September 17th, 2013
08:40 AM ET

Rick Warren opens up about son's suicide in exclusive interview

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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Lake Forest, California (CNN) - Rick and Kay Warren stood outside their son's home, sobbing in each other's arms.

They knew.

They had talked Matthew, 27, off the ledge many times. But not this time.

A nod from a police officer who inspected Matthew's house confirmed their worst fears.

“I just hit the ground,” Kay Warren said.

On April 5, Matthew Warren killed himself with a gun after a lifelong battle with mental illness.

“The day that I had feared might happen one day, since he had been born, and the day that I had prayed would never happen … happened,” Rick Warren told CNN's Piers Morgan in an exclusive interview.

For the first time since Matthew Warren's death on April 5, Rick and Kay Warren are speaking out about his troubled life, how the tragedy changed their faith and their new mission to draw attention to mental illness.

The full interview aired Tuesday night on CNN’s "Piers Morgan Live" at 9 pm ET.

In 1980, Rick and Kay Warren founded Saddleback Church,  now one of the largest in America, in Orange County, California. Twelve years later, Warren published "The Purpose Driven Life," a runaway best-seller that catapulted the pastor into stardom.

At the same time, though, their son Matthew Warren struggled with borderline personality disorder and deep depression for much of his life, the Warrens told CNN.

He had a loving family and access to mental health care, but not even that could spare him, they said.

Matthew was a young man with a "tender heart and tortured mind," Rick Warren said.

“If love could have kept my child alive, he'd be alive today, because he was incredibly loved,” he added.

The Warrens also spoke during the interview about how their son's death has affected their Christian faith.

GALLERY: Rick Warren over the years

“I never questioned my faith in God; I questioned God’s plan,” Rick Warren said. “God isn’t to blame for my son’s death. My son took his life. It was his choice.”

Slightly more than half of Americans - 53% - think that churches should do more to prevent suicide in America, according to a new poll by LifeWay Research, a Christian company based in Nashville.

Evangelicals and other Americans appear to disagree, however, about using religion to overcome mental illness, according to the LifeWay poll, which surveyed some 1,000 Americans and was released on Monday.

Nearly half of evangelicals, 48%, say that 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 want to spread the word that even though their story had a tragic ending, “there’s hope,” Kay Warren said during the interview with CNN.

“It’s so important that people know, no matter how desperate their despair, there is hope, and not to give up.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Death

soundoff (1,210 Responses)
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    January 8, 2014 at 1:44 am |
  2. Charotte

    I watched a rerun of Mr. Warren on The View this morning. I feel there was a reason why I was given the opportunity to watch it a second time. My sister suffers from severe depression and debilitating migraines and has suffered for years. I just received a call from her that "she is another state" and will not be joining the family for Christmas. She has been suicidal in the past and it scares me when she gets like this. I don't know what the right thing to do is or where to turn. I have prayed and can only keep praying she will be all right. Thank you, Mr. Warren, for your generosity in sharing your sorrows.

    December 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
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  5. aracely

    I feel for the family, I have walk thru the shadow of dark. I am bipolar, and if it wasn't for God, the doctors, families and friends I wouldn't be a functioning person. Since, 2007 I have obtain associate degree and I work full time and a single mother. I give God the Glory, that each he gives the courage to get up and do for myself. The biggest enemy is oneself. I am bless, but there are many people who don't have it like me. There are people who get ignore and unloved. Do what you can to stay strong, pray and encourage each other. When Jesus said Love one another, he meant it, thru it all love one another.

    November 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  6. C_the_C

    Does anyone have links to the research they used for this piece?
    For this: 'Nearly half of evangelicals, 48%, say that 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.' I'm keen to see how many people they asked for this (sample size and methodology) to see if is accurate.

    The peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds (Phil 4) – This says to me, faith which includes mystery we cannot know everything, not everything can be explained in logical scientific and/ or logic biblical terms.

    October 26, 2013 at 2:05 am |
    • storm

      C- Jesus warned us that the way to Him is "narrow" and "few" find it. So it is no great surprise that so many think they know how to make it to heaven but without Jesus and being born again- nobody will meet Jesus in heaven. Catholics and many so called Christians try to get to heaven through doing "works" and worship men but Jesus said do not do this! Yet we have nations who continue to disobey Jesus. Sounds simple but obviously most folks don't get it. Most folks won't get it-as written in Revelation where we are warned that just a small group of us will make it to meet our precious savior Jesus. He alone is our Shepard-this world is fallen, dead, carnal and can do nothing for us. If we serve Jesus, He guides our steps and we do HIS works, not the worlds.

