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Why supporting Sam Childers, aka the Machine Gun Preacher, is a very bad idea

August 29, 2011

UPDATE: This is part one of a three part series. Links to the other two articles are at the bottom. Please read all three before you comment

So, I first heard about Sam Childers back at the beginning of August. I thought about writing a blog post about him, but then decided against it, because I thought it was just a dumb fringe thing that no one would ever hear about or support. I mean, seriously, he calls himself the Machine Gun Preacher for crying out loud. I was wrong. Not only is there a movie coming out about him and “the work” he does, but apparently he spoke at a church in Nashville yesterday and I saw a few friends on facebook talking about looking forward to going to hear him.

I can no longer stay silent on this issue.

Just because someone claims to be “saving the children” does not mean that you should just support them. You need to do your homework and make sure that 1) what they are claiming to do, they are actually doing, 2) they are not doing more harm than good, and 3) that they understand the issues. Sadly, this needs to be said as well: you should not just give to them or support them just because they claim to be doing “God’s work.” Sam Childers is no different.

A number of people have already posted about Mr. Childers, including Brett Keller (here and here), the Roving Bandit, Tales From the Hood, and the original Vanity Fair article by Ian Urbina.

UPDATE: It has become clear I need to clarify a few things. The Vanity Fair article was written by Ian Urbina after interviewing Mr. Childers and spending time with him, in Sudan, seeing the work he engages in. Brett Keller’s post was based off of that article and other research that he did on Mr. Childers. My post is based off of Brett’s research, the Vanity Fair article, and others who have written about Mr. Childers. So, everything that either Brett or I discuss about Mr. Childers or the work he does comes straight from what he said about himself and his work.

Brett did such an amazing job researching this topic that I am just going to quote from his piece and add my thoughts to it.

The short version of his coming-to-the-big-screen-soon story is this: Childers used to be a drug-dealing gang member who loved motorcycles almost as much as he craved women, drugs, and violence – especially violence. He fell in love with his wife after they met through a drug deal, and she convinced him to turn his life around. Sam found Jesus, got involved with the church, and went to Africa. There he encountered the Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and it use of child soldiers. He found his calling leading armed rescue missions to free enslaved children in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. Now that his life story is being made into a movie — a goal Childers has long sought — his ministry will only grow stronger and save more children.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? This story has everything. No wonder so many Christians have rallied to his cause. The only problem is that there is far more to this story and it none of it is good.

I mean, just look at how he describes himself in this banner image that is front and center on the main page of his website:

Preacher. Missionary. Soldier. Mercenary.

Yeah, those are just the words that a humanitarian should use to describe their life. And if that wasn’t enough, here is a video from his website describing his work:

Brett goes on to state

From there the story gets more elaborate. According to Vanity Fair, Childers claims to be feeding and supplying the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a southern Sudanese armed group whose political wing has more recently become a major component of independent South Sudan’s government. Childers said that he “made his home in Uganda available to the rebels for a radio-relay station.”

Childers said he gets his weapons from Russians, but only legally. He eventually got frustrated with Urbina’s questions about his arms dealing, but he already admitted a lot. Childers is stockpiling arms, including heavy weapons like RPGs that seem excessive for the needs of an orphanage’s self-protection. He’s storing these weapons in a church at his orphanage (which presumably might make it a target) and he sells weapons to the SPLA, which is not a squeaky clean group. While better than the LRA, the SPLA also has been known to use child soldiers during the period Childers sold them arms. Worse is Childers’ mention of selling weapons to “factions in Rwanda and Congo,” all of which are involved in a convoluted series of conflicts in which all parties have committed terrible crimes. If Childers is truly trying to bring an end to conflict in the region, he should start by recognizing that pumping more small arms into the area isn’t going to help.

Let me get this straight. He stockpiled weapons inside churches and orphanages and then supplied some of the rebel groups in the region with some of these weapons? So, you are going to bring peace to the region by supplying groups with arms? Why do I have a feeling that is not going to work?

In addition to selling arms, Childers claims that his “rescue missions” have also led to his personal engagement in combat. When asked how many LRA members he personally killed, “[Childers] reluctantly admits to ‘more than 10.’” In another long profile – from April 9, 2011 in The Times of London (which I unfortunately can’t find online) Childers appears to say he’s only killed in self-defense, though it’s hard to deem armed expeditions to find the LRA “self-defense.”

I’m not sure how you can mount armed rescue missions and then call killing “self-defense.” How can Christians support a man who has no qualms, and even boasts, about killing people to accomplish his task? I’m pretty sure Jesus has a problem with this and we should too. Christians should be on the front lines denouncing this man and his actions. He may have a great heart and desire to really help people, but that is no excuse for how he is going about it. No Christian, or anyone in general, should support this man. Sadly, many Christians have connected with his violent streak and will pour more and more money into his projects.

