Friday, October 14, 2011

Machine Gun Preacher: Madman or Man of God?

Back in August I was listening to the CBC and I listened to a remarkable story of a man named Sam Childers. His life is a tale of radical change that has brought change to many people's lives. It's a complicated story however that I'm not sure what to make of. I'm not unfamiliar with dramatic conversion stories; you may know them yourself, of how someone who lived a really bad life, became a Christian and now does God's work, right? Childer's story is like that; a guy who was a biker, drug dealer, loved guns, had a stripper for a girlfriend, just an all-around nasty dude. But both of them became Christians, renounced their former lifestyles and got married. But then Childers goes to Africa and encounters a side of life uglier than the one he used to live: the recruitment of child soldiers.

In Sudan he sees how a rebel group (ironically called The Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA) forces children to take up arms to fight in their cause. So Childers builds an orphanage and does what he used to do well in the old days: collect a lot of guns and use them to fight the LRA. Over time he earned the nickname "Machine Gun Preacher". Now this guy is a pastor, who sleeps with his Bible and an AK-47, so you can see how he got this name. The work that he does to help orphans in Sudan by rescuing them from a life of violence and giving them shelter & an education is a great thing. But what troubles me here is not only that he uses violence to liberate these children but that he believes that God actually tells him to do this.

Here's the thing: this guy is doing what no government or NGO dares to do by going into a war zone, hunt down the LRA and free child soldiers. No one but this guy is helping these kids. And he's actually winning this personal war that's he waging. He himself hasn't been killed or wounded (as far as I know, and I don't know if the same can be said about those who are part of his private army). He claims to be a man of God and cites David the warrior king of Israel as an example. And yes, like David of the Old Testament who was granted victory by God, Childers keeps winning the battles he fights. So it's hard to argue against what he's doing, because it seems as if God is on his side fighting a just cause. And yet as a Christian I know (and Childers should also know) that Jesus taught peaceful resistance to evil; Paul the Apostle also wrote that Christians fight a spiritual war with spiritual weapons and do not take up arms against others (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). While Childer's cause seems just it also troubles me in that his example can become a slippery slope. Does this mean that God condones the shooting of abortion doctors? I hardly think so, but you can see where something like Childer's actions can lead to.

Anyhow, I leave it to you my dear readers to wrestle with these questions. Perhaps you would say, "Right on!" when you hear this story as my atheist co-worker said when I told him this story. Maybe you cringe at the thought of yet more violence done in Jesus' name, as just as it appears to be, as I do. If you want to hear Childer's story you can click here to listen to the CBC feature. Check out the trailer of the movie made based on Childer's story and maybe even go see the film, as I plan to do. Maybe we can at least have a better understanding of a guy with an incredible story that begs the question, is Childers a madman or a man of God?

Update: I just came across this news article from the BBC, where President Obama has "... authorized a small number of combat-equipped US forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of (LRA leader) Joseph Kony from the battlefield." Apparently Childers is now getting some outside help from the world's lone superpower. Whether it'll be enough to get him to put away his guns has yet to be seen though...

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