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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. You all disappoint me

    Because everyone here is either illiterate or failed to read the article, take note:

    – He could not legally obtain a gun because a background check showed that he was forcibly admitted to a mental hospital. Forcibly means against his will. Meaning his family forced it on him in order to try to get him the help he needed, not "Tried to pray it away."

    – He had borderline personality disorder, which means there was someone to diagnose this.

    – It was stated multiple times that he had gone through the medical system and had been on medication.

    – There is nothing to substantiate any claims that he was gay, and by proclaiming such, you sound like raving fools grasping at straws to justify an unhealthy level of contempt.

    – It is obvious from the interview that his parents did not want him to have the gun, but they had to tread carefully because, as it was stated, any attempts to get rid of it would prompt him to immediately kill himself.

    – They knew he had the gun only after he acquired it and only because he told them. It wasn't as if they shrugged about it.

    – Anyone who was open with their parents about suicidal tendencies and who stayed up all night texting his mom obviously did not have issues with his parents. My parents never knew when I was suicidal, and I did have issues with them.

    Have whatever opinions you want, but use some f'n common sense people. You all sound like hivemind frothing neanderthals.

    September 18, 2013 at 3:50 am |
    • me

      CLAP!!!! Thank you. What is wrong with people? It's painful to read these comments yet I stare at it like its a train wreck. People have lost the ability to read, there is even VIDEO of the interview. Wow. Wow. Wow. Anyway thank you for simply re-stating in bullet point format the main points (I suppose that is what most people need, bullet points) but even that is probably too much for them to read as they are too busy with their own predudice and must fight. HOW EMBARASSING if only these people realized how dumb they were making themselves look and for passions they obviously care a lot about, lol.

      September 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  2. Dale

    It's just amazing that CNN gives a voice to these con men.

    September 18, 2013 at 3:31 am |
    • Hmmmm

      Or to your post

      September 18, 2013 at 4:05 am |
  3. Dennis

    It is truly a horrific thing when somebody thinks that their only option in situations like this is to end their life. It's all about perspective. When your mind is not functioning correctly, as in this situation, it sometimes leads to conclusions that are not desired. There can be nothing worse than a parent losing a child and for that I am sorry.

    September 18, 2013 at 3:25 am |
  4. bob

    what I read was about a family who tragically lost their beloved son and have been in grief for the past five months. but I was surprised to see some of the comments here. have our hearts become so insensitive that we don't even have empathy for them?

    September 18, 2013 at 3:24 am |
    • Dennis

      Unfortunately I am not surprised. If you visit the comment sections in many articles you will see what resembles a truly hateful society. It is a tragedy and that sums it up for me.

      September 18, 2013 at 3:31 am |
      • Tracy

        Agree. I am not a Rick Warren fan. I think he is a hypocrite. However, there is no way I would criticize him in this forum.

        September 18, 2013 at 3:56 am |
      • Johnny

        people who comment tend to be more opionionated

        September 18, 2013 at 6:18 am |
  5. pauline

    now they plan on raising awareness to mental health problems....

    September 18, 2013 at 3:20 am |
  6. BO

    Asv Warren shpuld be teaching from his holy book, "it rains on the just and the unjust".

    September 18, 2013 at 3:07 am |
  7. HOPE4BRKN

    After reading some of these comments, I am NOT surprised why those with BROKEN minds are shamed into silence.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:51 am |
  8. Hooligan

    You're right, it's not gods fault... because there is no god.

    It's YOUR fault your child killed himself.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:46 am |
    • Vincent

      spot on, there is no God!

      September 18, 2013 at 3:07 am |
    • BO

      That is about as foolish as your notion that there is no God.

      September 18, 2013 at 3:09 am |
    • Mr Dalloway

      A half is better than none 🙂

      September 18, 2013 at 3:44 am |
  9. Not Me

    When a child says 'I'm so tired," it's time to get to the heart of the matter. Ask, "what are you tired from?" That usually gets the ball rolling. You see, people who have mental problems cannot think of a proper answer to give or to think properly. Whatever issues the young man had could have been helped with a therapist. Mom and Dad could have taken him to the local county mental health department for evaluation, help and therapy. You don't operate on yourself when you have a major problem, so many things in the mind cannot be helped with just families. A therapist is one of the people that can get to the root of the problem. Parents: Open your eyes to what your young people are telling you. Purchasing a gun is a start toward the end of darkness. Their hope is fading fast! Get the help NOW. Do not wait. And please, it's NOT God's plan. He doesn't want anyone to die. How dare anyone say that? It's like driving a car and the person is high on something. To say it's 'God's plan' for the person to drive and probably kill someone is stupid. God does not work that way.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:40 am |
    • Toni

      I am sorry, but you are wrong. This young man received years of treatment from highly trained therapists and still felt despair. I have suffered from depression and anxiety for over 40 years and received therapy, medication, and the support of family. I am a Christian who loves Christ and know that he loves and accepts me. I do not fear death and know that even if I die as a suicide, my soul will be with God. I have been at the edge of life
      many times. As a well educated nurse I understand that I am not a bad person because of my illness, but I still feel guilt. I also know that I am not to blame for how I feel. My mind is just 'broken'. Some days are good and some very bad. I have hope, but still don't know how it will all end.