Brett sums it all up with six reasons why supporting Mr. Childers is a very bad idea:

  1. Violence. By his own claims Childers has personally killed people – in the double digits. He is not a man of peace, and it’s hard to see how his claimed tactics bring the situation closer to that. Even if he were the best option for getting Kony (highly doubtful), it doesn’t seem to me that the use of child soldiers in the region would disappear with Kony’s demise. Also, since many of Kony’s troops are themselves soldiers, how does Childers avoid killing them?
  2. Weapons. Again by his own claims, Childers has sold weapons to armed groups in Sudan, Rwanda, and the Congo. There are no happy-go-lucky bands of nice Christian warriors in the area; every group I’ve read about has been accused of terrible crimes at some point. Feeding more weapons into the conflict will only make things worse, and end up hurting the children Childers purports to help. His solutions are woefully shortsighted.
  3. Lies. Childers claimed to be a “white commander” in the SPLA, but the SPLA has publicly denounced him and called for legal action. This apparent falsehood casts some doubt on whether Childers really does the things he claims – the violence and weapons described above – so we’re left choosing between whether he is dishonest or dangerous. Or both.
  4. Disrespect. Much of what Childers’ trafficks in – weapons aside – is poverty porn of the worst sort. By only emphasizing the worst aspects of any situation Childers may drive up his donations, but he demeans those he seeks to serve. He goes even further in his report on South Darfur, prompting a commenter who worked in the region to call him out.
  5. The White Man’s burden. Childers’ story is only the latest in a long history of “Whites in Shining Armour” narratives that emphasize the heroics of white Americans and Europeans while downplaying the agency of the people of Sudan and elsewhere in Africa.
  6. It’s a bad model to begin with. Saundra S of the blog Good Intentions Are Not Enough has written extensively on why donors should be wary of orphanages.

If all this isn’t enough to make you rethink supporting this man and his organization, J, over at Tales From the Hood, does a really good job of explaining how Mr. Childer’s actions effect humanitarian aid workers everywhere:

…when Sam Childers puts this on YouTube, it puts me and my team in danger.

How? Because every time he fires off a few rounds (you know, for the children), he further cements in the minds of insurgent groups around the world that humanitarian workers are also mercenaries.

Every time another famous “humanitarian” poses with an AK47 for a family Christmas card or some wannabe famous humanitarians brandish weapons in the name of “raising awareness”it puts the real aid workers at even greater risk.

…But thanks to the Machine Gun Preacher, next time I’m stopped and questioned at a checkpoint, it will be even harder for me to make the case that I’m really there (wherever ‘there’ is) for strictly humanitarian purposes.

And so every time the inarticulate Machine Gun Preacher packs heat into South Sudan he makes the entire world more dangerous for me and my friends and innumerable real aid worker colleagues. Every time he puts up another video of himself jumping into his white SUV with an AK47 across his lap, he increases the likelihood that I or someone I care about is going to get shot.

We need to be much more careful of the people and organizations we support, advocate for, and hold as heros. We have a responsibility to understand the issues and not let “good stories” blind us to reality of a situation or person. As Christians, we cannot stand for people using the name of Jesus to engage in actions that are completely and utterly contrary to Jesus and the Bible, regardless of what they are trying to do and who they are trying to help. This does no one any good, least of all those this man claims to be trying to save.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I will not be seeing the movie.

There are two other articles in this series:
More on the Machine Gun Preacher story
A biblical response to the Machine Gun Preacher

UPDATE: For those who apparently do not know, Ad hominem are attacks that “can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes. The desired result of an ad hom attack is to undermine one’s opponent without actually having to engage with their argument or present a compelling argument of one’s own.” If your comment attacks my or another’s character as a way to deflect from the argument being made, I will not post it.

COMMENT POLICY: I welcome feedback, but for the sake of keeping some standard of quality here to encourage others to read the discussion, I will delete comments that have a) gratuitous profanity or other NSFW (not safe for work) material or c) nothing but ad hominems that don’t add to the discussion.

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37 Comments
  1. August 30, 2011 1:35 am

    great job of looking past hype and bringning awareness Jon! This guy may be extremely well intentioned (but more likely hiding behind the guise of good intention)..but the disconnect is painful. And to think, that this isnt just encouraged, but marketed!? whoa! kinda nauseating.

    • August 30, 2011 9:10 am

      Thanks Paul. It would be one thing if this guy did his thing and nobody paid attention to him or supported him, but it kills me to think of all the people who blindly support this and don’t ever ask the question, “is this right?”

  2. August 30, 2011 1:38 am

    great post here by my friend Jon on the ‘machine gun preacher’

  3. August 30, 2011 1:06 pm

    Great post and good research Jon!

    I’ve only recently heard anything about this guy when I saw the movie title on IMDB.

    Dangerous stuff indeed.

    • August 30, 2011 1:51 pm

      Thank you. I’m glad you liked it

  4. August 30, 2011 9:37 pm

    Sam Childers does do what he says he does. The children he saved gave him the nickname “Machine Gun Preacher,” and so he decided to go with it. What Sam has done over the past decade by rescuing, housing, feeding and protecting these children has worked so well, in fact, that there have not been any atrocious murders in the area he’s patrolled for two years. And now Sam can concentrate on establishing more feeding programs and drilling wells across the region. Neither one of you, Jon or Brett, have done any first-hand research on Sam Childers, the Angels of East Africa organization, or the Children’s Village and your comments to discredit what Sam does are baseless. He does not “stockpile” weapons at the Children’s Village to sell them to the SPLA. He gets weapons through the SPLA to do what he does because he’s a legitimate member of the SPLA. He’s not an arms dealer. And if you were so good at foiling what the LRA does so much so that there’s a price on your head, you’d be constantly armed, too. Other international aid workers have no fear that their efforts will be damaged or endangered by what Sam Childers does in Africa. In fact, you might be able to do more of what you do because of him. Do some first-hand research instead of spreading shoddy, unprofessional reporting.

