But let's put aside the question of whether every word of Childers's book and his recent interviews is true. It's his narcissistic model of armed humanitarianism that we should be worried about. In his book, Childers describes a scene in which he and his gang of SPLA soldiers drive toward a group of LRA militiamen, firing indiscriminately -- at God's urging, of course. It may look cool on the big screen, but this crosses a line from humanitarianism to misguided vigilantism. Childers's underlying assumption seems to be that the region's conflicts would end if the good guys could just kill enough bad guys. This assumes not only that the good guy can magically discern who the bad guys are, but that killing -- from attacking the LRA to selling weapons -- doesn't fuel future conflict.
Childers justifies his tactics with a shop-worn thought experiment. "Just for one moment imagine if [that child] was yours and I could go stop it," he asks.
But by conflating humanitarian work with Wild West-style vigilantism, Childers makes the world more dangerous for the many aid workers risking their lives to do good in places like South Sudan. The anonymous aid worker who writes the widely read blog Tales from the Hood makes this point: "We [aid workers] very often go into insecure places where our presence and the associated suspicion that we may have ulterior motives puts not only us, but our local colleagues and those we're trying to help at greater risk, too.... Every time [Childers] 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."
Hollywood loves a hero. And now that the silver screen has its Rambo-preacher-orphan-saver, there may be no stopping the Machine Gun Preacher. Even if many American Christians skip the movie because of its R rating, his Angels of East Africa charity will likely reap donations galore.
What's next for Sam Childers? He said he wants to set up operations in Somalia (no way that could go wrong). In the end, perhaps it's Childers himself who says it best. "Who on earth would give money to some pistol-packing ex-biker dude who might be as crazy as the rebel leader he was after?" he writes. Alas, too many already have.