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. mikehosley

    Matthew 12:33
    "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.

    Matthew 7:20
    Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    I am so sorry for the needless loss of life and the lack of compassion shown by the clergy and some congregations towards certain types of people that clearly need not to be judged. I feel bad for any parent, anywhere that loses a child. Who am I to judge someone's lifestyle? Maybe the Warrens or the people toting around guns are right. Maybe the "I'm OK, you are not" folks are right- but everyones surely disturbed to see this play out like it did. That's evident by the comments.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  2. Realist


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

    The judeo-Christian-islamic ..... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

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

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


    September 18, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      All those hyphens. Are you a bully socie doing a shotgun group marriage??

      September 18, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  3. mygodmydick

    I question the freshness of Cod.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • David Flagg

      oh you funny

      September 18, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  4. Hell and destruction are never full

    What's next?? The A&A's are gonna claim Hemingway was gay?? He don't stand a chance against the gays and feminists.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Another name, lol???
      While we're on the topic of mental illness, have you discussed Dissasociative Personality Disorder with your mental health pract.itioner?

      September 18, 2013 at 8:56 am |
      • Hell and destruction are never full

        He went out of business, became a Christian, and dissociates himself from anything Freud. He muttered something about the Frankfurt School and Bloom.

        September 18, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  5. BBfather

    My son also killed himself with a gun. I understand the willingness to forgive, in fact I have forgiven those that sold him the gun, gave him drugs, and alcohol while he was underage and then abandoned him – breaking his heart when he was depressed and no longer any use to them. Forgive, I get that, but there should also be justice, they should have had to pay for their part in his demise.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  6. Anonymous

    Fortunately none of us can honestly judge what this young man, Matthew Waren, did; there is no man that can know for sure what any person is truly thinking before he/she decides to end his/her life except that life is too painful to bear. It is all too obvious that the pain of life was not worth living for this young man.
    Here are some possible scenarios of what he may have been thinking:
    I want to live. I want to enjoy life as any man does. I want a meaningful relationship with a good woman, I want meaningful employment. What woman would want me? What employer wants me? I can understand why, but that does not help. There is no good reason to discuss it with anyone because the answer is obvious. I can’t understand the way I think, but I know it isn’t good and the medicines do not help. I know people love me, but that doesn’t help. I know God loves me, but that doesn’t help. Nothing can help. There is only way is to end this life of misery and that too is not good; which only makes life more miserable because I will only hurt those who do love me. But why should I keep suffering just because some people love me? They will get over it in time; but if I continue to live I will only continue to suffer for how many years—I don’t know. I want to live a normal life, but I can’t—I must die.
    Was some of the foregoing some of the young man’s thoughts? We don’t know, we can’t know, so what good is there to discuss the issue, unless someone here is unhappy with life? All the talk in the world isn’t going to change anything unless it changes something in our life—can it, will it?

    September 18, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  7. Jeebusss

    As an atheist, I am sorry for his son's death even though I disagree with him. However, millions of people commit suicide every day in the U.S. Why we are giving this guy, who treats other people terribly on a regular basis, such an ongoing public platform on this topic is beyond me.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Jeebusss

      make that "every few years" lol. Not every day. Whoops.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Clarence LeBlanc

      I think the story is the story, not the content. Does that make sense? We have someone with supposedly a direct line to his God, parys constantly...and his son tradgically takeshis own life. I think it underlines the BS the Christian right tries to tell America. Was his son gay? Imagine living in hiding knowing if yourparents new who you were you'd be an abomination. Add to the fact he will also think it is your choice. Horrific...Christians never get tired of torturing their own...it's a hobby.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      "......................Why we are giving ..................." The socie A&A Wegodians are great at giving, alright. But do they have to skim so much for themselves?? It'll put society in the poor house, if you can find it.

      September 18, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  8. David Flagg

    Atheists need to be tad bit more courteous, doesn't matter what you believe or how right you are. These comments are always the same thing, "the bible is a fairy tale", "Christianity is a bronze age myth", "why does your god kill babies", etc etc. Be nice and hear both sides of the argument or you'll just start a comment war.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Why show courtesy when we have to deal with your religion forced on us everyday? Remove your relgion from OUR money, OUR laws, OUR PoA...that would show us that you can show courtesy as well.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:36 am |
      • David Flagg

        Never said Christians were blameless. What WE need to learn to do is stop shoving religious mumbo-jumbo down people's throats. If you're trying to make someone like a particular kind of food, it's best not to shovel it down their throats and expect them to have a sudden epiphany and like the food.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:44 am |
      • FREEDOMofReligion

        It's not just YOUR money, YOUR laws, YOUR PoA......it is ours also! It was put there by OUR founding fathers. This country was founded by Christians, and as religion fades, this county slips deeper into decay. If you don't believe me, just peek your head out of your door and take a look around.

