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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. Kebos

    "I questioned God’s plan"

    Really?! He really thinks there is a omnipotent being out there with a plan for him. And part of that plan was for his son to die. Why do we give these people any of our time? False, phoney and a disservice to humanity!

    September 18, 2013 at 7:23 am |
  2. Realist

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

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

    His http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

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

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

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

    September 18, 2013 at 7:21 am |
  3. Jack M

    If I knew my son was suicidal and had a gun, I'd hold him down on the ground until someone else found the gun. Then I'd immediately get him the help he needed. Pastor Warren has hid head so far up his butt he can't see daylight. What kind of a father is this anyway, and why do people buy into his money-making philosophy. Losing a child is more than one ot the "transitions of life," as he puts it. Disgraceful!

    September 18, 2013 at 7:15 am |
    • Ann

      I'm no fan of Rick Warren, but you're conveniently using 20/20 hindsight.

      The son had long-term mental illness. He'd been committed before. He probably (like so many others who eventually commit suicide) threatened to do it numerous, numerous times. It's unrealistic for anyone to expect the parents to somehow know that THIS time was the real deal.

      Break down the door? How often? Hold him to the ground? For how long? Sooner or later, you just have to cross your fingers and let go. If they had called the police (as I do think they should have), we can't know that the son wouldn't have gotten into a "suicide by cop" shootout in which other people were endangered as well.

      September 18, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  4. Pinolera

    James 1:13 When under trial, let no one say: “I am being tried by God.” For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone

    September 18, 2013 at 7:13 am |
  5. progfaith

    Can you even imagine living under the tutelage of Rick Warren? Being force-fed heavy delusion every day of your life? Having to watch him prosper by lying to every person he meets? There's no mystery whatsoever about why the young man killed himself. His father's evil delusion and his mother's complicity sealed his fate from the day he was born.

    September 18, 2013 at 7:05 am |
    • Realist

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

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

      His http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

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

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

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

      September 18, 2013 at 7:17 am |
    • Mark

      Good point Satan!

      September 18, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  6. SixDegrees

    And I should care what this misanthropic bigot thinks...why?

    September 18, 2013 at 6:52 am |
  7. D

    It's sad how much bullying goes on here.

    September 18, 2013 at 6:46 am |
  8. Evila

    Honestly speaking, I've been to a lot of problems before and I blame God about it. Now I realize how stupid I am. Unlike Warren's, I didn't lose anything especially someone but I became overreacted. Silly me.

    September 18, 2013 at 6:27 am |
  9. Vinny

    I bet Rick wished his son was gay now.

    September 18, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • Abbee Smith

      So true.

      September 18, 2013 at 5:58 am |
  10. Offering Support?

    Those who choose the way of logic and science are the supportive ones. To do ortherwise is delusional. I didnt even read the article becuase this mans views are so abusive and as a father it make me sick to see people like this ruin other peoples lives.

    September 18, 2013 at 5:49 am |
    • sybaris

      Exactly

      All it takes for a religionist to ruin other peoples lives is for rational people to do nothing

      September 18, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • HoboSmith

      Well said

      September 18, 2013 at 5:59 am |
    • djasp

      nothin like skipping an article to just so you can mouth off.. its a comment section on an article..

      September 18, 2013 at 6:47 am |
  11. Ralph

    My mother did the same thing..

    She had 'freewill' to do so and I do not blame God

    September 18, 2013 at 5:36 am |
    • sam stone

      how is freewil consistent with an omniscient god?

      September 18, 2013 at 5:45 am |
    • Evila

      Yes, you're right. God has nothing to do with a person's decision. He is so weak to end his life but we really don't know the real score out of it.

      September 18, 2013 at 6:21 am |
  12. classicwmn

    My heart goes out to the Warrens. It rains on the just, and the unjust.

    September 18, 2013 at 5:03 am |
  13. dennis

    GODS WORD IS ALWAYS TRUE.
    people however do not practice what the WORD OF GOD says, and experience tragedy.
    GODS WORD HAS ALL POWER
    people, and preachers don't believe all that's in the bible

    2 Timothy 3:5 NIV
    having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

    Hebrews 4:12 KJV
    For the word of God is quick , and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

    Hebrews 7:25 KJV
    Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

    Proverbs 22:6 KJV
    Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old , he will not depart from it.

    Deuteronomy 6:7 KJV
    And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down , and when thou risest up .

    Deuteronomy 11:19 KJV
    And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up .

    ITS VERY SAD TO SEE ANY TAKE THEIR OWN LIFE, AND THINK THAT IS THE END OF THEIR PROBLEMS.

