Rick Warren Makes First Public Comments Since Son's Death

"I have wept every day since my son died and I make no apology for that," the Saddleback pastor tells his church. "Grief is a good thing. It is the way we go through the transitions of life."

Rick and Kay Warren took the Saddleback Church stage May 25, the first time since their son's death on April 5, 2013. Screencap/Saddleback.com
Rick and Kay Warren took the Saddleback Church stage May 25, the first time since their son's death on April 5, 2013. Screencap/Saddleback.com
By Martin Henderson

They took the stage arm in arm, joined together by grief and the decision to take a step toward the new normal. Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, founders of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, spoke publicly for the first time since their youngest son, Matthew's, suicide seven weeks ago.

They were emotional—Kay in particular, as her comments to the Saturday afternoon congregation lasted about 70 seconds before she retreated backstage.

But they were strong—Rick, in particular, who proclaimed he was more fearless and less concerned than ever about what people thought of him, referring to those who reveled in his family tragedy.

"We're going to do the right thing regardless of what the pundits say," he proclaimed about midway through his 21-minute talk. "And we really don't care because we're not accountable to them because we do it for an audience of one."

That brought on one of several ovations from the crowd, and it was the final point he made before moving on to honor veterans and people who lost loved ones in battle as part of a Memorial Day recognition weekend. After that, he shared what was coming later this summer—including the first series he will preach titled, "What's On Your Mind."

Matthew Warren was afflicted with mental illness. The elder Warren made that revelation public following his son's death, and repeated something he indicated previously in a released statement, that he and his wife knew "for a long time" they would one day become spokespersons for mental illness.

The author of the bestselling "The Purpose Driven Life," and the man who gave the invocation at Barack Obama's first presidential inauguration, Warren has been referred to as his generation's Billy Graham. But the events of the past two months indicate no one—no matter how close to God in their spiritual walk—is exempt from the heartache of tragedy.

"Honestly, it's been very hard coming back because I knew we would be overwhelmed," Kay Warren said. "We said at Matthew's memorial service that we were devastated by the death of our son, but we're not destroyed by it. As much as I dreaded coming, because this is hard ... it's great to be here with the people who love us, and it is also great to stand and affirm, again, our faith."

Her departure left Rick Warren alone onstage. It's a place where he's comfortable, but the initial moments were not without tears as he recalled Matthew, who took his life with a shotgun on April 5.

"I have missed you so much," Warren said, speaking publicly for the first time since the tragedy. Although in front of his flock, it was not a sermon, but if there was a lesson to be taught, it came in his initial comments.

"I met with the staff this week and told them never apologize for tears," he said. "And never be embarrassed by tears. Because if you want to be like Jesus, you've got to learn how to weep.

"Grief is a good thing. It is the way we go through the transitions of life. Everybody has losses and grief is the tool that moves us through the losses of life. The shortest verse in the Bible is two words, 'Jesus wept.' Jesus wept. I have wept every day since my son died and I make no apology for that."

Warren said he was not without hope and he was not scared "because I know where Matthew is."

He said his family, at last count from cards, emails and through social media had received "25,000 or 30,000 condolences. I have never felt more love, and I love you."

Warren explained that his absence from church—he was replaced several times by guest preachers, including Perry Noble of South Carolina's NewSpring Church, who provided a very humorous sermon about letting go of the past before Warren's arrival on stage at the end of the service—is not a big deal in the big picture. He will take "two or three months to recharge."

"I've been here 33 years and I'm going to be here a whole lot longer," he said.

He did admit to being exhausted physically and mentally from the grief, "but spiritually I've never been stronger, I've never been closer to the Lord, never had more confidence in God, never been more comforted, never felt more love from God because I've spent a lot of time with Him in these days."

Because Saddleback averages more than 20,000 in weekly attendance, making it one of the 10 largest Protestant churches in America, Warren expressed disappointment his family could not have held a public funeral.

"There were a couple of problems with that," he explained. "If we did, we'd have to have Angel Stadium or seven services. And, sadly, there were protesters who were going to get involved. So we had to keep it quiet and keep it private, but I knew you were praying for us all the time."

Having done hundreds if not thousands of funerals, he said, Warren then talked about the easiest funerals to do and the most difficult.

"Without a doubt the most difficult is the death of a child because you're not supposed to outlast your child," he said. "But the most difficult of all is a suicide. People take their lives for different reasons," he said, citing regret and guilt, resentment, rage and retaliation.

"Matthew took his life out of relief," he continued. "For 27 years, he had struggled with mental illness. When he was a little boy, he struggled with deep, deep depression. Part of the grief we're dealing with is not just his death, but the grieving over his life. Watching a child for 27 years say, 'Why can't I be normal, why can't I be like everybody else.' That was tough."

