September 12, 2011



(I still stand by my review below as regards the movie as a movie. My question now is: what "methods" exactly did Childers employ--beyond what is depicted in the movie? Methods DO matter! The ends don't justify the means. And what do the South Sudanese have to say about his tactics? Although I'm sure they are divided on that and it will depend on whom you talk to. There is also the question of what is happening at his orphanage now.)

Sounds like a badass film, doesn’t it? Only the irresistible (and accurate) title is badass. Otherwise, this is a story about a badass guy (NOT portrayed as attractive or without consequences) who becomes a goodass and begins saving children in Sudan from becoming child-soldiers in the vicious LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army)—and worse.

Sam Childers (a thoroughly winning and Sam-Childers-approved Gerard Butler) was a violent drug dealer and biker in hillbilly Pennsylvania in his younger life. He got saved, became a Reverend and went to the Sudan to do volunteer construction work. But in Africa, he saw way more than he bargained for and wound up taking up arms to save children and innocent villagers from kidnapping, maiming, atrocities and slaughter.

As Sam gets more and more caught up in saving families in the Sudan, he starts to neglect his own family. His ever-supportive wife (Michelle Monaghan)—supportive in a tough Christian woman o’ God way; sometimes even more supportive of Sam’s mission than he is--reminds him that although he is “all those kids over there got,” he’s also “all we’ve got here.” Childers’ must deal with his outrage and anger that is consuming him both at home and in Sudan.

We are shown just enough of the grisly and cruel nature of the civil war in the Sudan to be incensed and horrified. “Machine Gun Preacher” is definitely not for the little ones. This action-packed, somewhat shoot-em-up (but NEVER gratuitous) film, all based on true incidents in Childers’ life, is a must-see of 2011. Will it garner any Oscar noms? It deserves to—but even if it doesn’t, audiences will certainly recognize its worth.

What really makes the movie is the way the depth of Sam Childers’ character is fleshed out. There’s a wonderful, slow transformation of Childer from an unconscionable, selfish brute, who then brings his gung-ho spirit to everything else he does for the Kingdom of God and others. His renewed relationship with his wife and daughter is beautifully dramatized by a tornado scene (Childers uses his ever-present gun to create a safe haven for them in the crawl space beneath their mobile home while he covers the opening with his body).

Childers’ role in the Sudan is not just some American DIY cowboy or do-gooder. He is a man with the call of a warrior on his spirit who feels deeply obligated to do something, to not let evil have its way, to rescue the helpless. It doesn’t hurt that he loves guns and is proficient with them, either. The Sudanese are also fully-developed characters, not just passive recipients of Childers’ gallant assistance. The children will steal your heart.

My question is: Why aren’t there more Sam Childers?

Sam’s organization:


--2011 is “The Year of the God Film.” The best films this year—IMHO—have been the God films: “Of Gods and Men,” “Soul Surfer,” “Tree of Life,” “Courageous,” “Machine Gun Preacher.”

--Well-written, well-acted, well-shot, well-edited!!!

--I remember at World Youth Day—Rome 2000, some Sudanese youth got up at the mic at our English-speaking catechetical site and told us they may get killed when they return home.

--The actress who played Childers’ daughter should have been younger or else the part was mis-written for a much younger child. (The going-to-bed games felt age-inappropriate.)

--I absolutely love the old, toupĂ©ed, whiter-than-white Protestant pastors on fire with the Word of God, and the starched old prim church ladies who can still love and reach out to the outlaws. And the outlaws respond. And there’s this weird understanding between them: polyester meets leather. The real deal meets the real deal.

--Unfortunately (or fortunately) I think it takes a good ole boy from the U. S. of A. inserted into a story for some of us to grasp what is going on in countries like the Sudan…to understand that they are people just like us. It brings it home. It makes it personal, comprehensible. Anyhoo, it’s very effective.

--GREAT LINE: “Jesus doesn’t want asleep sheep! He wants wolves with teeth who will rip out the heart of evil! It’s in our ACTIONS that we serve Our Lord. He wants your blood and sweat. ” –Gerard Butler as Sam Childers

--“Machine Gun Preacher” is a great THEOLOGY OF THE BODY movie for men.

--We really feel Sam’s pain and powerlessness when he is not able to help each and every child. He doesn’t want to lose even one.

--I love that Childers doesn’t try to move these children out of the Sudan to safety. He is protecting them right there in the midst of their own country.

--Sam said the hardest part of the movie for him to watch is the beginning, which shows what a not-nice person he used to be.

--Sam calls himself a “freedom fighter.” He says that he chooses to follow Christ and he would love for you too, also, but if you don’t, he’ll fight for your right to worship however you choose.

--Sam: “The Bible says to count the cost, but that’s only when we’re first setting out, deciding to serve Christ. After that, we can’t because then we’ll never do anything.” “Never start with a budget. Just do it.” “Some people say I’m not doing much, but at least I’m doing something.” “I never give up hope because there are always problems in life, and all we have to do it TRY to do something.”

--I met Sam Childers at the screening (Gerard Butler and Jason Keller, the screenwriter were also present for the Q & A)! You’d think Sam would be frustrated with all us basically lethargic and apathetic fatcats back in the USA. He’s not. He loves everyone.

Here’s the email I sent him:

“Dear Sam,

Great to meet you last night, and what an awesome film! 5 stars.

But above all, thank you for saving all those children.

All my life I've been about non-violent action, but for the first time, you've really helped me see that sometimes defensive, protective, retaliatory violence is one of the only ways to go. I mean, how else could those children (and innocent villagers) be protected? How else could that kind of evil be pushed back? Kony is worse than Hitler in some ways. Hitler didn't think of having little Jewish children kill their parents.

We all say: "Why doesn't someone do something?" (OK, what?) And then when someone does something we complain. From our armchairs. Like the Sudanese gentleman said at the screening--when you live in a war zone, it's about survival.

You asked at the end of your film: "Does it matter how I bring home your kidnapped family members?" Yes, I think it does. BUT perhaps what you're doing is the only thing that CAN be done, and is therefore ethical. And, if you subscribe to the "just war theory," what could be more just than this cause???

You are standing up and saying: "No." You are doing what Adam did not do in the Garden: protecting the garden and Eve (and his future children) from Satan and evil. Sometimes spiritual warfare has to manifest itself in physical warfare (especially when enemies have determined that’s the arena). "Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle." Psalm 144:1

I'm beginning to believe (as my macho priest friend says ) that there is a vocation/call to be a warrior (for just causes). I LOVE Joan of Arc, but I don't understand her or her calling. I think you've helped me to. And I love your "Ishmael" spirit, and you DO look like a pastor. But what you really have is a "father" spirit. We have to help men (starting young) acknowledge and unleash their "father" spirit.

God love you--I know He already does. A lot!

Sr. Helena Burns, fsp”

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