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Reflection, bitterness follow suicide of Warren’s son

Well-known pastor and author Rick Warren, whose son Matthew committed suicide last week, said yesterday that the gun the young man used was unregistered. He had purchased it online, the Associated Press reports:

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is trying to find the seller but it won’t be easy. The gun’s serial number was scratched off, making it impossible to trace, spokesman Jim Amormino said . . .

It’s illegal in California to buy a gun without a background check and purchasers are supposed to register their firearms. Defacing a gun’s serial number is a federal offense.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December, Warren had this to say about gun violence and mental illness:

Anytime you have a major crisis or tragedy like this, there are multiple angles. We’ve had seven major shootings in America since April. There’s a mental health angle that you have to deal with. I don’t think we’re taking care of those who are struggling with mental illness like we need to in America.

The Post’s Sally Quinn talks with Saddleback Church co-founder Kay Warren on doubting God’s existence, the HIV/Aids epidemic and why God allows suffering. (From the archives: August, 7, 2012) (The Washington Post)

Many were surprised to learn that Warren’s son was mentally ill, and Matthew’s suicide led to a conversation about mental illness among religious leaders:

The revelation has spurred discussion within church communities about how a fervent belief among evangelicals in the power of prayer and dependence on God and Jesus for healing might stifle congregants from talking about mental illness or seeking help for themselves or family members . . .

When people suffer despite prayer and consider therapy, “people think: ‘Is this a knock against my faith? Am I not believing in God enough? Now I have to resort to this?’ ”said Henry Davis, leader of the evangelical First Baptist Church of Highland Park. “I believe God is in therapy. I believe God can be in medicine. If someone says, ‘I’m just going to pray,’ you have to do more.”

Warren wrote “The Purpose-Driven Life,” a bestseller, and he is a prominent figure in the evangelical community. During the 2008 presidential election campaign, he hosted the candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, at a forum on religion at his California church. Robert McElvaine described Warren’s views on religion in a column at the time:

Warren is in the religious middle, where, as the enormous popularity of his book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” attests, most Americans of faith are to be found. He opposes abortion, but his main focus is on the issues on which Jesus focused: poverty, disease, hatred, community, and stewardship of the environment.

Nonetheless, Erica Brown writes that Warren “has been a lightning rod for critics who spurn his evangelism and find his faith shallow,” and that many have responded to Matthew’s suicide by mocking his father’s beliefs:

A casual skim of comments to online articles has digressed to anti-gun legislation, homophobia, mental illness and the high-minded claim of hypocrisy. “I can guess correctly that Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life didn’t work on Junior. Or maybe that trying to ram it down his gullet caused him the mental illness.” Does it get any uglier?

Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren. (Associated Press)
Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.


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