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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. lol??

    lol??
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Look for more nasty refugees on the belief blogs.

    "...................Popular Science, the science and technology news website, has shut off the ability to leave comments on its site, blaming "trolls" and "spambots"............." Socie scientists, tsk, tsk.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24240038

    September 26, 2013 at 4:26 am |
  2. Cristeros for Satan

    Apparently god cannot cure mental illness. His god failed him.

    September 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  3. Simeon

    One of the compelling statements made by Pastor Rick that would resonate with the process of grieving is this:

    "I'd rather have all my questions unanswered and walk with God than not walk with God and have all my questions answered. But there is a struggle. And finally, I just have to surrender, so I'm not going to know. I'm not going to know all these answers."

    September 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Chuck

      Through his struggle and in the process of surrender God probably revealed the following to him as he says,
      "In God's garden of grace even a broken tree bares fruit"

      September 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        The word you were looking for is 'bears' as in, "the waiter came bearing the food laden tray" ... where is Dippy when you need him/her?

        September 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Ignorance is compelling? Why am I not shocked that a Christian would make such an intelligent comment?

      September 24, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Chuck

      Some of the profound retorts are from trolls! 😉

      September 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
      • Chuck

        The troll gets even more excited when its oblivious to the transcript.

        September 24, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Simeon

      Six stages for grieving as described by Pastor Rick

      1) shock
      2) sorrow,
      3) sadness,
      4) struggle
      5) surrender.
      6) sanctification

      September 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  4. Piers Morgan # 1

    Looks like the interview with Pastor Rick boosted Piers Morgan's rating!

    September 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  5. Sandra Betancourt

    It is so easy for people to judge, but till you have something like this happens in our life, then we can understand, my son ended his life 6 years ago, we had no sign of anything, any of all the parents or not parents pointing the finger at this family, shame on you cuz, things happen when you least expect them, if we had known what to do, do you think we would not have done it. It is real easy to judge, but till you are in that situation, or in a situation maybe not that drastic, you can point a finger. Its not as easy as it seems.

    September 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  6. myklds

    May God Bless us all.

    September 21, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Voice of God

      He was gay.

      September 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  7. Jammie B

    This connection between psychotropic drugs and suicide is not coincidental. There is enough evidence that antidepressants cause increased risk of suicide and violence for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its Canadian counterpart to require that drug companies include a “black box” warning to that effect on their packages.

    All of the classes of psychiatric drugs can cause suicidal, irrational, and/or manic behavior. Among other effects, these drugs cause a neurological condition called “akathesia,” which means that persons who take them can’t sit still and feel like they are jumping out of their skin. They behave in an agitated manner which they cannot control and experience suicidal feelings unbearable rage, delusions, and disassociation.

    Psych meds made me suicidal after I fell for the serotonin scam.

    September 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Jim

    He was Gay, and his parents always have and are still in denial about it. Typical Christian Fundamentalist. Deny them till there dead, Dead men tell tales. It's so sad, this is a cover up of shameful denial., The hid him, they kept this under the covers, and destroyed their child in the process. for it did not fit into their perverse sense of Christian morality.

    September 20, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Reality

      Reliable references?

      September 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Pamela Hurley

      This person obviously doesn't know what he is talking about. Anyone who knows the Warrens knows this is not true. I guess some people would like for this to be true. It's wishful thinking.

      September 21, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  9. Theadore Realist

    *************************************************************

    ... {{{{{ AHEM .. clears throat }}}}}

    .............. your http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

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

    ...............................the http://www.EVILbible.com

    *************************************************************

    September 20, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Sam Yaza

      i like Evil bible and i Do believe in the gods .

      September 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  10. M.A.P.

    If your father tiold you being gay was the work of the devil, and that your an abomination and that god hates you, wouldn't YOU want to kill yourself too? He is practically a murderer. Shame on him.

    September 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • USMC 1371

      If the conversation went towards suicide and they knew he had a illegally bought a gun then both of his parents should be charged with conspiracy. They knowingly and willingly allowed his death.

      September 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • tc

      Were you present when Warren said this to his son? I seriously doubt Warren said those words to him.

      September 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I understand the sentiment, and I actually agree that telling a child that a behavior is an abomination is very disgusting. However, I think Americans over criminally prosecute. This is a tragedy, but the bottom line is, if someone wants to die, there is very little anyone can do to stop it. I speak from personal experience here. I've witnessed both sides of it. I knew those who wanted to die, kept it hidden and followed through. I also know of someone dear to me, who tried, failed and decided she wanted to live. It's a personal choice.

      Bad parents? Probably. Criminals? I don't think so. Dumb is not the same thing as evil.

      September 19, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I understand the sentiment, and I actually agree that telling a child that a behavior is an abomination is very disgusting. However, I think Americans over criminally prosecute. This is a tragedy, but the bottom line is, if someone wants to die, there is very little anyone can do to stop it. I speak from personal experience here. I've witnessed both sides of it. I knew those who wanted to die, kept it hidden and followed through. I also know of someone dear to me, who tried, failed and decided she wanted to live. It's a personal choice.

      Bad parents? Probably. Criminals? I don't think so. Dumb is not the same thing as evil.

      September 19, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
      • AE

        You can say that again.

        September 19, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  11. Lionly Lamb

    I am an advocate for Cannabis reform and I stand firmly against a nearly century old prohibition against any usage of the mighty cannabis plants... Are not plants nothing but nature's factories..? Could this herbal weed we call cannabis be nature's offering plate for all nations or countries to humbly eat from..? Why should this world be using crude oil for its industrial uses which are carcinogenic and harmful to all living things..? Can we not ease are current addictions of crude oil and slowly begin utilizing nature's real means of naturally occurring plant-based factories known to be medicinally favorable and industriously capable in taking the place of carcinogenic crude oil..?

    The Power of Hemp and its countless uses

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZvFE53JzDk&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Can we not ease our current addictions of crude oil and slowly begin utilizing nature's real means of naturally occurring plant-based factories known to be medicinally favorable and industriously capable in taking the place of carcinogenic crude oil..?

      September 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Preach it brother!

        September 19, 2013 at 1:11 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.