        September 18, 2013 at 10:15 am |
        • Lisa

          It can be argued that this country has been slipping into decay ever since mention of God was put into the pledge and since the rise of the Christian Right.

          September 18, 2013 at 10:19 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 8:40 am |
      • David Flagg

        Thank you, for telling me that my God is imaginary and evil. Really makes my day.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  9. Hell and destruction are never full

    Abel died. Cain's genetics carried on.

    September 18, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      Or they were both characters in a work of fiction.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Lisa

      Are you saying that murder has a genetic link, that there's a "murder" gene?

      September 18, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  10. Hell and destruction are never full

    Soooooo, what's the Sodominan narrative about Bernie Madoff's son??

    September 18, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  11. JackoB

    Did he actually carry it out? Nope...

    September 18, 2013 at 8:06 am |
  12. NickZadick

    god's plan? Is it so hard to realize that even if god existed... he gave the universe a "life of it's own" and never interferes in our affairs? why else would millions of children die of starvation ans disease every year... the bible is a collection of fables and myths written by men who never chatted with god!

    September 18, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • JT

      But he does interfere and answers all prayers it's just hard to detect when the three answers given are always yes, no or wait.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        You can get those very same answers from praying to a jug of milk.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:08 am |
        • JT

          Or a fence post.

          September 18, 2013 at 8:13 am |
      • Jeremy

        That's so much bullcrap. How is the death of an innocent, the death of a child with severe mental health problems answering a prayer? IF God exists, then he is NOT interfering with human lives. God has NEVER granted an amputee's prayer to regrow an arm or a leg. God has NEVER granted a quadriplegic's prayer to reverse paralysis. God has NEVER intervened and brought back a child who was pronounced brain dead and was sustained on life support. God apparently didn't grant the Warren's prayers that their son could overcome his mental health problems.

        You live in a fantasy world and will probably cite to the mythical stories of the Bible to prove your points, which only proves nothing. Thousands of years from now, when humans look back on the money, energy, and time their ancestors wasted on organized religion, they will shake their head with the same mystified amazement that I have when I think of the Mayans sacrificing humans to the sun god, the entombment of grain and wheat in a pharaoh's grave, or the stoning to death of women who supposedly commit adultery. All religious dictates. All psychotic. All of them for nothing.

        IF God exists, then he isn't interfering in human lives. At the most, he's studying the ants in the ant-farm.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:25 am |
        • NickZadick

          Jeremy.... what is bullcrap...everyone who replied to me is in agreement, including you??

          September 18, 2013 at 8:59 am |
        • guest

          Jeremy, you wrote: “Thousands of years from now, when humans look back on the money, energy, and time their ancestors wasted on organized religion, they will shake their head with the same mystified amazement…”
          Look around you Jeremy; do you really think that humanity can survive another 1,000 years? Mankind is on the very edge of self-annihilation. Science has “screwed” with our food, water and drink until it is too poisonous to consume besides making it so non-nutritious for it to do us any good. Mankind, in the name of science, is poisoning the air we breathe. Apparently man is destroying the upper atmosphere so that man may not be able to survive the heat or cold. Mankind has devised so many ways to “mass kill” people in wartime that he may even destroy himself. Mankind is losing the war against diseases; new ones are developing faster than science can find ways to combat them.

          September 18, 2013 at 10:16 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        The secret to effective prayer, if the Catholics have taught me anything, is to pick the right Patron Saint.
        God is like the King of Laputa from Gulliver's travels. In order to get His attention, you must first engage his "flapper" – a man whose job it is to wiggle the King's ear with a bladder on a stick.
        Patron Saints are like God's flappers and if you want HIm to answer your prayers, you must ensure that the correct scrotum is being pushed in His face.
        For example, if you wake up one morning in a strange bed, make sure you offer a prayer through St. Fiacre, the patron of STDs. You may also want to say "Hi" to St. Bibiana, the patron saint of hangovers.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:46 am |
        • Bill Deacon

          Doesn't seem like we taught you much then Doc. My apologies.

          September 18, 2013 at 9:11 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          So Bill, please enlighten us all as to why Catholics pray to God through Saints.
          I was under the impression that it stems from the idea that God listens more to those who are closer to Him – and saints are right there in Heaven because they led holy lives.
          Are Catholics not asking the Saints for intecessory prayers because God'll give more weight to a message passed via someone He's already vouched for?

          September 18, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • Lisa

        I could just as easily be rolling dice every so often and expecting to get a 5. I either will roll a 5 (yes), won't (no), or probably will some other time (later). Big whoop!

