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September 17th, 2013
09:59 PM ET

Rick Warren on guns, God and son's tragic death

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Lake Forest, California (CNN) — In his first interview since his son's suicide in April, famed pastor Rick Warren told CNN that he knew his son, Matthew, had bought a gun, dismissed rumors that Matthew was gay and said he doesn't blame God for the tragedy.

"I have cried every single day since Matthew died," Warren said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with CNN.

"But that - that's actually a good thing. Grief is a good thing. It's the way we get through the transitions of life."

Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, founded Saddleback Church in Southern California in 1980, growing it from a small congregation to a multisite megachurch with some 20,000 weekly worshippers.

Warren is also author of the spiritual self-help guide “The Purpose Driven Life,” one of the best-selling books of all time, with more 36 million copies sold.

But even as the Warrens grew in prominence - attending conferences with presidents and prime ministers - their son Matthew struggled with borderline personality disorder and deep depression, they said during an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan.

The Warrens said they are opening up about their son’s tragic death because they hope to end the stigma of mental illness and save another family from the pain they suffer.

They have slowly returned to the spotlight since grieving in private for five months.

MORE ON CNN: The five things you need to know about Rick Warren

The gun

Matthew Warren visited his parents on the night of April 5, just like so many nights before.

“I had made him dinner,” Kay Warren told CNN. “He laid his head down on the kitchen table and he just said ‘I'm so tired.’ He just said ‘I'm so tired.’”

After a hug from his dad, Matthew left his parents' house and went back to his own. He and his mom began texting, and the conversation veered toward suicide, Kay Warren said.

“I knew it was very desperate. And I also knew he – I knew he had a gun.”

Earlier, Matthew had told his parents he had illegally obtained a gun online - but if they called the police about the gun he would kill himself instantly.

Matthew Warren had tried to legally purchase a gun many times, his family said. Each time he was rebuffed because he had been forcibly admitted to a mental institution, a red flag on a California background check.

“We're grateful that the laws kept Matthew from getting the gun for as long as it did,” Rick Warren said.

When Matthew hit a roadblock buying a gun, he turned to other options.

"He was so desperate to end the pain,” Kay Warren said.

Ten days earlier, Matthew had tried to end his life by overdosing on pills, the Warrens said, one of several suicide attempts in his young life.

Matthew had begged his mother to help him die, Kay Warren said.

“I will do anything to help you live,” she recalls telling him, “but I will not help you take your life.”

The texting between Matthew and Kay Warren went on for hours on the night of April 5.

Then it stopped.

The Warrens headed to Matthew’s house. He did not come to the door. The lights were on, and they decided to leave, worried if they called the police Matthew would make good on his fatal promise.

The next morning they went back to his house. The lights were still on.

This time they called the police.

Rick and Kay Warren stood outside their son’s home sobbing in each others’ arms.

They knew.

A nod from a police officer who inspected Matthew's house confirmed the worst.

“I just hit the ground," Kay Warren said.

God's plan

Matthew had access to mental health care and all the love in the world but not even that could spare him, Rick Warren said.

“If love could have kept my child alive, he'd be alive today, because he was incredibly loved,” the pastor said.

The evangelical Christian said he doesn’t blame God for his son’s death.

“I never questioned my faith in God; I questioned God’s plan,” Rick Warren said. “God isn’t the blame for my son’s death. My son took his life. It was his choice.”

Kay Warren said the family’s faith and community support got them through the past five months. Condolence cards poured in from around the world; 30,000 by Saddleback Church’s count.

In their grief, Rick and Kay Warren said they turned to a familiar source, the Bible.

For Kay Warren, a verse from the New Testament brings comfort, she said. “It says our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory.”

She recites the verse when visiting her son’s grave.

"Matthew's body was broken. That gun broke his body and he was buried in brokenness. But he's going to be raised in glory.”

GALLERY: Rick Warren over the years

Forgiveness

The Warrens said they struggle with anger that their son died using an illegally obtained firearm.

Before his death, Matthew told his parents he bought the gun online, but wouldn’t tell them from whom.

Investigators said the serial number was filed off when they recovered it from the scene. So far police have not been able to determine who sold Matthew Warren the gun.

“One of the hard things was forgiving the person who sold him the gun,” Rick Warren said. “Because I didn't want to forgive him.”

But the Warrens said their Christian faith, rooted in the belief that their own sins had been forgiven by Jesus, enabled them to forgive the person who sold the gun to their son.

“I don't want to be tied to that person emotionally for the rest of my life,” Kay Warren said.

Slightly more than half of Americans - 53% - think churches should do more to prevent suicide in America, according to a new poll by LifeWay Research, a Christian company based in Nashville.

