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April 6th, 2013
05:20 PM ET

Son of Pastor Rick Warren commits suicide, family says

By the CNN Wire staff

(CNN) -After a lifelong battle with mental illness, the youngest son of Pastor Rick Warren has committed suicide, his family said.

Matthew Warren, 27, died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on Friday, said Deputy Daniel Aikin, with the Orange County Coroner's Office.

The family shared news of his death in an e-mail to church staff.

Rick Warren and his wife founded Saddleback Valley Community Church, a megachurch in Southern California.

"No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now," the pastor wrote in the note, a copy of which was sent to CNN.

"You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.

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"But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America's best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided."

According to Aikin, Matthew Warren's body was found at his home in Mission Viejo, California, late Friday afternoon. He put the estimated time of death at around 10 a.m. that day.

The coroner's office is investigating the death. An autopsy will be conducted early next week, Aikin told CNN on Saturday.

According to a spokesman for Rick Warren, Matthew Warren worked in the Saddleback Resources Warehouse, which distributes books and DVDs.

As a pioneer of the megachurch movement, Rick Warren looked to translate traditional evangelical messages to a wider audience.

The pastor gave the invocation at President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration and penned "The Purpose-Driven Life," a Christian self-help guide that became a mainstream best-seller.

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"I'll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said 'Dad, I know I'm going to heaven. Why can't I just die and end this pain?' but he kept going for another decade," Rick Warren wrote in the e-mail.

In a separate statement, his church asked for prayers and that "God's comfort and peace" be with the Warren family.

A spokesman for Warren provided a copy of a letter Warren sent to members of his staff:

Subject: Needing your prayers

To my dear staff,

Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.

No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.

You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.

But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.

Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said “ Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.

Thank you for your love and prayers. We love you back.

Pastor Rick


CNN's Eric Marrapodi and Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity

soundoff (1,012 Responses)
  1. Nathan Page

    @Inspiration. You are so ignorant. How dare you use someone's loss as an opportunity to take a swing at them.

    @copanut. You are also ignorant. I guess people who kill themselves despite turning to medication and psychologists also prove that medication and professional psychologists are no more helpful than prayer. Looks like we can't turn to anything for help from mental illness. Your point is moot.

    @Derek You are the third person that I must label as ignorant, but for a different reason. a person's sins are forgiven the moment he or she confesses Jesus as Savior (see John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8-9). The sins include past, present, and future transgressions. Therefore, if a person has accepted Jesus, all of his or her sins are forgiven, including suicide.

    This of course does not mean that God wishes or desires one to commit suicide. a person's sins are forgiven the moment he or she confesses Jesus as Savior (see John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8-9). The sins include past, present, and future transgressions. Therefore, if a person has accepted Jesus, all of his or her sins are forgiven, including suicide.

    This of course does not mean that God wishes or desires one to commit suicide. On the contrary, Jesus wants all God's followers to have an "abundant" and "joyous" life – a life that can rest in the knowledge that, no matter how hard life might get, one is never outside of the love of God.

    The Catholic Church teaches that suicide leads to hell. The Bible, however, says Christ died for all sins and that God's judgment is based on knowledge. A person who commits suicide may not be mentally coherent. Regardless, Christ died for all sins and so he died for people who would commit suicide too.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • elvis316

      I did not read the comments you referred to, but I must say you sound just a bit judgemental. Judge not lest ye be judged I read somewhere. You should check it out. That and odd that prayer did not help him, my condolences to the family.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • Taylor

      Thank you Nathan Page!

      April 6, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • kryg

      The Catholic Church DOES NOT teach that those who committed suicide automatically go to hell (see Catholic Catechism paragraph 2283). Below is the Catholic Catechism's teaching on suicide paragraph 2280-2283:

      2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

      2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

      2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

      Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

      2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • copanut

      Nathan, I am hardly ignorant for pointing out that prayers are not efficacious. That's called reality. Is reality ignorant? Praying to an imaginary being is not and never has accomplished anything useful toward a problem that has a physiological or physical component. It might have a placebo effect, but only if the problem is a simple psychological one. Prayer will not fix a chemical imbalance, for example.

      This young man had constant prayers sent in his direction from "good Christians", and what good did it do? Your comparison to medical and psychological treatment is a false equivalence because while those methods don't always work, at least sometimes they work. Prayer never works. Ever. Ever. Ever. Except as a placebo where noted above. You don't give a sugar pill to someone with cancer and hope they will be cured.

