Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, have started a petition on the Saddleback Church's website to raise awareness and lower the stigma of mental illness. Their 27-year-old son took his own life about two weeks ago after a lifelong struggle with depression and mental illness.
"Join Kay and I, and the Saddleback Family, in our effort to urge educators, lawmakers, healthcare professionals, and church congregations to raise the awareness and lower the stigma of mental illness… and support the families that deal with mental illness on a daily basis," says the petition, which carries a picture of Matthew Warren, who shot himself on April 5.
"Matthew was just one of about 11.4 million American adults that suffered from severe mental illness in the past year," the petition says. "In fact, one in five Americans experiences some sort of mental illness."
The Lake Forest, Calif.-based pastor and his wife have also started a foundation on mental health in Matthew Warren's name.
After the family shared the news of Matthew's death, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the group calls for a commitment by Christians to help create space for and minister to those with mental illnesses. "This tragedy facilitates an opportunity if not an obligation for the Christian community to address mental illness," the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical Association said.
Mental illness exists in and outside of the church community, said Rodriguez. "Christians struggle with depression and even suicidal thoughts. It does not make you less of a Christian. Just like heart disease or cancer does not dilute our Christianity, neither does mental illness."
Dr. R.T. Kendall, author of the 2005 book Once Saved, Always Saved, told The Christian Post last week, "It would be cruel to imply or even hint that this young man would be lost because he took his own life. Any Christian is capable of doing unthinkable sin and injury apart from the grace of God."
Kendall, who was pastor of Westminster Chapel for 25 years and the author of over 50 books, also told CP that he felt that suicide was as pardonable as any sin a Christian may commit, noting that the Bible does not directly mention the act. "King Saul committed suicide. According to Samuel – who was with the Lord, Saul would join him the next day (1 Sam.28:19). This means Saul went to heaven," said Kendall, who previously subscribed to Arminian theology, including that a person can lose their salvation, but later joined the Reformed Tradition and became a Southern Baptist.
In an email sent to his staff the day after Matthew's death, Pastor Warren described his son as "an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man."
"He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He'd then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them," Warren, the author of the multimillion-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, said. "But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even 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."
Pastor Warren says in the petition that he and his wife "have been overwhelmed by your outpouring of love since Matthew's tragic death."
"I too have had a son die, so I have a sense of the pain Rick and Kay are facing," evangelist Greg Laurie, whose son, Christopher, was killed in a car accident at the age of 33 about five years ago, posted in his blog soon after the news of Matthew's death.
Pastor Mark Driscoll posted on Facebook: "Teared up hugging and praying over my 5 kids today while praying for my friend Pastor Rick Warren whose 27-year-old son died. Please pray for his family & their church family."
"My heart is broken over the sad news of @RickWarren and @KayWarren1 losing their son today. Please keep them in prayer," fellow megachurch leader Bishop T.D. Jakes tweeted.
Evangelist Will Graham, the grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham, said, "Please join me in praying for Rick Warren and his family as they mourn the death of his son Matthew. I pray that they sense God's peace that passes all understanding as they go through this valley."