What motivates a man to leave the comfort of home to father the fatherless, release captives and bring hope to the hopeless? Machine Gun Preacher is based on the life of Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) an ex-con whose self-destructive life is transformed to one of compassion. After being released from prison, Childers life continues where it left off, except that his wife (Michelle Monaghan) has converted to Christianity. When he nearly kills someone, Sam reluctantly begins attending church, where he too is born again.
While visiting Uganda on a house-building mission, Childers is awakened to the plight of children in Southern Sudan under the oppression of Kony’s Lord’s Liberation Army (LLA). Struck with compassion, Childers sets about liberating these desperate children: disabling LLA vehicles, eliminating opposition, and rescuing any children trapped in the convoy, taking them to the safety.
Some Christians and others watching the film may wonder if this use of violent force is appropriate for those professing faith in Christ. And it’s a great question: how do we deal with people like Kony who are responsible for such dreadful suffering, when the Bible is so big on loving one another. You know, blessed are the peacemakers. Shouldn’t Christians be pacifists? Isn’t vengeance up to God? As the nurse says: “This place does not need more guns.”
People like Sam Childers first acknowledge that our world is broken (if we had any doubts from the news headlines). Things aren’t the way they ought to be. People don’t respect each other the way they ought. People use other people as commodities to be owned, to be enslaved. In releasing these children, Sam is not seeking revenge or conducting a reckless military offensive. This is a man who sees injustice and acts out of compassion, seeking to defend those who cannot defend themselves. These are armed, brutal men who seek to be gods, seeking nothing but power for themselves from those least able to do anything about it.
Childers is uniquely gifted and perhaps God is redeeming this rough edge, because, maybe that’s what needs to be done sometimes. As much as we may not like it. But we ought to be most outraged by the fact that the world is this way in the first place. Indeed, we ourselves are complicit in the evil and suffering in our own lives and the lives of those around us.
Defeating Kony’s forces is in a way only dealing with the symptoms, and that is important. But solving the problem of evil in the world first begins with conquering the evil in us. In a sense, we’re all orphans but this is our own doing. Jesus leaves the comfort of his home to reach into our dark world to rescue us on our path to destruction (Ephesians 2:1-10), to give a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) and to free the oppressed:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18)
No machine gun. Just a cross.