      As I said before, I extend deep sympathies to the family for this tragedy. But it is also a tragedy to waste lives and opportunities praying to fantasy beings. If you turn to prayer as a solution to a real problem INSTEAD OF seeking a real solution, you are increasing the likelihood of this kind of tragic outcome, not decreasing it. If it makes you feel good to pray, that's fine and dandy, but not as a replacement for real treatment.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Peter

      If you turn to prayer as a solution to a real problem INSTEAD OF seeking a real solution, you are increasing the likelihood of this kind of tragic outcome, not decreasing it. If it makes you feel good to pray, that's fine and dandy, but not as a replacement for real treatment.---– the article says he had the best doctors, meds and counselors so the Warren family did not ignore the problem and didn't try to find solutions.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • copanut

      Who said my comment was aimed at Warren specifically? He may have done all the right things to help his son, hence my first point was to extend sympathies to him for the tragedy and not to attack him. But there are hundreds of millions of people who think prayer actually does something useful and thus may forgo or delay more appropriate treatment.

      What I was doing originally was pointing out the irony of all the people posting about how Warren is "in my prayers", apparently missing the point that all the prayers in the world did not do his son a lick of good. Wake up. Do something more useful than prostrating yourself before an imaginary sky fairy.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • EMcK

      Nonsense. Saying that accepting Christ absolves you of future since is the most ludicrous thing I've heard yet. By that standard, if someone accepted Christ, then went on a killing spree, they would be absolved. . . . ridiculous.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Yolanda42

      It is never pleasant when God is called upon to pass judgement.

      Pastor Warren was not firm enough in his belief. God found him wanting. Had Pastor Warren offered his young son up, as Abraham did Isaac, and never doubted God, surely his young son could have been spared.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  2. Lisa

    RayJacksonMS, you are a cruel, heartless human being if you think one chooses to have a mental illness.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  3. Taylor

    My thoughts & prayers are with you!!

    April 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  4. kevin

    was sad to hear all you people attack this father that has lost his son, may God have mercy on you.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Josh Beames

      Its a sad time that we live in....There use to be this thing called respect for others belief systems...One day many of these people will stand before God and answer for the things they have said.

      April 6, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  5. Stephen Daedalus

    A pity... this kind of thing touches most people to some degree, in some way, at some remove. I don't care for Warren, but this is still a pity.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • JB

      Thank you for your candor and respect. It is appreciated.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  6. MC

    *fun evening

    So sad. Praying for them.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  7. Aaron

    how are people so heartless that they can make sick jokes towards a man who lost his son? No matter your take on what Rick Warren believes we are all humans and death is painful. Give the man a break.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Christina

      They have nothing else to do their lives. Prayers out to the Warren family.

      April 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Peter

      I don't know, it's rather disgusting.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • GAW

      When you give someone anonymity and an audience the worst in people can come out.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • luvuall

      Perhaps the wisdom in the statement "Forgive them Father for they know not what they do" is extremely relevant today. Let the trolls be trolls: I'm grateful that other people still have compassion for this pastor and his family.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • JT

      What do you expect non-Christians to say? I am never surprised or shocked by what they say on these boards – there are being their true selves. Its the Christians who pile on believers that gets me. Only Christians shoot their own wounded.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • Peter

      None of my Jewish friends would say some of the mean things that have been said and my Muslim friend wouldn't either.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  8. dscon

    And.......mental illness is put on the back burner......again.
    sad

    April 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  9. Bruce

    May he rest in peace, and may he find that peace which he could not find on earth.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • luvuall

      Well spoken Bruce.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  10. Kelly51

    With sadness for your family I say that tonight you and your family will be in my families prayers, Mr. Warren. May your son finally have his peace in the rest of our Holiness.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Dennis

    May the "peace that supasses all understanding" reach you and your family in a VERY REAL and VERY PERSONAL way, Pastor Rick. I trust and hope that the GRACE that our Savior provides, gives us ALL the Hope that we Will, because of Jesus' great love for us, be together again, made whole, with no pain and no suffering! May the Grace of our Lord and Savior be with you and us all.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • JB

      Thank you, Dennis. Your comments are kind, compassionate and are appreciated.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Seth Hill

      To Dennis: your comment was the best. I'm jealous of religious people because they have a faith to help when pain become unbearable. Atheists like me don't have much to fall back on. However, when religious people live a good life and pray, and still suffer immensely, I sometimes wonder if it's even harder for them?