    • August 31, 2011 10:28 am

      Diane, thank for your comment. I am not sure if you read the Vanity Fair article, but if you had you would see that it was written based off of Ian’s time with Mr. Childers in Sudan, interviewing him and viewing the work he does. So, everything that either Brett or I discussed came explicitly from what Mr. Childers said about himself and what he does. He, himself, stated that he collects arms and either gives or sells them to groups. His words, no one elses.

      Also, if you read both of Brett’s posts you would see that there is controversy surrounding Mr. Childers membership in the SPLA. But the bigger question is, is it appropriate for him to be a member of an armed rebel group, which incidentally, has used child soldiers in the past, including during the period Childers sold them arms (http://www.sudantribune.com/SPLA-to-demobilize-all-child,36125).

      As for him being armed and that causing problems for other aid workers, I will just say this. Many aid workers and organizations work in extremely difficult and dangerous areas (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and even in the areas of Sudan where he works) and they don’t carry weapons, despite the constant threat of violence from armed rebel groups in the area. Lately, it has come to light that mercenaries are impersonating humanitarian workers (http://talesfromethehood.com/2009/11/25/journalists-wtf/). Take that and add to it those like Mr. Childers who carry weapons and have admitted to killing people (again, his own words). Now, when a legitimate aid worker gets stopped at some rebel/military checkpoint, they are put in more danger because those manning the checkpoints might just shoot first and ask questions later for fear that the person they stopped might just try to kill them. And having spent time in many of these places, it is a thought that crosses my mind.

    • August 31, 2011 11:10 am

      How accurately was Sam quoted in the Vanity Fair article? You’re repeating someone else’s work. The author could have twisted what Sam said to suit his own purposes. And even what he wrote that wasn’t altered may have been changed by an editor. I have written many articles where what I wrote was changed without my knowledge and printed with errors.
      Again, all I’m saying is DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH about Sam Childers and what he does instead of repeating others’ thoughts that are based on things that are not true. The purpose of the blog, why you shouldn’t support Sam Childers, is damaging to the thousands of people Sam has already helped and the tens of thousands more he can help in the future. See the film and see the documentary. Sam Childers is saving and improving lives in Africa. Bottom line. Other aid workers are not being harmed or threatened by his actions.

    • September 4, 2011 10:51 pm

      Diane, you are obviously very passionate about Mr. Childers and the work he does. Sadly, sometimes passion can blind us to the truth of a situation. You have already assumed that everything that Mr. Childers says and does is right, maybe because he is a christian and desires to help children, and thus have assumed that all of this other stuff about Mr. Childers is wrong. However, what if these quotes from him are indeed true and what if the criticisms of his work are warranted? You are asking me to do due diligence in my research, but are you willing to do the same? Just because you say something in a church, on a website, in a documentary or movie, doesn’t mean that it is truth and just because you want to help, doesn’t mean that you know the best way to do it. Up to this point, you have only offered your opinions that my statements and research are wrong, however, if you have actual proof of this I would love to see it.

      You also said “Other aid workers are not being harmed or threatened by his actions,” but how can you emphatically state that? Are you saying that just because Mr. Childers said that? Are you saying that from personal experience working in a conflict zone or dangerous area? My guess is that it is the former. If you were to ask just about any NGO working in that area of the world, they would tell you that Mr. Childers actions put them and their employees in harms way. NGOs already have to deal with the constant threat of violence from rebel groups and militias, yet none of them are armed. Ever. No legitimate NGO would ever arm its employees regardless of the threat of violence. Now they have to deal with rebels that are even more on edge because some “humanitarian” is running around with a gun trying to kill people and so when they come across an aid worker, there is a good chance they are going to assume he has a gun and they just might shoot first.

  5. Wayne Johnson permalink
    August 31, 2011 1:41 am

    You really need to do your due diligence better, Diane Williams is right, Brett Keller has done some bad research and quoted from other people that are not reputable, apart from Ian Urbina’s Vanity Fair article (a notable journalist) and that is his opinion, I have serious doubts about the other story tellers.

    Get of your backsides and go see/call and talk with people that have been to Sudan and Northern Uganda, talk with people that where there between 1999 and 2005, that’s the time Childers refers to in his book and what the movie is based on in Africa.

    If you cannot do it properly then I don’t believe you have the right to put Childers down.

    • August 31, 2011 10:37 am

      Wayne, thank you for your thoughts. As I told Diane, the Vanity Fair article was based off Ian’s time with Mr. Childers in Sudan, interviewing him and viewing the work he does. Thus everything I discussed was based solely off of what Mr. Childers said about himself and his actions. Both of Brett’s posts were based off of that article and other research that he did. His research was thorough, including talking with people that know or have worked with Mr. Childers in the past.

    • August 31, 2011 11:33 am

      The Vanity Fair article is not all “facts”–it contains Ian Urbina’s OPINIONS of what Sam does and why and he is critical of Sam being armed. You can’t do what Sam does without being armed, otherwise why would Joseph Kony fear him?

      As Sam has often stated during radio talk show interviews: if someone took your child and Sam said he could get that child back, would you care how he does it?

