Machine Gun Preacher – true story or self-serving propaganda?

Machine Gun Preacher is an interesting  movie with a silly name. It is the supposedly “true” story of Sam Childers. He is  an ex-con, recovering alcoholic from Pennsylvania  who found God and began saving children in Africa. Childers does many bad things in order to accomplish a good objective. The movie leaves it to the audience to decide whether or not it is ethically  acceptable to commit violence in the pursuit of good. There is also a real question as to whether or not the movie is accurate, or if it is just self-serving propaganda for Sam Childers.

Sam Childers receiving a Mother Teresa Award

Sam Childers receiving a Mother Teresa Award

Machine Gun Preacher begins with Childers being released from prison. He is completely unreformed and wants nothing more than to get back on drugs and party with his wild wife Lynn. When he gets home, he discovers that his wife has become an Evangelical Christian. She has given up her career as a stripper and is now a clean and sober waitress.

For a while the movie is like an after-school anti-drug special. Sam is angry at first, but then turns to God  and even becomes a self proclaimed preacher.  Then things get interesting when he takes a church trip to Africa to do charity work in Sudan. When he see that rebels are kidnapping children to use as child-soldiers, he takes up a machine gun and begins to fight the rebels himself.  Each night, the Machine Gun Preacher goes out to kill  rebels and rescue kidnapped children.

Sam Childers in Africa with his "rescued" kids

Sam Childers in Africa with his “rescued” kids

We know the movie sounds ridiculous, but , the cinematography and acting make it worth watching. Much of it was filmed in Africa, and the scenes with the children are very moving. Gerard Butler is excellent as Sam Childers, and Michelle  Monaghan is great as Sam’s wife Lynn.

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Madeline Carroll  is  terrific  as the preacher’s daughter Paige. Back in America, she is angry that her father is away so much and that any extra money the family has goes to kids in Africa. At one point she is told she cannot get a prom dress since the African kids are “more deserving” of the money.  She knows that this  is actually true, but that does not make the situation any easier for an American teenage girl.

Madeline Carroll plays Paige Childers in Machine Gun Preacher

Madeline Carroll plays Paige Childers in Machine Gun Preacher

Sam Childers is an actual Evangelical gun-toting  preacher who has fought in Africa while maintaining a charity.  In 2013 he was honored with a Mother Teresa Award. However, there is a dark side to Sam Childers that the movie completely ignores.  His own son in law has accused Sam of skimming money from the charity.

Lynn & Sam Childers

Lynn & Sam Childers

While watching the movie, we did wonder where all the money came from for extended trips back and forth to Africa and for the building of an orphanage in Africa. Machine Gun Preacher strongly implies that all the funds came from Sam’s personal donations. In fact, he has his own website, and collects considerable sums from many sources. Whether any of those donations ended  up in the preacher’s own pocket instead of Africa is still a matter of speculation.

Even more worrying than potential embezzlement concerns are the allegations of arms dealing, kidnapping and child abuse.  The FBI has searched the charity’s “clothing shipments” to Africa under suspicion that they are a cover for weapons trafficking.  There are also people in Africa who claim that not all the kids Sam Childers has “rescued” are actually orphans. In some cases it is alleged that  he forcibly took kids from their parents. He felt he could feed and care for them better than their actual families. Some Africans also say that the orphanage itself has very poor conditions and the children are not really  well fed.

So is Sam Childers a tough-guy saint, or a money stealing con-man? Did he really give up his life of crime to serve God, or did he just become a more successful criminal? Unfortunately, Machine Gun Preacher does not address any of these issues. It was made with the full cooperation of Preacher Childers, and is more propaganda film than documentary.  It would have been a much better movie if it had been made without the preacher’s cooperation.

Still, Machine Gun Preacher is worth seeing, since it gives us a look at a fascinating character who most Americans never heard of.  However, after you watch it, surf the internet for a little bit to see the other side of the story. Then see if you can figure out if the real Machine Gun Preacher is Saint or Sinner.

 

 

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