    September 18, 2013 at 5:01 am |
    • Russ

      What good do you think it does to post a bunch of Bible verses with no real context or commentary around them?

      September 18, 2013 at 5:39 am |
      • sybaris

        Russ c'mon, don't you know? Speaking bible verses is like saying, "Abracadabra ala-kazaam!"

        September 18, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • Idlewood67

      Bible verses are meaningless to people who don't believe that it's the "word of God." You might as well be quoting Moby Dick or Fifty Shades of Grey to me. It's all the same thing.

      September 18, 2013 at 6:01 am |
    • Realist

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

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

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

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

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

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

      September 18, 2013 at 7:18 am |
    • truthprevails1

      "THINK THAT IS THE END OF THEIR PROBLEMS"

      It is the end of their problems, it is who they leave behind that deal with the grief, for the one taking their own life there is simply nothing more that is verifiable.

      September 18, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  14. Bruce

    . I am A born again believer. There is A God, and for those of you that are in denial, I Pray that you will find The Lord before its too late. Mental illness is very real and it does not always turn out good with out help. I will not point fingers because I am not God, He will do that on judgment day. I do believe someone with any problem should seek A (King James 1611) Bible believing Church for help. In closing I would like to make two things clear,! If you take your own life, you will not see Heaven, because you took your life and you had no Repentance. 2. If you son is Gay it is not okay because he is A sinner and God hates Sin, not the Sinner, The Sin. So never give up to satan God can and will Help, if you SEEK Him with all your Heart, Soul, Mind ,and Strength, I know he Saved wretched man like me.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:59 am |
    • sam stone

      speaking for god, are you?

      "Mental illness is very real and it does not always turn out good with out help"

      get some

      September 18, 2013 at 5:28 am |
      • nay err

        lol

        September 18, 2013 at 5:32 am |
    • TheBob

      Which god? And why?

      September 18, 2013 at 5:31 am |
    • sam stone

      if being gay is not a choice, how can it be a sin?

      silly paranoid man

      September 18, 2013 at 5:38 am |
    • UncleBenny

      According to the Bible, mental illness is due to demonic possession. That would be very helpful.

      September 18, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • Realist

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

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

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

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

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

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

      September 18, 2013 at 7:15 am |
    • Milton Platt

      Got any proof to back up your conjecture?

      September 18, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • Milton Platt

      Your god hates the sin but loves the sinner....but it is he sinner he tortures forever??? Without your god, the concept of sin would not exist, therefore the concept of eternal torture would not exist........the. Option of sin is a religious construct.

      September 18, 2013 at 7:44 am |
      • Milton Platt

        Autocorrect got me. "the notion of sin is a religious construct".

        September 18, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Ann

      Randomly capitalizing words does not lend additional authority to your view. It just looks silly and pompous.

      September 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "When someone starts off a conversation identifying themselves as a 'Born-Again Christian', they are about to be an asshole."

      September 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  15. Gary

    Such a shame. The parents still are in denial about him being gay. They would rather he buy a gun and kill himself then to come out of the closet. God loves everyone including the gays and the non-believers. A sad story that happens everyday. Gay children killing themselves because they think they are doomed. So sad.....Parents will know write a book and make more money from the son they could not accept.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:51 am |
  16. Epidi

    Hindsight is always 20/20 – about calling the police or having him commited for his own safety when talking of suicide. My heart goes out to this family. I cannot begin to imagine the grief they are going thru.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:40 am |
  17. worldcares

    After decades of the studies of world theology and the ancients, one needs to be able to grasp the concept. of fear, which evolved civilizaltion.
    In my heart, I do not condone, the practice of Evangelism, by preying on the weak and innocent, to give you monies.
    That is a hypocrisy.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:38 am |
  18. lulu

    if you are not offering support, please stop making comments.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:25 am |
    • sam stone

      public blog, lulu. people can say whatever the fvck they want, as long as it makes it past the word filter

      if that bothers you, too bad

      September 18, 2013 at 5:40 am |
    • allenbam

      yeah lulu lemon head...what about the 'support' his so called parents NEVER gave him? In denial for $$$$ ? get a grip...talk about taking the easy way out...that's Rick and Kay...

      September 18, 2013 at 5:46 am |
    • Support

      "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."
      Thats NOT support. Its manslaughter. How do we know he wasn't already shot but still alive????

      September 18, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  19. RichardSRussell

    He doesn't blame God, eh?
    So does he THANK God when things go well?
    Because they both make about the same amount of sense — namely, none at all.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:09 am |
    • Realist

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

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

      His http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

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

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

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

      September 18, 2013 at 7:20 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.