    • September 4, 2011 10:59 pm

      Diane, our God has a heart for justice and since we are made in His image we have that same heart. However, there are ways to seek justice that please God and there are ways that don’t. You stated that “You can’t do what Sam does without being armed, otherwise why would Joseph Kony fear him?” You are correct, he cannot do what he does without being armed, but the point is that he shouldn’t be doing what he does in the first place. There are much better ways to accomplish God’s purposes than the ways Sam has chosen.

      So, while it is hard to hear, what Sam does is unbiblical. Asking the question “if someone took your child and I could get that child back, would you care how I did it?” is really powerful and emotional, tugging at our heart-strings and causing us to rally to the cause, however, it and its implications are wrong on many levels.

      Nothing in the new covenant, nor anything Jesus said, nor any part of God’s character would make it acceptable to state your intention to, and try to, kill someone, regardless of what that person has done. There is also no way that you could make a biblical case for trying to “rescue” children by intentionally seeking out confrontation with the intent to use your weapons. Yes, these kids need rescuing, however, there are NGOs out there doing this, and none of them are doing it with violence (I personally know a number of these).

      We must see beyond emotional slogans, beyond good intentions, beyond doing “God’s work” and realize that Jesus calls us to something greater than this. Christ calls us to know him, be like him, and express him. How can you claim to be a mercenary, as he has called himself, and say that you are expressing Christ? Just because you are trying to rescue children, that doesn’t give you cart blanche to do whatever you want.

    • September 25, 2011 2:39 pm

      Jon,

      Can you show me or demonstrate to the readers here that what Sam does is not Bibilical?

    • September 26, 2011 10:00 am

      I am working on a post right now to answer this question.

      At the same time, can you show me how what he does is biblical?

  6. September 5, 2011 6:57 pm

    Jon, I couldn’t care less if you or Sam Childers are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, Hindus, agnostics or atheists, or how you interpret or misinterpret the Bible. The point here is that neither you nor Brett Keller know Sam Childers or what he’s really accomplished and is still accomplishing now. There haven’t been any raids on the villages in Sam’s area of patrol with the South Sudan Army, of which he is a legitimate member, because he provides a deterrent. It’s unfair to use hearsay or random citations from the New Testament to try to convince others to not donate to the AOEA, which provides clean water and food to thousands of people who would otherwise have NONE. Sam Childers and his unit drive past abandoned NGO vehicles on impassible roads because he won’t let 2-foot-deep mud or armed rebels stop them.

    Quite frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass why Sam does what he does. What’s important is that he is digging wells and protecting them, providing safe shelter, food, clothes, education, and vocational training for starving, abandoned, and tormented people. And all you’re doing here is criticizing him for “why” he does it.

    So instead of bashing someone who provides a service that NO ONE ELSE IS DOING for people who are forced out of their homes and starving, why don’t you donate a can of vegetables or a dollar to your local food bank for every meal the AOEA serves PER DAY at the Children’s Village alone. You can start with $1,500. This doesn’t include the thousands of other meals AOEA provides PER DAY to other parts of Uganda and Sudan and will soon provide in Darfur and Somalia.

  7. September 5, 2011 7:01 pm

    And if you’d like to include all meals PER DAY in total for the time being, it’d be $3,500.

  8. Jenny :) permalink
    September 6, 2011 2:42 pm

    Wow! To all of the above! It does make me want to do my own research on all of this…for sure! I really do think it might have a negative effect on what other groups and people are trying to accomplish there…as a Christian (which I won’t assume everyone who is reading/responding to this is)…I’ve talked to so many missionaries who have talked about people who come in, decide to act on what they think is best, and ruin so much of the work that the missionaries have accomplished. History has shown that one string of violence leads to another…it never stops…so I can’t imagine this really being a way of bringing about peace. I know it restores families…but it also tears someone else’s apart. And are some of those rebel soldiers being killed former child soldiers? It just makes me sad, is all. But…that is just my opinion…not research. :)

    But I do want to say this about my friend Jon…there is no one I know personally who cares more about what goes on in the world. He is not just some ‘blogger’ behind a computer…he gives so much of his resources (especially money) to help out causes in other countries (including supporting children overseas), volunteers with refugee children here, has gone on numerous trips around the world to assist in humanitarian and Christian aid, and volunteers his time (very consistently and in large quantities) to help with various groups and their fund raising/awareness needs (typically by freely giving time to design and maintain websites, etc.). He has done so much, and spent so much time in many areas of the world affected by poverty, that I value whatever he has to say about poverty-stricken countries. I look to him as an example of how I should be living out more of what I say I believe.

    Thanks Jon for bringing this up. This really does help me want to look more into this and do more research on it instead of taking things at face value.

  9. September 6, 2011 3:03 pm

    Bottom line is that the actions Sam Childers took over the past decade-plus has stopped the violence in the area where the Children’s Village is now. It took someone going to that extreme to make that area along the South Sudan northern Uganda border a safer place to live.

  10. Vanessa permalink
    September 12, 2011 3:10 pm

    Jon,
    I don’t know what your background is but I have live the civil war back in my country and I have work as a missionary in other places as well. Therefore I can tell you that you will not understand the situation and how you can help other people if you do not go hands in. I know for a fact that is hard to help other people in an internal war if you do not have weapons of any kind. Machetes are very common in the place I come from but when the rebel groups or guerillas bring heavy weapons is more than normal that the common people acquires the same or less expensive weapons. Is all about survival and those who work as missionary with no weapons knows that the changes or dying are 100% everyday. So go to any country with internal war and do some humanitarian work and then start criticizing the others (that are actually doing something) base of your own experience and not base on others people work (no matter how prestigious they are).

