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

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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


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.


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. Michael John

    Who cares about the Warrems? money grubbing TV evangelists, numb skulls or what? live and let live!

    September 18, 2013 at 1:35 am |
    • Stevie James

      Mike John who cares about you? Your lucky cause Jesus does...

      September 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        It's "you're" and there is no reliable evidence that the biblical Jesus ever existed.

        September 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  2. Suresh Chari

    "Blame God" – now THERE'S an oxymoron..

    September 18, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • TB

      Ab oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two words with opposing meanings are used together for effect. How is this an oxymoron? If you are an atheist you might say this is futile, but "blame God" does not fit the defintion above. A suspect you are an stheist, but not a very educated one.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:08 am |
  3. holly wood dood

    perhaps the warren's were too wrapped up in their own money-hungry celebrity that they forgot to simply love their son

    September 18, 2013 at 1:16 am |
    • Dippy

      Warrens, not Warren's.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:19 am |
    • jcrisler

      You obviously don't know much about them. They give away 90% of their income, and have established charities in Rwanda. They paid their church back for years of salary and live off the sale of books.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:33 am |
      • Michael John

        Perhaps his misdirected tax deductible gifts to Africa are the deeds that need to be looked at, come on TV evangelists? scam artists supreme, why not do it for free? they are a profit center, remember Tammy Faye? and the rest of the bandits?

        September 18, 2013 at 1:48 am |
        • Miles_Rockwell

          They're not televangelists...none of his services are broadcast on any channel. He doesn't take a salary, he drives an old car, lives in an old house and donates millions. I'm hoping you're 12,because that way we could expect such immature comments. It's people like you us genuine atheists can't stand....contentious just for the hell of it, no research, no evidence...just nonsense.

          September 18, 2013 at 2:06 am |
    • silvertop

      I feel sorry for you for your need to say something you don't know anything about. You did not watch the interview to sense the love demonstrated and the story they told; you did not know anything about Rick Warren. His best seller book brought him monetary return. He returned the salary he earned to the church for all those years. He worked hard on Aids and HIV causes in Africa.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:37 am |
      • Michael John

        His best selling book? "How to fleece the flock" give me your money and be saved, actually I have never seen him or read him but I don't need too! he is just another huckster in a long line of modern Carny's preying on the weak insecure drones looking for salvation

        September 18, 2013 at 2:13 am |
        • Rett

          You have seen him or read his works but you know he is fleecing the weak....wow....omniscience must be nice

          September 18, 2013 at 5:40 am |
    • Chris A.

      He cries everyday because he feels guilty. Guilty that he didn't do what his son begged for–to end their religious-based "therapy." Another life lost to the god delusion.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:50 am |
  4. Name*mark balogh

    My life would be better with my family around!

    September 18, 2013 at 1:08 am |
  5. Shawn Thompson

    Personally this guy is part of the old school idea that all they have to do is tell others what to do in the name of the bible. Such a dead concept. This man has done more to destroy the self esteem and self worth of people under the ruse of religion while making a ton of money off of it. He will be on the wrong side of history in days to come

    September 18, 2013 at 1:07 am |
  6. mixedupchile

    I'm incredulous that the Warren's knew he had a gun yet did nothing. How would their son know if they called police or arranged for him to be 5150'ed? They did not do enough. I believe he could have been stopped. Just shocked. I thought the son just up and killed himself out of nowhere.

    September 18, 2013 at 1:06 am |
    • Dippy

      Warrens, not Warren's.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:18 am |
      • stone cold

        Calling someone out on their inability to correctly pluralize makes you look smart–but it only obscures the fact that: YOU REALIZE THEY ARE RIGHT AND YOU HAVE NO OTHER WAY TO DENY THEIR CLAIMS. No one else cares if a plural and a possessive are confused. Fight the real criminal: ignorance.

        September 18, 2013 at 2:07 am |
        • RC

          *LIKE!* Dippy-SHUT UP!!!!!!!!

          September 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  7. BN

    These people are so dilusional it borders on comedy. These is nothing compassionate, forgiving or loving about them and their son died at the mercy of their dogmatic life. They are left standing with blood on their hands and should be ashamed of themselves for capitalizing on their sons death with this pathetic charade of an interview.