Warren also addressed the difficulty of having a child commit suicide and it being "national and international news" and seeing the ticker across the bottom of the screen on CNN.

"No parent wants to see a ticker tape with their child's name and the words 'autopsy' and 'suicide.' No parent should have to go through that," he said. "On top of that, I'm a public figure. There were actually enemies who were happy for this, who celebrated the pain we were going through for various reasons.

"Honestly, my attitude toward Satan was, 'Is that all you got? Really, is that all you got?' "

The audience applauded.

"I'm still standing," Warren continued. "Christ is my best friend, has been for 50 years. ... And I'm not walking away from that. Are you kidding me?

"My daughter Amy said, 'You know, when Jesus was crucified, Satan I'm sure felt he had won; he had no idea how badly he had lost at that moment.' Satan has no idea how badly he has lost in this situation. Amy said, 'Daddy, he picked a fight with the wrong family.' He did. He did."

Again, more applause.

Warren moved on to the subject of mental health and said more people worldwide have mental illness and depression than have diabetes and heart disease combined. He cited a number of things, such as depression, obsession, schizophrenia and thoughts of suicide, then said "every one of you know someone who struggles" with mental illness.

"If you are struggling with mental illness, this is the church for you—because we're all a little crazy," he said, bringing a rare bit of laughter to his comments.

"There's a myth that mental illness means insanity. It doesn't. Everybody is broken. We have broken bodies, we have broken relationships, the weather's broken, the economy's broken, our brains are broken. You have a broken brain. Everybody does. That's why we struggle with fears and anger and depression and all these things."

And then he shared the topic of the next sermon he will preach—his first since Easter—when he returns later this summer: 

"The first series I'm going to do ... is a series we're going to do this summer on... [Warren took a long pause to collect himself before announcing the title] What's On Your Mind."