    • September 12, 2011 5:03 pm

      Vanessa,

      Thank you for your comments. You stated that it “is hard to help other people in an internal war if you do not have weapons.” I am going to assume you are referring to missionaries and humanitarian aid workers and not locals? If that is the case, then I need you to substantiate that argument. I know plenty of missionaries and NGOs that work in some of the most dangerous places in the world, including Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan and yet even under the constant threat of violence, they do not arm themselves. These groups are helping people, saving lives, and working towards ending the conflicts in the regions where they work and they do it all without using weapons. These people and groups realize that not being armed prevents them from doing some things, however they understand that the pros far outweigh the cons.

      Carrying weapons or stockpiling weapons in the places you work only makes you and those you claim to be helping more of a target. The goal of any organization working in these areas should be to decrease the number of weapons floating around, not increase them.

      I have one question I would like for you to answer. If the mission of God is “the revelation and expression of His Son, Jesus Christ” then can you explain to me how God would be ok with a Christian/missionary buying weapons and supply rebel groups with those weapons, stating that they want to kill someone and try to do it, and stating that they seek to actively go and rescue people and have no problems killing people in the process?

      And so you know, I have spent time in a number of countries that are in the midst of conflict, so I feel like I have enough experience to speak on these matters.

  11. Brian permalink
    September 25, 2011 3:19 pm

    Jon,

    You are supplying some odd ethical arguments here.

    1.Violence
    2.Weapons
    3.Lies
    4.Disrespect
    5.He’s White
    6.Bad Model

    So looking at 1-3 it is pretty clear that you don’t believe in or have any understanding of just war. I recognize we’re dealing with a single person here, but you are making arguments on the basis that violence, weapons, and lies are always wrong. I don’t want to presume what you think about weapons and violence, but if you are just applying a strict set of ethics that say all violence is bad and all weapons are bad, you will never understand anything Mr. Childers does. I’m not sure if he is right or not in what he does. It is very hard for any of us to determine that unless we have a very good understanding of the area AND have seen his decision making process in action. Logic can get is a certain distance, but it does seem that you have limited your ability to even consider what he does because you are fundamentally opposed to justice through force. I don’t want to be trite, but what is your view on gun control in the US? If you are for increased gun control or think that individual citizens or Christians should not carry guns because that is the responsibility of the government to provide protection or because it is not ethically right to use force to protect or serve justice oneself or others, than I could easily see how you would condemn what Childers does simply because of his methods.

    From a Christian perspective we should be very careful to confine ourselves to methods or processes that we find familiar. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never experienced the kind of violence or depravity of man that exists in war zones. From what we read and see, the kind of violence that exists in Sudan is of the worst kind. Integrating children into a terrible conflict belies our whole sense of justice or right.

    Given the violence and what one man believes is his calling, what do you think a more appropriate action would be? Would you prefer that the hundreds of children that he has rescued would not be rescued? You seem to imply that he was wrong by killing 10 or so of the captors. Do you really think that is true? Do you think that he was sinning by killing them? Are you prepared to make that judgement? I’m not saying you can’t, just that you need to provide some reasoning for saying that instead of just presuming that violence is wrong or that killing is wrong.

    I might address your other three points later, but they don’t even seem like arguments. The first is disrespect. I read his report and I only ask that you post the responses, because to say that is disrespectful is very presumptuous when you aren’t willing to substantiate the statement. I’m not even going to address the statement about white men. Really? That is one of your arguments. I guess since he’s a white american he shouldn’t help anyone who’s of a different color than him. And finally, you say that the model is wrong. Well that’s convenient. I guess I should never give to an orphanage again because you’ve decided that the model is wrong. And I don’t really care what the article you wrote says. I’m sure it is well reasoned, but if it claims that orphanages are wrong and you are using that to claim that what he is doing is wrong, I have zero respect for that kind of narrow dogmatic thinking.

    So, I’m willing to have a reasonable discussion about this guy because I found your blog while trying to do research myself. My initial inclination is to be worried about his motives as his fame increases. However, I have no problem with the use of violence if necessary. I also don’t have a problem with him doing things in a way that is unconventional to you. That seems to be the crux of your arguments. You simply just aren’t comfortable with what he does and you are trying to come up with reasoning to support your feelings. I would try working from the other direction.

    • September 29, 2011 4:30 pm

      Brian, I am going to be honest, you state that you want to have a reasonable discussion, but nothing in what you wrote leads me to that assessment. You take my statements to their extreme, regardless of if I meant it that way or not. You say that you are trying to do research to figure out if what he is doing is good or not, but then you state that you won’t click on any of the links in my post, because you don’t care what they say and allude to the fact that I wrote them. Interestingly enough, there is not a single link in that post that leads to an article or post that I wrote. They all lead to other people in the aid and development community and their thoughts on different subjects (so that people can see that these views are from more than just one person).

      If you did your due diligence in research (which you say you want to do) you would find that the aid and development community has a lot to say about poverty porn (disrespect), the white knight and white savior issues, and the problem with people thinking orphanages are always the answer or the best answer.

