As he mourns the death of his 27-year-old son who killed himself Friday, famed evangelical pastor and author Rick Warren is receiving an outpouring of prayers and support from tens of thousands of followers of his Saddleback Church ministry.
But Warren, who has been praised by mental illness experts and pastors for being remarkably public about his grieving, at the same time has been attacked by those who disagree with his faith. Now, he's taking to social media not only to grieve, but to address his "haters."
"You're most like Jesus when you pray for those who hurt you, 'Father forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing,'" Warren, who lives in Southern California, tweeted on Monday. "Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest. Your notes sustained us," he wrote a day before.
Matthew Warren, the youngest son of the pastor and his wife, Kay, died Friday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police reports. In an emotional letter written Friday to his 30,000-member church and released to the public Saturday, Warren asked for "love and prayers," and said his son died after years of "mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts."
"In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life," Warren wrote.
Matthew Warren, who was a lifelong member of Saddleback Church, died in his home in Mission Viejo, Calif., a short drive from Lake Forest, where his father's ministry is based. On Monday, church leaders announced that his memorial would be private.
"Since the Warren family is loved by so many, no building in Orange County is large enough to hold an open memorial service. The family decided it was best to have a small, private service for their son. Of course, Pastor Rick will speak publicly to our church family about the tragedy when he returns to preaching after a grieving period," the announcement said.
"We've known for years God would use us to fight mental illness but were protecting Matthew's right to share his own story," he said. "Over the years, hundreds have written @KayWarren1 and me about mental illness in their families too. We've helped each other."
Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life has sold more than 30 million copies, is one of the most prominent Christian ministers in the United States. His church, founded in 1980 and one of the largest in the country, hosted the Saddleback Civil Forum in 2008 for presidential candidates, then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. The church previously hosted a global summit on AIDS and the church. Warren found himself amid controversy in 2009, when he was picked to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration but was criticized by Obama supporters for his stance against same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.