Nearly half of evangelicals (48%) say people with serious mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be cured by Bible study and prayer alone. Sixty percent of Americans overall disagree.

The Warrens said Matthew had access to good health care, but the system sometimes puts obstacles between families and their mentally ill loved ones.

Kay Warren pointed to difficulty families have in getting mentally ill family members help because of laws on patient privacy.

“The right to privacy and that right to autonomy, it's a dance,” she said.
 “I don't have good answers. It's a dance. So we've got to do a better job with that.”

Because the Warrens are conservative Christians who oppose same-sex marriage, rumors circulated about Matthew's sexuality in the days after his death.

The Warrens dismissed those rumors in the CNN interview.

“Well, first, Matthew wasn't gay, " Rick Warren said, "but if he was, we would have loved him unconditionally anyway. It wouldn't have made one difference at all.”

The Warrens said they have tried to stay away from online criticism and the rumors surrounding Matthew’s death so they can focus on his legacy: raising awareness about mental illness.

Hope

Asked why they had not prioritized mental illness earlier, the Warrens said that they did not want to thrust their troubled son into the limelight.

“It was his story to tell,” Rick Warren said.

Now telling Matthew’s story falls to his parents.

They want the world to remember a young man who was “funny, quirky, ridiculously silly.”

On his headstone the family put “compassionate warrior.”

They have established the Matthew Warren Fund to honor his memory. Rick Warren said they will wait a year and then hope to use the funds to help those struggling with mental illness and their families.

The Warrens want to spread the word that even though their story had a tragic ending, “There’s hope,” Kay Warren said. “It’s so important that people know, no matter how desperate their despair, there is hope, and not to give up.”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Death • Faith • Guns • Leaders • Violence

soundoff (1,411 Responses)
  1. Amazing Grace

    We thinks Apple Bush and his friends complain too much.

    Get over yourselves, GOD exist.

    You can spend your pathetic lives saying no all you want.

    We feel sad for you, pity you, even pray for you.

    You have no hope. That is delusional.

    September 19, 2013 at 7:15 am |
    • midwest rail

      " You have no hope. "
      Arrogant presumption.

      September 19, 2013 at 7:33 am |
  2. Dyslexic doG

    another day, another article about Rick Warren ...

    September 19, 2013 at 6:49 am |
  3. Apple Bush

    Morning is coming. Beautiful birds crapping on the new day. How many people forgot to brush their teeth? Kick the bagboy.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:42 am |
  4. Apple Bush

    krhodes said, "If anyone is wondering what kind of people are atheist...just read through these comments and you will see the most vile and meanspirited comments displayed from those people."

    krhodes, you worship the evil stepfather of the universe. A being that demands your love at penalty of eternal torture in the most painful possible way.

    krhodes you have no right to comment on anyone being "vile". You are the Vile one.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:29 am |
  5. Apple Bush

    I should read the article. Actually I should read the last 3 or 4.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:14 am |
  6. Apple Bush

    What we have here is something that happens to families every day. Help was needed but not received OR he was too sad not to pull the trigger.

    September 19, 2013 at 6:10 am |
  7. Realist

    ...............................................

    {{{{{{ ahem, clears throat }}}}}

    Your http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

    ... and thank goodness because he emanates from ...

    ... The http://www.EVILbible.com

    ..............................................

    September 19, 2013 at 6:07 am |
  8. Atheist, me?

    Excellent example Booty and John! How low can u go? Its Atheists like you who make Atheism look so bad!

    September 19, 2013 at 2:29 am |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    I was trying to think up something really meanspirited and vile and I just couldn't come up with anything comparable to reassuring people that they will see their loved ones again after death unless they've gone to hell.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:23 am |
  10. krhodes

    If anyone is wondering what kind of people are atheist...just read through these comments and you will see the most vile and meanspirited comments displayed from those people.

    September 19, 2013 at 1:20 am |
    • S-3B Viking

      P.S. Please ignore the vile, heartless, unkind and uncaring comments made by the Christians...they're just really, really mad at the atheists and they don't have to follow the admonitions and commands of scripture when they're really, really mad at atheists.

      Oh, and it's okay to ignore their daily lives and how they treat others in such a vile, heartless, unkind and uncaring way because they're "not perfect, just forgiven."

      krhodes...the blind among the willfully blind.

      September 19, 2013 at 1:26 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      yes, as opposed to the christian comments, like yours, hypocrite. try not calling the kettle black sometime.
      and read other christian comments where they say atheists are worthy of eternal torture and we're evil and blah blah blah.
      christians cry about "mean" comments from atheists while making worse comments themselves. boohoo.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:03 am |
    • sam stone

      krhodes: as opposed to the pompous fools who purport to speak for god?