        September 18, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  13. humtake

    Why doesn't Warren look at the prominent link between the children of religious leaders and the high rate of mental issues that follow? It's easy to tell why, when you try to make a kid believe everything you believe and force them to live a life from the moment they are born that they may not want...it causes mental problems. I believe in God and have full faith, but the kids I've run into throughout my life that had parents who were religious leaders always seemed to be more comparable to an oppressed citizen of a Dictator than a person who has grown up allowed to make their own decisions. It is ok to be a guide to your kids, but forcing them to believe what you believe is the problem.

    September 18, 2013 at 7:55 am |
    • NickZadick

      you started well! why don't you take an extra step and realise religions are all fairy tales!

      September 18, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • JT

      It's not just religious leaders but especialy parents who are members of these cults and then brainwashes and indoctrinates their own children into believing in this harmful garbage.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:18 am |
      • Lisa

        Members of those "cults", as you call them, don't believe that they belong to a cult any more than the average Christian does. Likely, you look to them what they look like to you. Plenty of people would say that Christians indoctrinate their kids, and that your beliefs are also "harmful".

        September 18, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  14. Total Existence Theory

    God can't be understood, so it's not my fault that I sin. God being defined without comprehension leads to justification for sin.


    September 18, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      Or, there is no god and therefore no sin.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Sin lies only in harming others unnecessarily.
      All other "sin" is invented nonsense.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:15 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 8:42 am |
  15. Tutuvabene

    It's OK to question God's plan. If God is who religious types say he is, he would have stopped the son's suicide.

    September 18, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • NickZadick

      I think you misunderstand these people's fairy tales!

      September 18, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  16. Derek

    If I was texting my son and he was talking about killing himself, I would be on my way to his house before the 5th text was sent.

    September 18, 2013 at 7:36 am |
    • Jeremy

      You know, I actually feel sorry for the Warrens on this front. Dealing with a loved one with mental health problems is extremely complicated when you don't have the church selling you on crap solutions like "the power of prayer." They were clearly in over their head and they put their faith in a God that either doesn't exist or doesn't care or doesn't get involved.

      I'm not saying that their son's death is their fault, but they should have called the police. Of course...after all that Warren has done for God, you would think that God would throw him a line regarding his son. But...nope.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:31 am |
      • David Flagg

        "The Power of Prayer" as it is preached right now is like a pair of glasses. A man gives someone with impaired vision a pair of glasses and says, "This will help you see." So the man walks around with the glasses in his hand and says, "Well, it's supposed to help me see better! Must not be holding it right." You can't blame the man that gave him the glasses for not caring.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  17. Sky Wizard

    So far no Christian doctor can answer this question. If a man comes to you and claimed he heard God's voice, you would prescribe medication. Yet, you believe that Abraham and all the prophets spoke to God?

    September 18, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • JackoB

      Well, what are the voices saying? If the voice is saying "Don't be a jerk to people," that wouldn't be terribly concerning...

      September 18, 2013 at 7:54 am |
      • Thatguy100

        Yeah, but what if the voice is telling you to murder your kid to prove your faith?
        Because that's a cornerstone of Christian faith, and they view that as a positive thing.
        Kinda scary if you ask me.

        September 18, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      God speaks to people all the time.
      In 2008, He told Boyce Singleton Jr. to shoot and stab his pregnant girlfriend.
      Deanna Laney heard God direct her to bludgeon her three sons, aged 9, 6 and 15 months. Only the youngest survived.
      Blair Donnelly received instructions to stab to death his 16 year old daughter, Stephanie.
      Christopher Varian was slaughtered with a cheese knife after God spoke with one of his employees.
      God told Jennifer Cisowski to dash her infant's head on the rocks, so ""Just like Jesus raised Lazarus, I threw the baby on the stones by the pool."
      Khandi Busby got a direct message from God advising her that the only way to save her 6 and 8 year old boys was to toss them off a bridge in Dallas. Fortunately, they survived.
      Angel Rico says he received a divine command to strangle his 4 year old son, so he did just that and left him at the side of the highway.
      Lashaun Harris threw her 3 young kids into the San Francisco Bay after God let her know that He wanted a human sacrifice.
      All of these people have been found legally insane by the judicial system, so if you hear God's voice speaking to you, it's time to check with your local psych ward to see if you need a huggy jacket.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:17 am |
      • guest

        Yeah, Doc, that was the god of this earth, the prince of darkness, also called Lucifer and Satan, that old serpent called the devil, but it was not the God of heaven from which Satan was thrown out because he rebeled against God.

        September 18, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  18. stevie68a

    Religion is a delusion. The buy bull was written by men.

    September 18, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • ko

      really? that's what u get from reading this story? wow.

      September 18, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • Total Existence Theory


      According to the big bang zero equals one, thus no opposites exist and God is not comprehensible.

      September 18, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  19. Reality # 2

    Why Rick Warren and others like him are not worth listening to:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    September 18, 2013 at 7:23 am |
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