felt the audience was left with an actual positive Christian message – and I was so glad to finally see that in a movie; a high-quality, well-written, well-acted Christian movie that doesn’t come across preachy or make Christians look like crazed loons.

        So, that’s basically why I’m so adamant to defend this movie b/c I was just so glad to see a Christian movie being played out by actors like Michael Shannon and Gerard Butler; most of the time Christian films get ultra low-budget productions with actors that sound like they’re reading from cue-cards. They probably are. lol.

        I mean I am not even sure “Machine Gun Preacher” would be categorized as a “Christian” movie and I think that’s good b/c then other audiences will watch without any hesitation, and then as they watch they’re genuinely enjoying a quality movie, while at the same time having seeds about faith and God planted into their mind. I hope MGP is a trend of what’s to come for faith-based films.

        If you want to write about some movies with moral-dillema issues, then watch one of those movies I listed above and write a review; but I will say “Antwone Fisher” does have a lot of good, and is a very positive movie; it was just that one part about him being embarrassed to be a virgin like there was something wrong with it; like it’s frowned upon. Other than that there was a lot of positive, and it’s one of my all-time favorites.

        Another recent movie that had a nice Christian underlying theme was “Unconditional” with Michael Ealy and Lynn Collins. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.

        Be sure to check out my piece I’m writing on “Take Shelter” that will come out this week, probably Wednesday, or so.

        • PS: Be sure you’ve seen “Take Shelter” before reading the entry I’m posting this week. I’m not writing a review, but an analysis about the ending; if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it – and then read my entry b/c I think you’ll like my interpretation. 🙂

        • Sounds like we just got three new suggestions for future moral dilemma dialogues! Thanks Gary! I totally agree, it was very refreshing to show Sam overcome this struggle and solidify his relationship with his daughter. He definitely righted that wrong.

          I will do my best to check out “Take Shelter” before reading your post on it. Who’s in that one?

          • Michael Shannon & Jessica Chastain (future king & queen of Hollywood)

            Michael Shannon plays a husband and father who works a construction job, and starts having all these nightmares about world-ending events, and at first he brushes them off until they persist and get worse.

            It’s a great movie and the ending stirs a lot of debate; and I’m working on an entry with my interpretation of the ending.

            It’s a film you and everyone from your blog need to watch. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Machine Gun Preacher: I Can Take These Right Here | Let There Be Movies

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