      September 19, 2013 at 4:06 am |
    • Realist

      ...............................................

      {{{{{{ ahem, clears throat }}}}}

      Your http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

      ... and thank goodness because he emanates from ...

      ... The http://www.EVILbible.com

      ..............................................

      September 19, 2013 at 6:09 am |
  11. John

    What a joke, He forgives the person that sold his son a gun. Would it make this fool feel better if his son slit his wrists. He could then forgive Walmart for selling him a knife. Rick, good parenting job you did.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:59 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      i suspect his son was g.ay and couldn't handle this monster of a father telling him his desires are abomination.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • Sara

      These trajedies can happen in any family. No one should guess at what happened hear without knowing more than we do.

      September 19, 2013 at 7:33 am |
  12. Name*tml

    I am proud to say I am a Christian! God doesn't allow or make these people kill others or themselves. There is something called free will and they make their own choices. However, when we are hit with tragedy it is our amazing God that will help us get through it....or you can choose to handle it all by yourself! Don't blame God, there is also evil in this world.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:53 am |
    • doobzz

      So your god sits by and idly watches while a mentally ill young man repeatedly attempts suicide, but only after the young man is dead does your god get off his ass and provide "comfort"? What a creep.

      September 19, 2013 at 2:55 am |
    • sam stone

      Isn't pride a "sin", name?

      free will and an omniscient god are incompatible, try again

      September 19, 2013 at 4:42 am |
    • Brother Maynard

      " ... there is also evil in this world."
      And this evil was created by god.
      For god created everything.

      September 19, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  13. Preach for Souls and Sausage no wait that sounds stupid

    Praise the Lord and may he not kill ya'll.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:14 am |
  14. Reality # 2

    Dear Ricky W.,

    What you missed by not keeping up with historical Jesus:

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Now Rick, please return all the money you have conned from your church members all these years !!!!!

    September 18, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  15. Alien Orifice

    If you took every believer in god worship on the entire planet Earth and put them in one big gathering place and had them pray for a cancer victim and fortunately the cancer went into remission when it seemed hope was lost, all of those people would be 100% Wrong. Stupid wrong. Crazy wrong.

    September 18, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  16. Alien Orifice

    EVEN if you are dumb enough to worship a god, you MUST realize he moved on a LONG time ago! This place is a dump, it's horrible. There is no god minding this store.

    September 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
    • Al

      Yes. I was a dumb Christian. Than I decided to become an athiest – and poof! – just like that I was smart. So easy to be smart!

      September 18, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
      • Alien Orifice

        Al, thank you for sharing with the group.

        September 18, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
        • Al

          Welcome!

          September 18, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
  17. Alien Orifice

    Every single god worshipper on the planet Earth is wrong. 100% Wrong. Stupid wrong. Crazy wrong.

    September 18, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Athy

      And what's frustrating is they don't realize it and you can't explain it to them.

      September 18, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
      • Al

        Thank gawd we are so much better than them.

        September 18, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
        • Alien Orifice

          Al you are being rude and, strangely you are being rude to yourself. Odd.

          September 18, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
        • Al

          What?

          September 18, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • Culture

      You mean like Francis Collins wrong? Or more like Leymah Gbowee wrong?

      September 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
      • Al

        Francis Collins is a geneticist, as in science, so not a believer in God. Nice try idiot.

        September 18, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
      • Alien Orifice

        Culture, you seem to be mixing metaphors here.

        September 18, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
        • Al

          Actually Francis Collins is Christian, yikes.

          September 18, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
        • Al

          Despite Francis Collins amazing scientific discoveries and work on the Human Genome Project, he is still wrong where it matters.
          The atheists have spoken on the matter. He is wrong. End. Of. Story.

          September 18, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
        • Alien Orifice

          Al, what difference does it make if these ladies led quality lives? You are off topic.

          September 18, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
        • Alien Orifice

          Holy crud! Francis is a man! I WAS WRONG!

          September 18, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
        • Al

          Yea, Francis is definitely a man. Du!

          September 18, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  18. Apple Bush

    Tiny demons rape the spaces between my keys but I type over them, killing them and their grotesque abominations. Writing about demons is never easy, but when I wrote some prose for God I got a full erection. What does that mean?

    September 18, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Alien Orifice

      Demon spawn is gross.

      September 18, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  19. Apple Bush

    Is there a Christian on this blog who would care to explain why God has allowed all of the senseless killings of the last few months? Was he golfing?

    September 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Walking to & fro seeking whom he can devour.

      September 18, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
      • Alien Orifice

        Sometimes he is just a bit peckish, while other times he could eat a billion people and animals.

        September 18, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
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About this blog

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.