      October 27, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  7. urban turner

    As a father who has lost my only son, my heart goes out to Pastors Rick and Kay. There is no pain as great as that of losing a child. I can assure them there is nothing else they could have done and no medicine they could have used, that would have changed the outcome.

    October 7, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • William Irons

      Truly, my most earnest condolences to you and your family. Words never suffice, but I pray God's comfort to you, whenever this took place. Your experiences are those I would not wish upon anyone.

      October 7, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  8. Jennifer

    This was very hard to read. I feel like I'm in an army and one of my soldiers has fallen. I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder and severe depression daily also and it's not easy. Over the years it has gotten better and am a Peer Support working for a major health system to bring awareness, support, and resources to others suffering from mental illness. Hopefully with a lot support, reduced stigma, and more resources mental illness can be better managed.

    October 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • storm

      Jennifer- I wonder have you ever sought to know Jesus Christ? As a trained mental health professional, I can say from my 20 yrs experience, mental health does not remove personality disorders nor does it heal depression, suicidality, etc. yes- mental health can provide some support,and docs can give drugs to stabilize But only being in a relationship with Jesus can totally heal mental health issues. While this opinion will bother and annoy many, I have found it to be the truth.

      October 5, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • Andy

        what a silly thing to say. Jesus is not and never was real. It’s recently come to light that the roman “elite” invented Jesus to convert the masses.
        You may as well have asked if she has found harry potter, both story book characters.. Both myths and Not real.
        Sorry but evidence shows that my statement is correct.

        October 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
        • Strong Tower

          Hello Andy,

          So the Roman "elite" create a fictional character named "Jesus" to convert the masses. Really? So Nero and other Romans just made it to persecute those believers for centuries...until emperor Constantine. Sorry, what evidence shows that your statement is correct?

          October 11, 2013 at 9:58 am |
        • Char

          J.K. Rowling found Jesus.

          November 30, 2013 at 1:28 am |
      • Brian

        Storm, that isn't always true.. just because you have a certain experience does not mean that is what everyone's experience will be. I have lived with mental illness my whole life and about 5 years ago, I drastically changed my diet (to a diet most people wouldn't do) and it took about a month to start seeing results.. Now I am about 90% better and counting. So to me, it's about nourishing the brain and body. I grew up in a christian home and my dad is even a pastor. Yes, having a relationship with God can help some however, nothing ever got better with me until I took the initiative to change my diet. I've also known a other people who were very close to Jesus and had faith he would heal them yet still took their own lives. I don't say this to make anyone angry but I'm just pointing out reality. What works for some doesn't always work for everyone else.

        November 25, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • Anthony

      How did you get better ..how do you cope...I need to know...I am scared I am loosing my son.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  9. Fr. William Lugger

    How sad this young mans life was. I do believe that it takes BOTH, spiritual guidance and a physician with Mental illness background to help the patient. God does give us great medical advances and people who use them wisely to help and to sometimes cure. But as a Catholic we also have the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to aid in spiritual healing. I pray foe comfort and peace for the family and for all who suffer from mental illness and for those who treat them.

    September 30, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • pina

      Yes! Fr Lugger I agree. It takes BOTH. Many mental illnesses have to do with imbalances of brain chemistry. It takes a medicall
      Dr, a psychiatrist or a psychopharamacologist to prescribes medicines to even out the imbalances. That takes of the physical aspect of mental illness. What helps tremendously with treatment of these illnesses (as there are no cures but a lifetime of management) is a STRONG faith. To have a belief to hold onto and help you thru the rough patches is crucial! Its very important to have a spiritual connection that can keep you grounded

      October 1, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
  10. faith

    I am 45 years old and suffered from depression for the last 25 years. Last night I had another episode of feeling defeated at every turn of my life. I have many moments of suicidal thoughts. I could not continue the pain one more day. I pray to God – to give me strength and courage to go on. Most days I don't know why I am still here. It sounds to me from most of these comments that most of you have NOT suffered from clinical depression. It is a living nightmare every single day of your life. All the church going and bible study do not work at times for us who do not see the goodness in life anymore. Our sick minds take us to a very dark place. Sadly there are many of us who do not see a loving, spiritual side to life anymore. God cannot answer ALL of our prayers. We need to find our own inner strengths.

    September 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • hharri

      Austin, is that me?

      September 29, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • storm

      Faith- I am sorry to hear of your suffering. May I ask have you prayed the prayer of salvation, confessing your sins and asking Jesus to come into your heart? Satan has legal rights on a soul who has not prayed this prayer in faith and humility. Depression is a demon and often comes down through the generations. For myself I renounced witchcraft, occult, sin, in the name of Jesus and began to slowly come out of the deep despair I lived with for many years.

      September 29, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
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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.