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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. gaypsp

    This fake preacher is doing the Devil's work.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:28 am |
  2. Hell and destruction are never full

    So the gays are takin' over leadership now at CNN?? They must have got those merit badges quick.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:27 am |
    • Pithhead's Elementary School Teacher

      I'm sorry, but there has been a mistake. You did not pass third grade. Actually, not by a long shot. Please return to a Perry County, Alabama public school enrollment office at your earliest opportunity to re-enroll for third grade.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:46 am |
  3. Pseudotriton

    Everything is god's plan, yet it's never god's fault when something goes awry, or when there's a disaster like a tornado that kills innocent school kids. However, all credits go to god when humans use science to solve a problem. All in all, it's because god works in mysterious ways. Just how can you argue with that logic?

    September 18, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  4. Name*mark balogh

    Your father's life was more important then yours! ! Good Bless you!

    September 18, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  5. Izzy Goldstein

    Maybe god was sending him a message about not praying hard enough

    September 18, 2013 at 12:23 am |
  6. deb

    It’s obscene to use your child's suicide to justify your philosophical dogma. If you’re going to make a public comment- then, make it about HIM, honor HIM, not justify yourself.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:18 am |
  7. Gio

    You texted your son for hours and didn't find a clever way to get him help, and now you're using your son's suicide for attention? Oh good God (the real one).....Help these people!

    September 18, 2013 at 12:18 am |
  8. Gio

    I I will not pass judgment especially here, but there is something about the general lack of psychological insight of these parents that is scary.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  9. BobPA

    Guess you can't pray the gay away, after all.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • truth

      i guess they did...their son is now dead. so they no longer have to deal with the fact that maybe, just maybe, their son would bring home a man to call his househusband or manwife for chirstmas.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • truth

      oh i forgot...and just maybe their son would force them to officiate a gay marriage within a church they built.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:17 am |
      • Stevie James

        Truth, so then u would force others to do what they do not want to do? = dictator

        September 18, 2013 at 12:46 am |
    • Stevie James

      Bobpa, how would u know?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:47 am |
  10. Kathleen Miller

    Sir,
    Your son was gay. Accept that and move on... and stop driving other innocent children to suicide.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Stevie James

      Kathleen miller ur gay and we have moved on from u!

      September 18, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  11. IpseCogita

    If someone gets a gun and threatens to kill themselves you call the police, especially if they have enough of a history to be prevented from legally getting a gun and a known suicide attempt 10 days before.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • truth

      that's why they should be prosecuted!

      September 18, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • Stevie James

      Ya IpseCogita then they point it at the cops. And they kill him, still make sense to u?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:44 am |
  12. Mel

    Why does Rick Warren seem to need so much attention from his son's suicide? it's almost like he's pitching another book there.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • Athy

      I think you're beginning to get it, Mei.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:12 am |
    • gdouglaso

      I knew there would be people like you trolling. I hope you get better Mel.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:14 am |
      • Mel

        Maybe it's just me, but I would never use my own family like that, especially after any of them should happen to pass.

        September 18, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  13. charlie

    why would i care about this religious zealot i've never heard of?

    September 18, 2013 at 12:10 am |
    • Athy

      Search me. Why?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • IpseCogita

      Dunno, but clearly do since read the article enough to learn that someone you have never heard of was a zealot and then took the time to comment.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • Johnny

      inaugurated obama

      September 18, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  14. Faithless Forrest

    I read Rick Warren's book, A Purpose Driven Life. It is the worse book I have ever read. Not because of how it was written but because it places the make believe love of an imaginary friend over what the christian bible would call works. Works are the good we do here in the real world. After reading A Purpose Driven Life for several years I kept it on my book shelf. I rather automatically treat book with respect but knew this thing was actually dangerous. Never did I consider taking it to a used book store where it might go to injure a fellow human. So when I decided I really really need book space I asked around in my local Free-thought groups if anyone want to read the worst book I have ever read so as to understand it and be prepared to see the worst of super natural self delusion I have ever encountered. The condition was that it must be destroyed or passed on to another free thinker who might benefit from it so as to have a deeper understanding of the delusion. The book went so another member and I believe has now been rendered harmless. I was appaled that the president I worked so hard to elect in 2008 chose Warren to speak at the inauguration, but felt that the President somewhat redeemed himself by specifically mentioning non believers in the inaugural address.
    If I could say something to Warren's face I would remind him that his book devalued the family some of which he lost and tell him it is never to late to renounce his mistaken ideas, stop publication of it and urge all of his readers to destroy every copy. Nothing less is the debt he owes to his son whom he should have loved more dearly.