Clearly, there's a lot on his.
Shripathi Kamath May 27, 2013 at 11:54 PM
Marto, you're right. This *is* news. And by publishing it, it gives people like me, opportunities.
Martin Henderson (Editor) May 28, 2013 at 12:53 AM
Hey Shri, all we ask is that it remains smart, civil and considerate -- especially given the circumstances here. I know you're not a Rick Warren guy, but you are a valued contributor for being able to work within that context.
M May 28, 2013 at 09:18 AM
Martin Henderson stop "policing" everyone's comments. It's not your job, you're just the "reporter".
Wendy Bucknum May 28, 2013 at 10:30 AM
M- he is the editor and thank you for covering local news Mr. Henderson.
MFriedrich May 28, 2013 at 12:56 PM
What's interesting to me is how Warren's own baptist Christian dogma gets in the way of progress on matters of human mental health and the tragic outcome of suicide. We humans are denounced by scripture as broken, wretched, guilty of original sin, and therefore deserving of a certain, eternal death and endless torture sentence from the day of our own birth. Only by acknowledging this fact and willfully scapegoating our transgressions onto Jesus can we hope to avoid this outcome. So we are all "created" by the Perfect One both broken and sick, yet simultaneously commanded by Him to be well. I'm sorry, but if He existed, Yahweh has to be the biggest celestial jerk imaginable.
Greta Boris May 28, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Where on earth did you learn your theology MFriedrich? That is not even close to the message of Christianity. I'm so saddened by the bitterness and bigotry that has surfaced because of this tragedy.
Shripathi Kamath May 28, 2013 at 02:56 PM
From whom do you see this bitterness and bigotry, Greta? If MFriedrich is wrong or incorrect, could you please point exactly what and how he is wrong about?
Mike Proctor May 28, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Bill Ellis, Mr. Warens son did not live at home. He also obtained the shot gun by skirting the law. He bought the gun from a private citizen, via an on line add. They both failed to to comply with California law, requiring a transfer of ownership, and a background check, which can be done at almost any sporting good store or gun shop. This tragedy had nothing to do with "guns in the home", and everything about mental illness. Please do not spin it to fit your anti-gun agenda. On another note, i find is very sad seeing how much vile hate can be directed at a person, and their family when they are going through so much pain. EVEN if what the anti-Saddleback Church crowds say were true, why can't you be a bigger, and better person, and at the very least, just REFRAIN from commenting. This is not a political or religious issue, this a family tragedy issue. I'm not a Saddleback Church member, or even a fan of the church, but I do recognize when decency and kindness should be shown. My sympathies to the Waren's
Shripathi Kamath May 28, 2013 at 02:59 PM
"I have wept every day since my son died and I make no apology for that," Why would he think that anyone is asking him to apologize (and to whom?) for weeping over a dreadful loss? Mr. Warren may have to apologize for many things perhaps, and yes people often call him on those things, but for mourning the loss of his own son? No one would be anything more than sympathetic. It is an unimaginable tragedy.
Shripathi Kamath May 28, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Mr. Proctor, just as it is relevant for the article to highlight Mr. Warren call to treatment of mental illness, it is appropriate for Mr. Ellis to correlate the presence of a gun with someone that is mentally ill. Mr. Ellis was graceful enough in expressing his thoughtful sympathy over the tragedy (he starts off with that), so exactly where is the lack of decency and kindness? "This is not a political or religious issue, this a family tragedy issue. " Not when the article cites Mr. Warren's call to dealing with mental illness in the very context of his tragedy. Then it becomes a bit more than that. Look, he is discussing this publicly, so someone else addressing it likewise is not exactly indecent.
Mike Proctor May 28, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Shripathi, My comment about being vile and hateful, was meant at for other posts, past and present (hence the "on another note"), not Mr. Ellis. But I just reread my comment, and yes, I did not make that as clear as i thought it sounded, when I was typing it. "...EVEN if what the anti-Saddleback Church crowds say were true, why can't YOU be a bigger,...." -------------I should have used "they", instead of "you". Mr. Ellis spoke about guns in the home..----".....address the issue of guns in the home, especially with a mentally ill family member". I simply pointed out the fact, that Mr. Warren's son did not live at home with his parents, and that the gun was illegally obtained. Now, if you want to make it a gun issue, then the argument should be about gun laws, not guns in the home, and whether the laws do or don't work. Obviously, the current laws, that were meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and mentally ill people failed 100%, in this situation. Both parties failed to comply.
socratesfive May 28, 2013 at 11:06 PM
Thank you for a fair and accurate report of the Warren family tragedy. This story was well written and documented exactly what I heard when I attended. This was a moving and amazing first appearance since their tragic loss and we were moved to tears at how strong their faith remains even through the most difficult of times. Thank you for great journalism!
MFriedrich May 29, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Greta, I recommend reading John 3:36. This God-inspired verse was written around 70 A.D. It nicely sums up Christianity's value proposition with a fear-laden call to action.
Greta Boris May 30, 2013 at 03:59 PM
MFriedrich if I suggested you run because the house was on fire would you be offended? It's certainly a fear-laden call to action.
Nicole May 31, 2013 at 03:47 AM
I do not understand why there is so much hate for a family losing a child. There are hundreds of articles on the patch about local citizens tragically dying (unfortunately) but because all of a sudden one of those articles is about Rick Warren's son it is suddenly about religion? Losing a family member is devastating regardless so I don't understand why people can't just let him and his family grieve in peace even if you don't agree with a single thing he says.
Shripathi Kamath May 31, 2013 at 11:33 AM
@ Nicole "I do not understand why there is so much hate for a family losing a child." I do not see all this hate you allege.
Shripathi Kamath May 31, 2013 at 11:38 AM
@Greta "MFriedrich if I suggested you run because the house was on fire would you be offended?" Not offended, but annoyed when there is no evidence of any fire. If the house was on fire, then I'd be thankful to you for pointing it out. But setting the Christianist metaphor aside, and forgetting the other fire that the Muslim or Hindu over there is warning about, you just bolstered his point. The threat of eternal burning is the Christian value proposition. Believe what you insist is true, or *deserve* to be burnt forever. That is true is it not? John 3:36 in a nutshell Seriously, that is love?
Greta Boris May 31, 2013 at 02:38 PM