    September 18, 2013 at 1:04 am |
    • mjimenez

      AMEN! Wow. They don't blame God? Agreed. ..... if I believed in a God .......they absolutely shouldn't. Heard of free will???? Maybe "God" doesn't know there's help for depressed people. maybe God doesn't know there could have been an imbalance in hormones, or maybe God doesn't know there's dysfunction in the family that someone could have helped them understand. I'm not saying there's blame, but to mention God?????????? Time to live in your life Warrens. Maybe Your Sky God is sending a message to you. Sad that religious people so often get stuck in their OWN belief of what they believe is GOD.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:20 am |
  8. Name*mark balogh


    September 18, 2013 at 12:59 am |
    • Stevie James

      Ur a liar!

      September 18, 2013 at 1:03 am |
  9. ~~~

    I agree with the mom that health care stands in the way.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:55 am |
  10. GetFiddle Man

    Congratulations to Rick Warren and Pierce Morgan for furthering their respective careers on the grave of Warren's dead son. All the details sure make good TV, huh, Pierce? Warren, his wife and Morgan provide some of the most disgusting TV I have ever witnessed. Purposeful life? Faith is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking, and, boy, do Warren and his wife ever demonstrate that! These two do not know reality.Warren's discussion about what god thinks and wants is ridiculous.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:50 am |
    • Stevie James

      Get fiddle u demonstrate faith every day so I guess u should know.. Hypocrite!

      September 18, 2013 at 12:53 am |
  11. Hell and destruction are never full

    The mob obsessing on gays. Some things never change. It wasn't that long ago the fickle mental health INDUSTRY said gayness was an illness. Get over yer own self righteousness. It won't fly.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • Stevie James

      Ya hell and I bet ur ideals will fly? Give me a break hypocrite...

      September 18, 2013 at 12:52 am |
  12. Hell and destruction are never full

    Job 13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:45 am |
    • Doris

      Oh yeah – like ancient goat herders would help with a case like this. Quite the contrary.

      "Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science."

      –Thomas Jefferson

      September 18, 2013 at 12:55 am |
      • Hell and destruction are never full

        Dorie, have you not herd, errr heard?? Those weren't ancients. Modern man is pushin' almost 1/2 mil years old. Kronos said so.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:06 am |
        • Doris

          Maybe so, but I still don't want to go back even two thousand years looking for health advice.

          September 18, 2013 at 1:21 am |
    • Stevie James

      He'll, if your gonna quote the bible like the devil at least make sense...

      September 18, 2013 at 1:02 am |


    September 18, 2013 at 12:42 am |


      September 18, 2013 at 12:47 am |
    • Stevie James


      September 18, 2013 at 1:01 am |
    • Dippy

      Due, not do. And turn off your fucking caps lock!

      September 18, 2013 at 1:10 am |
      • RC

        That might be the only worthwhile post you've ever made.

        September 19, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Michael John

      You are not forgiven! or maybe you are? being gay is not a sin, being ignorant is not either but it should be! one more brain and you would be a half wit, this why there are so many troubled people in the world, they believe that there are different rankings of human kind, there are not, we are all created equal, praise the lard!

      September 18, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  14. Bobbie

    He did not have a mental illness, he was gay. He lived in a world of judgement! My heart breaks for those born in to these families.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:42 am |
    • Stevie James

      Bobbie, what and being born in your family would be so much better? These have to be some of the most stupid comments I have seen.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:55 am |
  15. Ruthann Adamsky

    Sometimes, a parent needs to stop trying to make the world a better place and tend to their own family first. I am sorry for Rick Warren's loss, but there are thousands of people preaching the gospel; your son needed you to put HIM first sometimes.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:42 am |
    • Stevie James

      Ruthann, your dead wrong. You can't do everything for your 27 year old son, he does have to grow up, mentally ill or not, unless u volunteering to watch him daily? You don't think they did every thing they could? His mom made him dinner that day, and they were texting all night.. What more u want?

      September 18, 2013 at 12:57 am |
      • MOCaseA

        How about take his threat to commit suicide seriously and get him the mental help he needs instead of sitting on your hands because he threatened to commit suicide if they told anyone. Him simply telling them that he wanted to commit suicide, and even attempting to do so via overdose should have had him locked down in a mental health hospital, not eating dinner and then texting mom about suicide all night long.