      September 18, 2013 at 3:32 am |
      • RichardSRussell

        Give up the Christianity, and it's entirely possible the guilt will go away with it.
        Religion is, if not necessarily the SOURCE of a lot of guilt, certainly an enabler and encourager of it.
        It's one of their main ways of keeping the money rolling in, you know.

        September 18, 2013 at 4:12 am |
  10. He's relieved his gay son is dead

    He'd rather his son be called insane than gay. THAT is how sick this vermin is. He allowed his depressed son to possess a gun. How'd he know he wouldn't go beserk and kill a whole lot of people? THAT IS WHAT TYPE OF HATEFUL FRUCK THIS BAZTARD IS.

    No suffering can make up for the evil this horrible person has committed.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:39 am |
    •  

      Godless Vagabond
      But, do you like Rick Warren?

      September 18, 2013 at 2:41 am |
    • talon331

      Depression is not insanity although, and I agree, his parents knowing he had a gun and suffered from depression should have sent up more then a red flag.

      September 18, 2013 at 3:07 am |
      • One That Truly Cares

        This pastor refused to get to the heart of the matter. If his son's issues were that he was gay, this pastor needed to discuss this with his son. A parent may not understand what it is to be gay but that should never mean that they fail to love their child ...... depression..... as the cause of this son's death. Get real ..... the pastor didn't want to deal with the real issue. And now his son is dead ....... and he questions "God's Will?" . The pastor and his wife could have gotten to the heart of the matter and let their son know how they felt about their son if being gay was the issue. If this evangelical can't deal with that .... then he should look no further than the mirror to know that blood is on his hands.

        September 18, 2013 at 3:28 am |
    • BO

      Hater much?

      September 18, 2013 at 3:11 am |
  11. Wish I Wrote Better

    I agree 100% with Fair Isaac. I would have written exactly what he wrote had I been a better writer and quicker. Thanks for your post. Son's death – sad for his family.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:32 am |
  12. Jeff

    Evangelicals are offtrack and fallen into a mindless liturgy. This is not an isolated story. More and more these pastors and professors are unable to help those closest to them. Hard to do that when your theology is all wrong.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:22 am |
  13. True_Atheist

    Wow....I can honestly say I'm ashamed to be an atheist after reading these comments! No logic, no reasoning, judgmental, hateful, no compassion, narrow-minded...aren't these terms usually what people reserve for "christians." Looking at the comments here it sounds like religious folk are of sound mind and us atheists are in a school yard name calling match! Horrible, just horrible....oh, and I'm glad you all read the God Delusion, but that book was terrible and flawed in so many ways – so please stop with the "delusion" quips! Please, for sake of atheism...quit acting ridiculous.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:20 am |
    • atroy

      Thank you for your comment. I'm not ashamed to be an atheist....but I am ashamed of how most atheist act. For me, being an atheist doesn't define how I feel about people of faith....rather it just indicates that I am not a person of faith. These people (the Warrens) are just trying to get through a difficult time the best way they know how....their faith. They are in my thoughts.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:34 am |
      • Their faith killed their son

        They have no grief. They're relieved he's dead. He was an embarrassment to them. SO MUCH SO that they'd rather he be thought of as insane than gay.

        THEY KILLED THEIR SON WITH THEIR MORALITY. Hypocrites are what they are.

        September 18, 2013 at 2:44 am |
        • talon331

          Depression is not insanity.

          September 18, 2013 at 3:11 am |
        • jubagwel

          where is your soul

          September 18, 2013 at 3:47 am |
      • Toni

        A_Troy and True Atheist, thank you. I watched an interesting debate online yesterday between Christian John Fugelsang, who is also a liberal and comedian and a young man who was an atheist. Sorry I don't know his name. They were refreshingly civil and good humored. Both acknowledged there are fundamentalists and rabid haters on both sides. I am a devout Christian but fully support gay marriage, gay adoption, and realize that we cannot know the mind of God. Thus, I believe there can be many paths to God. I have never been a big fan of Rick Warren, but I am so saddened for him and his family. No doubt both Christians and atheists will find fault with this comment, but I don't care. I have a higher than average IQ and am well educated in medical science. My relationship with Christ is firm and unshakable. Believe me. It has been tested. It is unfortunate that anyone on any side must stoop to epithets, hate, and cruelty.

        September 18, 2013 at 4:01 am |
    • Sorry, they lost all right to respect when they burnt people at the stake

      They haven't changed. They still want to put gay people to death. Africa didn't get that idea out of nowhere – they got it from people like Warren.

