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)
  1. bgclark10

    I have read all of this and I think you are all missing the point. Yes physician heal thyself, yet he is no physician. He says he reads and understands the bible and yes he and his family has suffered a great tragedy. He thought he was doing the right thing by praying to God, but he obviously did not comprehend what he was reading or misinterpreted what he read. You may pray all you want but you also have to work and apply what you have read in a practical manner. Prayer alone cannot cure or help you have to apply those teachings practically. For the unfaithful, stay that way and be blind, but there is much more good in this world than bad.

    September 25, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • WhatintheWorld

      Not one word of what you wrote requires there to be a god, your god, or any god. I love the old "misinterpreted" line. That is one of the christards favorite get out of jail free cards whenever they realize their square peg does not fit in the round hole. Misinterpret. Mysterious. God's ways are not to be questioned....blah,,,blah...blah.

      So much mystery from the omniscient one. Knowing how ignorant we were, perhaps the creator could have been a little less obtuse and saved his beloved creatures so much needless pain and suffering. Although, that would be quite unlike the blood-thirsty, vengeful tyrant of the buy-bull.

      September 25, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  2. Bea Heeled

    Just wondering if his soul was "tortured" because he might have been gay.

    September 24, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Study


      October 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  3. A. Reasoner

    Let's see, it was all part of plan, but god's not responsible. God's only responsible for the "good" things that happen. Wait, that's Santa. Either god isn't all knowing, all loving or all powerful. Why call him god? I'm sticking with Santa. He never builds mega churches or demands money.

    September 24, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  4. Gotham

    Rick's prayers didn't save his son. So what does that say for his credibility? Or that of God? Like they say in materia medica, "physician heal thyself". If a preacher's prayers are answered, we need to learn from it and follow what he or she has to say. But if it isn't..............

    September 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  5. Gotham

    When personal tragedies happen to those who claim to be God's chosen, or at least those who proclaim the word of God (like Warren), and you see the tsunamis, the earthquakes, the cancers, the senseless violence, the killing of innocent people, the suicide bomber who killed 70 people in a church in Pakistan today, and you ask "Where is God?" why is that not normal? Will a just, loving, caring God let these things happen? Oh yeah, those who defend God no matter what, they are just rationalists. You need to come up with a better explanation. To start with you could ask yourself does God exist? Ok, if he (why not she?) exists, who is he/she? Is it Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament? I personally think Yahweh is more cruel than Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Polpot, Saddam all put together. If you deny it, you haven't read the Old Testament.

    September 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • Tae

      Hey Gotham, I understand where you're coming from. I think it's normal for everyone to have these kind of questions; especially in a world where there is so much pain and suffering. I'm still figuring out a lot for myself but I feel it's better to have doubt and ask questions than to come up with our own conclusions and live the rest of our lives in ignorance. Anyways, I've visited this site from the recommendation of a few friends and at least found it to be somewhat informative in helping me to understand the reasons versus the actual answers. Hope it helps you too if you wish to explore more about it. http://www.exploregod.com

      September 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  6. Denise

    My precious daughter killed herself in August. Same way, same mental illness + bipolar that Warren's son had. I cannot imagine blaming God or myself for her death. She was loved dearly, if not perfectly. Her inner pain was too much for anyone to take away, and I do not know that she was able to rely on God to get her through...apparently not. I've read very ugly comments on this in the last few minutes. I have to say I am disappointed in mankind (definitely an oxymoron here) that this tragedy could be turned into something so extraordinarily painful after the fact.

    September 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • Athy

      My condolences.

      September 22, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  7. Pat

    Depression, one of the many gifts from "god".

    September 22, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • Lance

      Did you not watch the interview?

      Not all things are "from" God. He allows them to happen and it is part of His story ... you're merely playing a part.

      September 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
      • Gotham

        I believe the official term for that is "rationalization".

        September 22, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
  8. dolores prince

    God is the author of life-may He give you His Spirit

    September 22, 2013 at 12:54 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Go ahead, prove your or any god exists, or admit that you are a mentally ill delusional or a liar or both.

      September 22, 2013 at 1:21 am |
  9. Chan Ligan

    I haven't watched the interview yet but, here's my unbiased opinion. I think this was likely caused or at least influenced by his parents. Most people don't want to accept that parents are at least 99.99% of the emotional problem in their children's lives. Most people do accept this by the time they're 60 or so– single people anyway or people with integrity and feelings. Religion is an important factor but it is up to the INDIVIDUAL as to whether they want to follow it or not. I close this with, if everyone was loved, that love itself is the cure for all and any emotional/physical traumas.

    September 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • storm

      What troubles me is how hopeless this young man must have felt to think the only option was to take his life. Jesus came to take the sin from the world and when we choose and live for Him, we do have life more abundantly as He said. Warrens book reads:"The Purpose-Driven Life is a blueprint for Christian living in the 21st century" No- this cannot be correct since God's word trumps everything. "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."

      We were created to PLEASE GOD! The Bible tells us how to please God–by faith (Hebrews 11:6). The Bible is our blueprint, not Rick Warren's book

      September 21, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        Your blue print is SEVERELY flawed, cover to cover. To commit your life to it is irrational and illogical. I hope you seek some professional help.

        September 24, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  10. The Discovry Project


    September 21, 2013 at 3:25 am |
  11. The Discovry Project

    We are the generation that seek signs and wonders before we believe...

    September 21, 2013 at 3:23 am |
  12. Karen Strength

    I'm amazed at all this hate. I don't know why, I know how hateful people can be. I just expected to read the comments and find them full of support for this couple who are taking this huge, personal grief and trying to turn it to good for others who suffer. I guess it's because I spend so much time with loving, Christian people. I feel bad for those of you who are so hurt that you have to try and hurt others.

    September 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Chan Ligan

      Hey Karen,

      I haven't read through all these comments, but I wouldn't go so far to say that everyone here is full of hate. It is just a matter of opinion and not everyone who is religious can be loving.

      September 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  13. Tim

    "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."

    Good grief! This is the 21st century, and apparently, half the country have not evolved from, say, the 15th century.

    September 20, 2013 at 1:21 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.