      If you want to have a real discussion, I would be glad to have it with you, but if you are just going to be argumentative, make everything I say mean something else, and not read other stuff, then there is no point in continuing this conversation.

  12. November 9, 2011 7:28 pm

    Interesting article on the ethics, but very little understanding of the culutral differences and challenges… As somone who has been to Uganda and southern Sudan. Who has met some of the people who have killed as part of the LRA, and had families killed, and someone who works in Africa and has done for 10 years, I can say that it isn’t just as simple as some people are making out.

    It this war was in USA or Europe we could apply many of these arguments.. South Sudan doesnt even have its own currency. There is no infrastructure. No hospitals. No police, and the SPLA was the closet they have to a national army for the south. Sure they are not perfect. But are we saying that the people in our armed forces are?

    This is such a complicated issue that you could debate it for weeks and still never get close to understanding.. Most of what I have read above has good points and good roots to them. But it just aint that simple.

    My suggestion is that we forget about sam and turn this back on ourselves as we sit comfortably on out computers with a cup of coffee and the TV in the backgorund.

    Question. Are we more comfortable criticising people like sam, because we are not comfortable with the fact that we do nothing. (relatively) I came away from the movie challenged… Not to support Sam… But to do more for Jesus and for kids in Africa.

    • November 11, 2011 3:59 pm

      Scott, there have been a lot of people who have written articles and posts on this subject recently. Some of them live in the region where these things took place, some of them are aid and development professionals with decades of experience, and some of them are reporters and journalists digging deeper into the story. I believe most these people, myself included, have a pretty good understanding of the cultural differences and challenges in this situation.

      As I have stated in my other comments here, no other humanitarian organization engages in armed rescue of children (including all those that work in the same area that Mr. Childers works in) no matter what the situation is. What he is doing is wrong and it is that simple. I talk a little more about this in another post (http://handswideopen.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/more-on-the-machine-gun-preacher-story/). And if you want a biblical perspective on why this is wrong I wrote about that as well (http://handswideopen.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/a-biblical-response-to-the-machine-gun-preacher/).

      I think neither your suggestion about turning this back on ourselves nor your question about criticizing are valid. Even if I do nothing that doesn’t mean that just because he is doing something that it is ok. That is a bad argument and something that pervades the thinking of many Christians and Christian NGOs (as long as we are doing something it is fine). However, good intentions are not good enough and they don’t mean that you are not causing more harm than good.

      Doing more for Jesus and for kids in Africa is only good if what you are doing is actually helping and not hurting. Most people will walk away from that movie with the thought “hey, I can go to Africa and help kids.” But the problem with that is that it maintains the “white knight/santa” view of helping and it gives people the idea that they don’t have to understand the best ways to help, they just need to do something and that is not right.

    • November 12, 2011 1:59 pm

      ***No matter what the situation is. What he is doing is wrong and it is that simple.

      I disagree – It is not simple….. Let me ask you a simple question and put you in a similar situation in your own culutre? If you are standing outside a school in your local community. You are picking up your kids after coming from a shooting range in which you attend weekly. As you wait outside you see several people enter your child’s school with Guns. You pick up the phone and call the police and they tell you they will be 5 mins. You hear a gun shot and know that in 5 mins they could all be dead.
      Would you get your gun and intercept them? Or would you stand outside and pray that God would send the Police quicker.

    • November 12, 2011 3:24 pm

      Before you read this and assume that I support Sam. I dont – I am undecided. I just dont know. I personally would not give to his organisation, but that is because my focus is on building schools in Africa. But that doesnt stop the fact that I am torn by the fact that kids are abducted and I hate that so little is done.

      If this was a simple issue, then people would not even be blogging about it. That is one fact that i am sure off.

      I release that I personally have so much more to learn. So many people I respect as evangelical Christians and leaders disagree on many doctrines I hold true. Although I believe them to be true I will not stand up with a dogmatism and claim that I know that Bible better, and that my answer is the correct answer. I have been a Christian for over 20 years. Studied at Bible school and work in full time ministry, but I may be wrong. I have a lot to learn. When I get to heaven, then I will be sure!

      I also realize that the reason why Christians disagree, is mostly to do with their own personal “culture” or influences and life, which dictate how they interpret the bible. The truth is that we all come to the bible from different experiences and for that reason we will never agree, (unless God wants us to and steps in). However I think God actually want to see how we relate to people when we don’t agree with. It is essential for that reason that we approach with care.

      As soon as Christians disagree, for me, it raises a warning bell in my head – What if I am the one who is wrong? Do I really know God that well that I can say 100% I am right?

      A few comments

      *** “I believe most these people, myself included, have a pretty good understanding of the cultural differences and challenges in this situation.”

      I agree that most Aid workers in that area have a better understanding that the average Joe however most Aid workers are not working with Grass roots. Often they go in as a Doctor or an engineer for a short period and have very little understanding of what happens outside their own remit.

      I have worked with some of these workers in Northern Uganda. They move from one disaster to another and if you were actually to ask them directly if they understand the culture they would not say no. The people, who I know and have visited in south Sudan and northern Uganda and have lived there for years, have all told me that their understanding of the culture is very limited and they will never understand it. The longer they live amongst the people the more they realize the text books and their years of training means very little. From my own experiences and I have spent many years in Africa I agree with them. You cannot disconnect that fact that we are judging their culture from a totally different vantage point. The other thing that I have noticed is that these “professionals” (like most professions) will often disagree on some key issues, despite the same training. This was never more real to me that when I was in Yei (Sudan), and met with one English worker and one American worker. Both had lived in Africa for around 10 years. Both had worked for the UN. But they strongly disagreed on what was needed in southern Sudan.