      April 6, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  12. Moby Schtick

    Suicide is not dishonorable. This event makes me think no more or less of Warren.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  13. Fred54

    Why the anguish?? He's with Jesus now isn't he???? Isn't that what his father keeps preaching???

    April 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • 210

      Um because his son is still dead no matter what. Don't be a tool

      April 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • baman

      You will never know if you are right. Pastor Warren will never know if he is wrong.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Bob

      No matter how confident we may be that a loved one is in heaven with Jesus, there is the pain of separation that those of us who are left behind feel. We can take comfort in the anticipation of a joyful reunion, but there will always be the hole in our hearts.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Martha C

      Exactly. I always wonder that too...I thought that's the point, it's great to die because if you're Christian you go to heaven! What a bunch of malarky.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • JB

      Contemplate that the mentally ill who kill themselves are just looking for relief from their pain. Even complete nothingness lying in a hole in the ground (dead with no afterlife) sounds better than another day of torture, at that point.

      If you can't understand that... you haven't been mentally ill. End of story. Too many armchair generals who KNOW NOTHING about mental illness. If you haven't experienced it... you don't have a clue and you never will.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • cigarlover

      Christians are the biggest cult with loads of hypocrisy. As many have said, why the heck is Warren sad? As per the evangelical bul** the kid should be in gaven? right. Why the sadness? Doesn't make sense logically.
      Well logic is something that is completely missing in his 'business', so that wouldn't work.

      So why is he sad? Could it be because as humans we have other feelings and inherent love for life and for the life of the loved ones (which he calls god given? ). Those are pretty universal feelings across all the animal kingdom (including humans). Hence once can only conclude that he "knows" that this is the only life we mortals will ever have and any one with a bit of brain would want to live as long as possible on this beautiful earth, not waste their time in useless praying for gaven.

      Well enough of my rants. The enlightened would understand what I am saying. Those who want to live forever in gaven, just should wonder why the heck they are living on earth and wasting time praying, they could also be in gaven sooner.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  14. johnsullivanmusic

    So sad. The truth, that there is no answer in religion is becoming so apparent

    April 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Peter

      What do you mean there is no answer? God never promises a cushy life on earth but when you unite suffering with the cross, it can become redemptive.

      April 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Greg

      What is apparent is that you need a basic course in logic and how to think. You cannot prove the falsity of a religion or of the efficacy of prayer without bringing in another premise such as 'If God exists then there would be no evil' or 'If God answers prayer then He will always answer the way I want.' Read a little philosophical theology, like C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Simone Weil, or Peter Kreeft. All of these thinkers (and hundreds more) argue–with logic–that it is not as simple as you want it to be. There is far more to consider than whether everyone gets what he or she wants–that is what it means to think about reality. Your thoughts, and those of others here, make one other thing apparent–you are people of bad will and mean spirited. Begin by looking at the evidence that is right inside your own heart.
      Cordially and Respectfully, Greg

      April 6, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • JB

      Actually, you should contemplate that the religious and the non-religious alike have to fight many of the same battles. We're all human afterall. Don't judge and lay off on the stupid comments.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  15. Nobel

    So sad to hear that. May God comfort Warren's family in such a difficult moment.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  16. rotorhead1871

    RIP ... dude.......the wolf is always at the door...sometimes it gets in and wont leave.....

    April 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  17. Bompy

    Oy. Just oy.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  18. Leslie Oden

    My heart breaks for the Warren family at this unimaginably difficult time. Praying God will comfort and strengthen them as only He can...

    April 6, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • inspiration

      God is just testing old Warren!

      "This is a test! It's only a test!" 😉

      April 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • bearitstrong

      god didn't do all that well for this fmaily

      April 6, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  19. Peter

    I am so sad to hear this. Mental illness is so difficult. My prayers are with Mr. Warren and his family and congregation. I just recently learned about Rick Warren and he is actually nice to Catholics which as a Catholic, I find refreshing and am grateful for.

    April 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  20. us_1776

    RIP

    .

    April 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • JB

      Thank you for your kind comment. It is appreciated.

      April 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.