Shripathi, my point was not whether there was a fire or not but that the early Christians obviously sincerely believed there was. Their suggestion, given their perspective, was loving, not hateful as MFreidrich said. Also, John 3:36 is taken out of context completely. In fact, John 3:16 is in the same chapter and precedes that verse, well stating the actual theology. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but having everlasting life." So, believe or don't believe, it's up to the individual. The Christians who do believe are just trying to help. Everyone is invited to the everlasting life party.
MFriedrich May 31, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Greta, I'm aware of 3:16, which makes 3:36 all the more inexplicable. He so love the world that he killed his own son to demonstrate this love, requires us to believe in Him....or else. This idea of required vicarious redemption is not only obscene and morally bankrupt, it's completely necessarily - particularly for an omniscient, omnipotent deity. If I killed somebody, I deserve to pay the price. But if I killed somebody and you forgave me, then turned yourself in on my behalf to pay the price for me, is that moral? Is that just? Of course not. You could forgive me, but you could never take away my guilt, nor the truth of the fact that I had murdered someone. It's said that Jesus suffered died for my sins. Why? No thanks. I don't want anyone dying for my sins. If I've done something wrong, then I deserve to pay for it. I disagree to associate with vicarious redemption, and I think others are well to do the same.
MFriedrich May 31, 2013 at 03:02 PM
correction *it's completely unnecessary*
Shripathi Kamath May 31, 2013 at 03:12 PM
"Shripathi, my point was not whether there was a fire or not but that the early Christians obviously sincerely believed there was. " The 9/11 hijackers sincerely believed that they will be in heaven for flying a plane into a building, so what? Sincere beliefs are commonly found. Early Christians, pre-Christians, modern Christians, Muslims, Hindus, early Hindus, early Muslims who saw Mo ride into the sky on a winged horse... "Also, John 3:36 is taken out of context completely" How so? John 3:36 is complete, it does not say that it applies to a specific narrow scope. This is typically Christianist, though! John 3:16 in isolation is somehow NOT taken out of context, even when people just cite that verse, but John 3:36 is? How? By decree? By sincere belief? "The Christians who do believe are just trying to help." So are the Muslims who ask you to shun worship of a man called Christ as divine. If they are to be believed then you'll burn in Hell for worshiping Jesus as if he were divine. They too are trying to help you (and me) Now what?
MFriedrich May 31, 2013 at 04:59 PM
The fact is, you are every bit the atheist as I am about Islam, Hinduism and I suspect you lose zero sleep at the likelihood of suffering for all time in everlasting lakes of sulfur for failing to submit to those gods. So I am just like you in this regard, Greta. I simply take it one imaginary friend further. As for taking things out of context, even I can appreciate the beauty within Psalms and especially Proverbs. But it's condescending to say I can't read Leviticus 20:13 and understand what it means. I believe the Bible means what it says in Leviticus 20:13 and John 3:36 and 1 Timothy 2:12. I just question why people believe this to be the best an highest form of moral literature we can possibly have.
Shripathi Kamath May 31, 2013 at 06:00 PM
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” - M"Stephen Roberts"Friedrich
Nicole June 01, 2013 at 07:55 AM
@Shripathi You don't see the hate? Were you not watching the news the week this event happened?
Shripathi Kamath June 01, 2013 at 10:37 AM
Nope. I did not see the hate towards Warren for losing his son, and I did watch the news. So, do you have any evidence, or simply playing persecuted helps your well-being? Remember, you commented on this post with accusations of much hate towards the Warrens for losing their child. And your comment was about the Patch comments. About how they are not be let to grieve in peace.
Nicole June 01, 2013 at 07:04 PM
actually my comment was directed at the media not you, but since you like to get involved with everyone else's comments and like to attack everyone...here is your evidence http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/09/local/la-me-ln-rick-warren-haters-celebrate-your-pain-after-sons-suicide-20130409
Shripathi Kamath June 01, 2013 at 10:22 PM
@Nicole, this is a public forum on the Patch. Any comments you make, I make or anyone else makes are subject to discussion. "my comment was directed at the media not you" You mean the media has been hating him for the death of his son? That's new! Again, Warren's loss is unimaginable, no parent wishes to outlive their child, and certainly not see them commit suicide. To discuss what is publicly offered by Warren or anyone else is not hate, unless one martyrs himself or herself. Now, regarding that article you cite as evidence. That is Rick Warren making the martyr-complex allegation with "haters be hatin' me" not evidence. Not one hater's message was cited, especially that of a "hater" hating him for the death of his son. Were there (or are there) people who hate Warren? Of course. But barring a scattered few (there are always some), no one is hating him for losing his son. Certainly not here, and certainly not in any volume you echoed. There are many who hate him for other reasons.
Anjel July 02, 2013 at 03:06 AM
Thank you for the update! I often times wonder how public religious figures such as the Warrens and the Osteens really handle or would handle tragedies such as death of a loved one or losing all their wealth and fame. I've lost both a loved one and just about all of my wealth and am finding it verrrrrrry tuff to keep the faith. I really have no shame in saying that I've lost my faith.
Tom July 15, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Suicide is a weakness of the mind brought on by many different reasons...its not a illness like a lot want you to believe but a last ditch move to remove yourself from a situation that the individual feels is beyond repair, it's a selfish move that the one knows will get the ultimate attention even though they know they will affect those that love them. It's a way out of the pain that one is suffering be it mental, physical or just plain love that one feels is out of reach. So for one to commit suicide doesn't mean they're insane or ill. I don't know what happened in Rick warrens family or what their child was like but it's very sad it happened to them. I wish them the best and they will move on. Pastor Rick has helped many so now its time for his flock to help him and his family back to recovery.
Shripathi Kamath July 15, 2013 at 12:57 PM
"So for one to commit suicide doesn't mean they're insane or ill." The situation as I understand it is that the young man was diagnosed with mental illness long before he committed suicide, and not that he was diagnosed as mentally ill because he committed suicide. __________________________________________________ "its not a illness like a lot want you to believe." I am not sure that anyone, let alone "a lot" said that they were believing or wanting to believe that.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something