      If you do have an understanding of the cultural differences it does not show in this report. A lot of the reports are 2nd or 3rd hand accounts. You personally cannot stand over their accuracy. I think you also need to very clear here that this is essentially a lawless society. There is no police force, no local government (until recently). No fire service or hospitals that are linked. The SPLA does have its problems, some of which I have seen firsthand, but they are the closet Southern Sudan has to a national Army (Without a functioning government).

      In our culture we don’t take the law into our own hand because we have “the law”. However even in our culture the law, allows for “reasonable and measured force”. When there is no law and there is a terrorist army who are going to cut the breasts of the women and the lips of the children. How do we measure that response?

      What would Jesus suggest? I am not sure. I don’t think he would suggest that you sit back and let them rape your mother and or children.

      *** As I have stated in my other comments here, no other humanitarian organization engages in armed rescue of children.

      This alone does not make it wrong. It makes him unique but not wrong. Take a step back here. Can you name any humanitarian organizations that have “rescued” children from the LRA and provide an alternative from of rescue? Does he call himself “humanitarian?”
      My point here is what is your solution? We all agree that children should not be abducted.
      Most people agree that something should be done.
      Why don’t you write an article of what we can do? – I don’t mean the after stuff.. loads of organizations do that. What can we do now to stop the abductions?

      *** I think neither your suggestion about turning this back on ourselves nor your question about criticizing are valid.

      Why? Interestingly the film makes a parallel between Joseph Kony and Sam. A very thought provoking and challenging parallel. Your article is very negative about Sam, but you totally miss the bigger issue “behind” the film. KONY (in the name of Jesus) has abducted and killed thousands upon thousands and when we it was raised at the UN nothing was done. Christians and Governments in the UK and America did nothing until recently! Why – because of the colour of their skin! When war broke out in Northern Ireland, everyone wanted to be part of it. But not in Africa. You write about one man, and you miss that fact that we are all part of this problem! Not just Sudan, and Uganda, but Africa, S. America the world!!!

      You cannot watch the film without asking the question about our own lifestyle and what we are doing. It has a very strong theme and the personal struggle that Sam has between the American lifestyle and the children in need. Anyone who has spent any time with people in extreme need will resonate with this aspect of the movie. It raises key questions about stewardship and how we use God’s resources. A more balance report would have taken some of the good elements from Sam’s sacrifice and noted what we could all learn from this. (note there are also negative elements of his sacrifice) Your comment about this not being valid is concerning and raises questions over your compassion for children in need

      *** Even if I do nothing that doesn’t mean that just because he is doing something that it is ok.
      This statement is messed up. Forget what Sam is doing!!!! What are you doing? You are answerable to God and I am pretty sure he won’t really care what you have to say about Sam when he asks you “what you did for the least of these!”

      ***Doing more for Jesus and for kids in Africa is only good if what you are doing is actually helping and not hurting.

      I totally agree with you to this point…

      *** Most people will walk away from that movie with the thought “hey, I can go to Africa and help kids.” But the problem with that is that it maintains the “white knight/santa” view of helping and it gives people the idea that they don’t have to understand the best ways to help, they just need to do something.
      It is not the role of the public to understand the best methods. That is the role of the NGO’s – The people donate to NGO’s so they don’t have to understand.
      What do you base this idea on? We have had a large discussion post movie about this and with a group of 100 people not one person had this view. They all wanted to do more. Some wanted to go out (with an organization.) – most where put of “going”. They all had concerns about the methodology but most where so far removed from Sam’s personal experiences they would never dream of emulating what he tried. But most of them had questions! What can I do? How do I make a difference? I think you insult Christians if you assume that they are all going to watch the movie and turn into Christian Rambos.

  13. Anonymous permalink
    December 11, 2011 11:19 pm

    to the author of this article…

    i do not know how true the stories are about him selling weapons or neglecting the children in his orphanage. So, i will not comment on that. But, if you have a problem with him killing people…people who burns down villages and rapes young girls and cuts of people’s limbs…then i guess you should go down there and fight the war with non violence. Let’s see if you can get the LRA to listen to your non violent message. When people turns into animals…into unreasonable monsters…non violence doesn’t do any good. You plead to people…you fight the monsters. I have no problem with Childers killing them in the hundreds…as long as he is killing those people who spend their days raping and brutally murdering children and women and men and plundering villages.

  14. N/A permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:12 am

    So You are saying that people should not defend those children and just sit around and do nothing waiting for peace cause that’s what “Jesus” would do??? really that’s a load of crap if I ever heard it… people have to fight for what they believe in and their rights… If someone came to america and was taking our children and killing us you are seriously saying you wouldn’t want someone to come help them no matter what that required?

  15. Anonymous permalink
    February 27, 2012 1:36 am

    Fight fire with fire i say. there are peacefull warriors and there are the other kind sam is the other kind thats not a bad thing the world needs both. i respect that he is putting his life directly in danger to save the lives of people he has never meet most americans are to lazy or self centered to care so way to go sam. but seriously selling guns to others groups is real f***ed up.

