Making the Grades
Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is a real life individual who, according to the official website for this movie, is credited for saving the lives of hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children. This accomplishment is even more amazing when one looks at Sams criminal past, a topic that is the focus of the first section of Machine Gun Preacher.
Having just been released from prison, Sam is met by his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan). After a passionate sexual interlude in the front seat of their Ford Pinto, Sam returns home where he greets his mother-in-law Daisy (Kathy Baker) and young daughter Paige (Madeline Carroll). Any love exhibited toward his wife just minutes earlier is quickly replaced by violent verbal anger when Sam discovers that during his incarceration Lynn found God and is no longer working as a stripper. Stomping out of the house, he joins his former buddies for a night of booze, drugs and attempted murder.
Determined to share her newfound faith, Lynn continues to beg Sam to join her at church. When he finally does, his spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ prompts him to give up liquor and drugs and do something positive with his life. Soon the family purchases their first home and the former rogue is operating a successful contracting business. Still determined to do more, Sam uses his building knowhow to construct his own church, with the aim of providing a place of worship for those who are just as troubled as he once was. The next step is even bolder. Listening to a visiting preacher talk about the plight of children in Sudan inspires this husband and father to head to Africa.
Initially arriving in the troubled country as a curious observer, Sam quickly gets caught up in the cause and demands the local government’s approval to build an orphanage in the middle of one of Sudans political hotspots. Not the type to take advice from anyone, Sam builds a hastily constructed structure that lacks guards or even a secure perimeter. So it is little surprise when his efforts are met with machine gun fire and rocket launchers. But his wife doesn’t allow him to wallow in dejection. She just tells him to build it again. This time he includes a barbed-wire fence reinforced with men and guns.
Continually facing one devastating calamity after another, Sam’s sermons at home become more agitated and aggressive as he attempts to milk support from parishioners with many problems and little to give. Trying to keep grips on his personal life, Sam risks losing his family, his home, the church and the children he is desperately trying to save. Yet he is determined to be a man of action pitted in the center of the battle, rather than providing relief in safer zones like some of the other aid workers (of whom he is critical).
If you come to this movie (which is rated R in the United States) expecting a warm and fuzzy story of Christian love, you will likely be disappointed and surprised. The violence is often explicit, profanities are frequent (there are about two-dozen sexual expletives alone), drug use is depicted (although serious consequences are included) and the early sexual scene is completely unnecessary. Put simply, this isn’t Sunday School.
Then there is the moral dilemma of Sam himself. While there is no question of his good intentions, watching the way he is portrayed in Machine Gun Preacher left me pondering the age-old question: Does the end justify the means?
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Machine Gun Preacher.
In the closing credits the"real” Sam asks the question (paraphrased), “If someone were to kidnap your daughter and I could get her back to you, would you care what methods I used to ensure her safety?” How would you answer this question? Are there times when violence is justified? An aid worker in the movie tells Sam there are too many guns in Africa already and he shouldn’t be employing violent methods to attempt to save children. Do you agree or disagree? Where is the balance in this equation?
The real Sam Childers and his wife Lynn have established an organization called Angels of East Africa.