Machine Gun Preacher was a 2011 release which starred Gerard Butler as Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing biker who finds God and finds his calling in Sudan as he attempts to protect children who are exploited as soldiers. The title really is quite descriptive of what you get in this film.
Childers is a machine gun-toting liberator of sorts in Sudan, but is a preacher equipped with a Bible and a pulpit while back in the states. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, check out this trailer.
The obvious moral dilemma presented in this film is using violence as a means to protect people and spread the Gospel. If you can save the lives of some and extend to them safety and kindness in Christ’s name, but you have to kill others to do so, is that justified? Logan tackles that dilemma for us…
The Bible talks a lot about defending the defenseless and providing for the helpless. James 1 says Christians ought to look out for orphans and widows. The prophets repeatedly brought up treatment of the innocent. Examples include Isaiah 10, Zechariah 7, and Jeremiah 7. However, the question then becomes how are we to do that?
According to Sam Childers, that ought to be done by engaging the oppressors in warfare. It is true that violence was sometimes used by God’s servants even outside of war. One example is Phinehas, who killed a Jewish man and a pagan woman, said man was parading around the camp (Numbers 25). However, the context was specific. In the case of Phinehas, there was a plague breaking out among the people; a strong indication that God wanted the people to take care of sin in the camp. The wars that God’s people waged were in obedience to specific commands of God. God never told us that we should go looking for trouble and waging warfare on this issue. Instead, we are to live benevolent lives; that is the principle that is always outlined for us in the New Testament. Jesus says in Matthew 5:41-42, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” This same attitude is present in 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” God’s will is for us to help the poor and neglected through benevolence, not war.
In addition to waging war, the film shows Childers preaching every time he comes home. The fact that he’s preaching is great; his message, however, is quite troubling. He becomes so obsessed with his mission and getting people to support him in, if I may use some artistic license, “AKs for Jesus,” that he says at one point that “God wants wolves.” It is a perversion of what God designed his church to be.
While Sam began with a good premise and good interest, his priorities became seriously messed up. Instead of being focused on his own family he was focused on the children of Africa. Instead of being focused on Christianity and how it saves souls, he became focused on saving physical lives. Those are not bad things to be focused on, but they are the wrong order of priorities, and what subsequently happened is the natural progression when our priorities get out of whack – our worldview becomes warped.
Another dilemma presented in this movie is the sacrifices that Sam’s family was forced to make in order for him to fight in Sudan. Childers was providing food, shelter, clothing and safety for children in Sudan while his children at home were missing their father. Tres weighs in on that dilemma…
Skipping everything that leads Sam Childers to finding God, he discusses with his wife, Lynn, about his calling to go help the children in Sudan. Lynn, being a supportive Christian wife encourages him. The scriptures demonstrate this 2-way conversation for us in 1 Peter 3:7 “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way,…”. This is repeated at the point where the rebels of the LRA come and destroy his first efforts at the orphanage. Sam calls his wife and discusses his desire to quit. Lynn once again encourages him to fight and keeps him there. (1 Peter 3:7)
However, from that point forward we see too many decisions suddenly made by Sam without his wife’s input. The most dramatic example is when Lynn and their daughter, Paige, return home to see men taking things out of their garage. Sam then tells her that he has sold their construction business. In devastation Lynn says, “That was our future. That was Paige’s future.” Without showing care, he then goes to the safe take their cash. Lynn states, “That’s our entire savings.” Sam takes it anyway and leaves for Africa. Sam lost the focus of 1 Peter 3:7.
Also, as I watch the film, I can’t help but focus on 1 Tim 5:8 “But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever”. In the first part of that scripture we understand that “his own” refers to fellow Christians or his own congregation due to the clarity of the next section, “his own household”. In one scene, Sam returns from a visit to Africa and Lynn is showing him the preschool that the members of their church have started. Sam suddenly says, “They need a playground. Things they can climb on.” Lynn explains why the preschool doesn’t have one and Sam says, “No, I’m talking about Africa.” Not finding sponsors, Sam sells his guns and his car and gets the African children a playground; a contradiction to 1 Tim 5:8 showing that even when Sam is home, he can’t focus on “his own”.
The second half of 1 Tim 5:8 though really strikes a chord in this movie. Early on we see Paige being overlooked when she states as he’s leaving for Africa the first time, “You’re gonna miss my play.” He tells her, “Mamma will record it.” I understand that missing something that your child is doing is sometimes required. However, when we jump ahead we see that Sam’s focus has become solely on what he can do for the children in Africa. Paige asks to have some money to go in on getting a limo for the prom. Sam states that the African’s are doing without and cusses at her and refuses to give her any money. Paige is upset and says, “You care more about those black babies than you do your own daughter.” At which point Sam slaps her across the face. He put the African children above his daughter. As fathers we are cautioned and commanded in Eph 6:4 to “not provoke your children to anger”. Paige is so upset at this point, not because of the limo, but because her father has looked past her for so long and put others above her. This becomes even more evident when he can’t open his safe because the combination is Paige’s birth date and he can’t remember it.
Finally, going back to something I mentioned earlier; When Sam tells Lynn that he has sold their construction business he has removed his family’s source of income and he takes all the cash from the vault. His family is left without. His family is left wanting. He did not “provide for his own household” and therefore, “denied the faith” losing focus as a husband and a father according to God’s Word.
Now, we don’t call this the moral dilemma “dialogue” for no reason. We’d love to hear from you on these dilemmas. What do you think is the right thing to do in these situations? What are we called to do as Christians in such circumstances? Please comment below!