    I end with this quote: " A dose of poison can do its work but once. A bad book can go on poisoning minds for generations. "
    -William Murray

    I am "Faithless" Forrest Erickson

    September 18, 2013 at 12:10 am |
    • counter

      And you are just a idiot. Free thought would never preclude the existence of a loving God. YOu don't get it.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:15 am |
      • Paul

        Grow up counter. Calling names is for kindergartners and still then the smart ones learn not to so childish. It's good to be childlike. You are childish, which is terrible.

        September 18, 2013 at 12:28 am |
        • Stevie James

          Counter, is right sometimes people's actions are idiotic, there is nothing wrong with calling it like u see it once the truth is known...

          September 18, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • IpseCogita

      Free thought group. So this is a group of like minded people who think that free thought means thinking like them?

      "Free,thought" and "group" are not really terms that go together.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:19 am |
      • Stevie James

        So u have no free thoughts? Hmmm. I bet u do, I bet u have free will too. I bet your in a "group" of people that have free will and free thoughts. Any ideas what that "group" would be?

        Think for goodness sakes..

        September 18, 2013 at 12:41 am |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      from amazon,
      "....................Rick Warren will guide you through a personal 40-day spiritual journey that will transform your answer to life's most important question: What on earth am I here for? Knowing God's purpose for creating you will reduce your stress, focus your energy, simplify your decisions, give meaning to your life, and, most importantly, prepare you for eternity. The Purpose Driven Life is a blueprint for Christian living in the 21st century-a lifestyle based on God's eternal purposes, not cultural values. Using over 1,200 scriptural quotes..........................."

      1200 in 40 dayz?? Is that like a fast forward??

      September 18, 2013 at 12:22 am |
  15. truth

    give me a break! the warrens most likely drove their son mad and insane! they knew he was gay. so they forced him into the closet and forced him to repent based on their psychotic beliefs. this most likely drove their son into deep depression. borderline personality disorder??? this may have been caused by the warrens. just obvious! their son was scrutinized for every move he makes due to the fact that the entire warren family are public figures. this drove him crazy. admitting him into the psych ward was the wrong move. second, the warrens should be ashamed of themselves! their son was suicidal 10 days prior to taking his life. the warrens knew and did nothing! their son told them he had a gun. the warrens knew and did absolutely nothing! it wasn't 'god's plan.' it was just uneducated and selfish parents not accepting their son for who he is and pushing him away when he needed help the most. how can they preach to others if they, themselves, can not physically help their own???

    September 18, 2013 at 12:10 am |
  16. Francine

    I am sickened by the lack of compassion people here have for parents who have lost their son. The hopelessness they must have felt that they couldn't do anything and the guilt that it ended this way. It highlights the struggle parents and loved ones go through when someone close to them is mentally ill and trying to help the best way he can.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:09 am |
    • truth

      compassion?? how can anyone be compassionate if it is fact that the warrens failed to help their son! they knew he was suicidal. it is their fault!

      September 18, 2013 at 12:13 am |
    • Mel

      Why is Warren using his own son's death as a tool for attention?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • Pseudotriton

      But it's all part of god's plan. Why feel sad about HIS plan?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • Fitzroy

      Just like you Francine, I am saddened by the lack of compassion exhibited by so many. What is truly ironic is that many of the people who relish the opportunity to throw stones at Pastor Warren are living in glass houses constructed of their own hatred. As the father of a young man who is battling schizophrenia, I empathize with the Warren family and all families whose loved ones are afflicted with mental illness. To those who somehow find it within themselves to be this heartless to a human being who has lost a child, I say shame on you, but I also pray that God will forgive you for you know not what you do. Remember, life has its own way of teaching lessons and we never know whose turn is next.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:37 am |
      • Pseudotriton

        Is it any more heartless than when Christians claim that mass shootings happen in elementary schools because "prayer are not allowed" in schools?

        September 18, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  17. Mel

    Pope Francis: Who am I to judge?

    September 18, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  18. maria

    Warren ...Mega church that means mega millions, he was too busy to pay attention to his son ,he dislike him because he was gay ,I bet he is glad he is gone ,remember this kind of hypocrites dislikes gays! they can avoid the suicide of their son INDEED! karma is a( beatch) and we will see this two going down someday! they were not concerned about their son at all!

    September 18, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • bob714

      That's just sad Maria ... you haven't walked in their shoes and neither have I. And people accuse Christian's of being judgmental?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:56 am |
  19. Liss86

    I was given a BPD diagnosis and attended DBT therapy for several years. I find religion in general to be extremely invalidating. I can only imagine, if Warren's son was indeed gay, what it would have been like having a famous evangelical father.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  20. Jason

    Here goes a brand new article explaining why we don't need guns. Does the media not understand that we are on to them? Let's post this article in all it's glory, the day after a mass shooting! You had better wake up America!

    September 18, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:09 am |
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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.