  16. March 11, 2012 1:12 pm

    It seems like most of you people are getting very emotional about this discussion. What Sam is doing has smoky smell to it. It will be appropriate as long as he leaves the Bible out of it and collaborating with groups that do not have child soldiers in their team like the SPLA. It is ethical in most cultures to take such measures to protect children from this devil, Kony. But being a Christian myself, i do not know of any line in the teaching of Jesus that supports violence or killing bad guys in any way shape or form. Prove me wrong on this in the new testament and i will quite Christianity. Isn’t that why we are not Muslim extremist? Please understand the teaching of Christ before deciding to be a Christian missionary. Ow, i also forgot to mention that i’m an Acholi from South Sudan and more specifically from the same county where Childers have operated. Childers is helping us a lot but even hurting us more by bringing weapons to the region and participating in the violence. Above all, this man is a disgrace to all Christian and aid workers. He is making a mockery of the bible and the teaching or our lord Jesus.

  17. Sam Njoroge permalink
    March 12, 2012 8:01 am

    What are you doing about it? That is the question everyone must ask before casting the first stone. At least he is doing something. and because he is, we can then advise, critique or demonize his methods. Having said that, criticism is good. It helps people improve and grow. I however find that most criticism online (not necessarily yours) is meant to bash rather than correct. The tone of your critique makes all the difference. Otherwise, it would be no different from the NSFW which you have stated (rightly) that you would delete.

  18. Jordan permalink
    March 13, 2012 9:58 am

    It is sad to see the hype that everyone is feeding off of here in America. We keep making the issues of the world something they are not; making them appealing to the media and the general population. YES, it is creating awareness about these dark issues in Africa, however, people see men like Sam Childers and see that he is doing “good” and don’t care to look any further into it. It creates such a shallow perception of what really is going on over there. Childers gives off a “God-complex” that, in the long run, isn’t helping at all.

    The image of a white person goes so far in a third-world country, especially Africa, so that it is a distraction, and when we see “white people” heading over to do “missionary” work we can’t say no. And the people we are “helping” won’t say no either, because it’s all they’ve ever been used to. We as “Christians” assume that all missionary work is good. I read the book while I was recently in Uganda, studying about when helping can hurt, and I was blown away by how just being in Africa and reading it gave me a much deeper perspective on the whole issue.The fact that he mercilessly kills, in the name of God, makes me cringe a bit. Would anyone EVER see Jesus carrying an AK-47? No.The whole concept of loving your neighbor as yourself is obliterated through Sam Childers. I am not a pacifist, but I don’t think driving around “hunting” the LRA is the answer. I feel strongly about how he is sending the wrong message to everyone back home. It makes me bring up another issue.

    Kony 2012 is another controversial subject right now. There has been talk of propaganda and the media hype with that organization and I cannot help but agree. Kony 2012 has good intentions to raise awareness, but the execution is, again, poor. Kony left Uganda almost ten years ago. My friends from Uganda are posting things online saying how ignorant Americans were ten years ago during the whole issue. THEY see the problem with Kony 2012, and they are the ones we are trying to “help” through it. Why don’t we listen to what the people are saying, instead of assuming that we know what’s best? Hmm. There is still pain from when the LRA was in Uganda, however, Invisible Children left everyone in the western world believing that Uganda was in shambles, was obliterated and is still being attacked by Kony every day. Which couldn’t be more false. Uganda is still struggling from the detrimental effects of Kony and the LRA rampaging across Northern Uganda, yes, but the Uganda I know is not one of pain and suffering. It is one rich in culture and it is beautiful. They are recovering, they are rebuilding. Uganda is a thriving and beautiful country. There is pain, but there is hope. Joseph Kony is GONE from Uganda. There are countless orphans, widows and abandoned families, and many villages are just starting to rebuild.

    That being said, shouldn’t we focus on the here and now? Shouldn’t we be working to rebuild Uganda? Shouldn’t we set out to help the hundreds of thousands who were displaced ten years ago and still don’t necessarily have their land or have rebuilt their families? We need to focus on helping those who were effected by it succeed in the here and now, instead of creating hype about one man who is already being hunted by thousands in the Congo, etc.I believe Kony is evil, and I believe he needs to be stopped, but it’s all about perspective here and what things like Machine Gun Preacher and Kony 2012 are preaching to the western world. People need to dig a little deeper and learn more about the issues at hand as compared to those that the media is putting out there. Awareness doesn’t always mean just listen to the radio, the news, the TV, or non-profits.

  19. dontbelievethehype permalink
    March 16, 2012 10:26 pm

    Great blog post. Articles like this are very important. Not everything is as it seems, these issues are very complicated. I am very surprised at the number of people who unquestioningly believe everything in the media… thanks for taking the time to raise this issue…

  20. carlos permalink
    March 20, 2012 12:48 pm

    To be honest, I saw the movie last night and had I not read this article, I would have joined the many supporters of what these people are claiming as “God’s work”. When did poverty porn, fundraising, and killing replace the genuine desire to service others? If I am not mistaken, the phrase is “the end does not justify the mean”. Let’s think, people. Put an AK-47 into the hand of a man and celebrate the vigilante unleashed? I pray for all the children not only in Africa, but to the many unspoken for forced child soldiers all over the world, especially in South America. To the author, simply excellent. You have left me with a desire to read more on the subject.

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