        The two are just as responsible for their son's death as the son is.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:05 am |
      • Ruthann Adamsky

        I wanted my mother to put me first sometimes.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:11 am |
  16. JJ

    So easy to judge them, isn't it. And yet aren't you fortunate to be speaking hypothetically and NOT from experience.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:41 am |
  17. Mark

    Ok so ur son did not confirm with your beliefs an u did not do anything to help him when u knew he issies for years! God will not help save you when you never tried tough love or rehab!!

    September 18, 2013 at 12:39 am |
  18. Judy Weismonger

    I'm watching Rich Warren on CNN/Piers Morgan....take his son's suicide and make it a anti-gun issue, and even more interesting is that god is not mentioned. Why is god not mentioned by this preacher? Because Rick Warren's imaginary god did not cure their son who had been mentally ill for a long time, and did not save his son's life. Maybe Rich Warren will turn into an Atheist like Mother Theresa. So now, Warren says its "god's plan" tha that his son commit suicide. Hmm, what kind of god is that? One that a) does not exist, and b) if such a god as this existed, he's be such a cruel god people would rebel. Both of the Warrens are disgusting and are using TV face time to sell their disgusting books...that did not do any good for their own son. In light of their son's suicide, they just need to shut up and sit down. Its no longer a mystery as to why people are concluding they are Atheists. Belief in imaginary gods does not do anything but make preachers rich so they can live like the rich and famous...while the ignorant continue to believe in religious magic...that does not exist.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • me

      you are watching it? apparently you are watching a completely different interview. I'm shocked at the lack of comprehension here. Apparently 4 people actually watched the interview.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:00 am |
      • GetFiddle Man

        Your perception of the interview is literal. You hear what Warren and his wife are saying and accept it on face value, without any depth of thought on your part. This is what people of deep faith do. They have learned to accept it all, without question. Of course you don't like criticism of religious people. You are probably the same as they are and buy all of it, based on faith, of course. That does not make you a bad person. That just makes you a surface thinker.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:53 am |
      • GetFiddle Man

        Your perception of the interview is literal. You hear what Warren and his wife are saying and accept it on face value, without any depth of thought on your part.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:55 am |
  19. Prethi

    Rick Warren and Miley Cyrus, more alike than you'd think. Both would do anything to keep the ego stroked.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:34 am |
    • Judy Weismonger

      Well know this, both Miley Cyrus and Rick Warren are Christians....interesting how Christianity does not work. Nothing fails like prayer.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:41 am |
      • Stevie James

        Judy, u speaking from experience? Nothing fails like prayer, and you never fail either. U can do,it all?

        September 18, 2013 at 12:59 am |
      • brendank11

        Prayer doesn't work? That would insinuate that God promised us EVERYTHING we ever pray for. That is not the case, so saying it doesn't work because their son died is very flawed.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:24 am |
        • DT

          God did promise anything...... but it never comes to pass.... People pray to end cancer all while glorifying god...but there is still cancer.

          In Matthew 18:19 Jesus says:
          Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about ANYTHING they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

          September 18, 2013 at 1:45 am |
      • GetFiddle Man

        If Stevie James and brendank11 want to believe that extraterrestrial communication with an imaginary friend in the sky works, that's okay with me. Judy, though, is correct. Like when the faith believer asked the atheist, what would you say to god when you arrive to face him? He answered, I would first ask him, which one are you? Next, I would ask, why all the hiding out and secrecy?

        September 18, 2013 at 1:46 am |
  20. annier

    He'd rather insist his son was mentally ill, than admit that his son was gay. No wonder the poor kid killed himself with a po.s hypocrite like him for a father. Can anyone even IMAGINE having to live with parents like them, and their b.s. religious fantasies....those same fantasies that keeps the millions rolling in!

    September 18, 2013 at 12:30 am |
    • Stevie James

      Annier and we should live by your pos reality? I bet if I lived as the warrens would have me live versus what u would have me live, I'd live a lot longer, be more happy, and more successful! Sure there are anomalies in every equation..

      September 18, 2013 at 12:50 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.