      You won't get me to respect delusional people. I won't do it. And I won't respect jackwagons like you who has his tongue up their nether hole.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • Gavin Ford

      I think it's an excellent book and there is nothing wrong with calling it what it really is: a delusion.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:45 am |
    • Hooligan

      That is just silly. We are not some coven who share a solemn oath. We simply do not believe in god and that is as far as our similarities go. Why on EARTH would the behavior of other atheists shame you?

      Something tells me you are NOT an atheist at all.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:50 am |
    • Dennis

      While I am not an atheist I appreciate your comments and the need for compassion. Name calling never solves anything. A tragedy occurred, whether you are talking about what went on in this young man's mind or the pain and anguish that the Warrens are feeling. As I had a family member tell me, "No parent should have to bury their child."

      September 18, 2013 at 3:38 am |
  14. stone cold

    Just sad that a troubled kid had to actually kill himself because his parents were:
    1. So in denial about his (mental) illness that they thought it would 'be prayed away'
    2. So narcissistic that they felt their children were possessions
    3. So 'god' oriented that they told their followers that the child would be safe
    4. Awful people whose 'glory' in fame mattered more than the life of their own son

    So, that then is what God approves of.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:16 am |
    • miscreantsall

      I thought suicide was a "serious" sin.

      So, how can he be raised to glory?

      Hmmmm, so maybe it's "pick and choose" or they have a very different "translation" of the bible?

      September 18, 2013 at 2:48 am |
      • leggs67

        The bible doesn't specifically condemn suicide.

        September 18, 2013 at 3:32 am |
      • jubagwel

        You should read the bible about how sins are forgiven it is not about what we do or don't do it is about what Jesus did on our behalf. Yes if you kill someone you will be forgiven, yes if you molest someone you will be forgiven..All of your sins are forgiven too...if you truly repent for them and ask for him to forgive them with his precious blood. Yes it is scandalous trust me you don't want God to be fair you need him to be just

        September 18, 2013 at 3:45 am |
  15. tonyl

    Human instinct is to believe in something super natural for the fear of unknown. When there is fear but then you can count on the support of the super natural power who will save us from the fear. Human nature want to believe and accept the super power to offset the fear. All religions are based on the same promise. God is all good but bad things happen on earth all the time. God controls everything on earth and universe. So he allows good and bad. Where is the logic? But the believers will justify and make themselves believe no matter whatever.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:15 am |
    • Johnny

      if you believe life is eternal, and this flesh existence is temporary, perhaps bad comes as a result of our error, or obsession with flesh. why is there this test? why is there anything? we really don't logically know much

      September 18, 2013 at 6:24 am |
  16. Richard Hicks

    It is really sad this young man killed himself. He was raised by delusional parents in a religious atmosphere. His parents are the ones that still have mental health problems because no one in their right mind believes in imaginary ghosts. Their son felt trapped by their sick perverted religion.

    Warren and his wife still do not get it even after this tragic event. Cult members live in complete denial.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:12 am |
    • jabba

      I totally agree.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:31 am |
  17. honora

    So inspired by this interview. God continue to strengthen and console The Warrens.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:11 am |
    • jabba

      So your god is ONLY responsible for GOOD things that happen and NEVER bad things. Hypocritical isn't it? Delusional is more like it.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:33 am |
      • jubagwel

        that is an ignorant reply

        September 18, 2013 at 3:50 am |
  18. abdallah777

    ((( O mankind! Say No God But Allah, Achieve Eternal Salvation )))

    " Laa ilaaha illallah " (There is none worthy of worship except Allah.)

    ( I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger )

    ( Introduction to Islam )

    September 18, 2013 at 2:09 am |
    • Take your allah and shove him up your donkey's rear end

      Then take him out and lick him.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:45 am |
  19. Fair Isaac

    I don't believe in God, and I don't know Rick Warren or his family. I do wonder why people are so reflexively judgmental about people they don't know, be they Rick Warren or Miley Cyrus.

    For that matter, I'm amazed people are so concerned with what others believe. I don't care what anyone else believes as long as they don't try to sell it to me and don't use it to harm other people.

    Either way, as a parent, what happened to this family is the worst thing I can imagine, and I'm sorry for them.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:07 am |
    • Isaac - it's called REAPING WHAT YOU'VE SOWN

      An eye for an eye. They spread hate – they get it back in spades.

      September 18, 2013 at 2:55 am |
      • jubagwel

        reaping what you have sown is in the bible. Good job using truth

        September 18, 2013 at 3:51 am |
  20. Jeff6187

    It's really sad to see the criticism of these people. I read this thinking I would find some of the same criticisms ... "damned rich ultraconservative tele-evangelists blah blah blah". The truth is that their religion and politics had little to do with this situation. This story is repeated far too many times and transcends every class boundary of religion, wealth, education, politics ... everything. Rather than find fault with these people, I found myself utterly saddened for their loss and pain. They feel this loss exactly as I would. Maybe i'll bash their politics and religion some other time ... but this time it just isn't right.

    September 18, 2013 at 2:04 am |
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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.