WASHINGTON, April 7, 2013 — The suicide of Matthew Warren, youngest son of Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay, is a parent’s nightmare and a tragedy. And because Rick Warren is a prominent Christian and has been politically active, it has elicited the anonymous venom so common on the Internet.
Matthew Warren, 27, had suffered from mental illness and struggled with depression. His parents had sent him to doctors, he’d been medicated, had gone through counseling, and had been the subject of countless prayers on his behalf, but mental illness can be viciously tenacious, and in a moment of depression, he killed himself.
And now amid the support and love of Pastor Warren’s congregation and well-wishers around the country, a flood of hate has poured out on the Internet. It comes from a variety of directions. For instance, some writers, both non-believers and devout believers who have strong differences with Warren’s ministry blame the son’s death on the father:
“I’m sure they earned their suffering. Warren is a monster.”
“He knew his daddy was a fraud fleecing the masses and just could no longer live with the guilt and continue the charade.”
“I am a Christian and this guy was no Christian. … Purpose driven life my ars. The kid couldn’t be helped by a cult-like atmosphere and false teachings.”
“Old rick betrayed the lord jesus, so the lord tossed ricks goofy son into hell’s eternal pit, where the worms never sleep and cover him all the while his souls in eternal torments!”
“He preaches about saving millions of lost souls, but couldn’t save his son. Just another phony preacher taking advantage of stupid sheep!”
“Matthew Warren was “lost in a wave of despair” known as his father’s ministry. Soon, we’ll find out Jr was gay and was depressed his old man was behind anti gay legislation in places like Kenya.”
That last one runs into another strain of hatred, assuming that the son was gay (that seems to be the only “mental illness” that some people associate with a young man described as “an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man”) and that his despair was due to his father’s assumed hatred of homosexuals:
“Rick warren hates all homosexuals. Look it up! His own son couldn’t change his mind. Do you think for a minute that rick is in mourning? His son was gay! He is rejocing. What a pathetic excuse for a human being.”
There are others who are convinced that suicide is a direct ticket to hell, and who think it Christian to remind Matthew’s parents of that:
“I can only think of one “believer” who committed suicide: Judas Iscariot. Did he suffer a mental illness, too?”
“No murderer hath eternal life….. Judas went to his own place…. Sorry, that but those that kill themselves give strong evidence of being caught in the bond of iniquity and the gall of bitterness.”
“Yes, he will go to hell. I hope he was not gay, then he goes to hell twice.”
The responses are varied, having in common only the writers’ delight in public cruelty, motivated apparently by considerable hate.
My knowledge of Rick Warren is limited. I’ve never read his books nor listened to one of his sermons. We’re theologically far apart, and probably disagree on a number of points of political policy. But we have one big thing in common: We’re fathers, and I believe we both love our children beyond measure. Just trying to imagine being in his shoes right now brings tears to my eyes and makes the ground beneath my feet seem to drop away. It’s unimaginable, yet for too many parents it becomes a nightmare reality.
Those of us who are Christians understand that all men and women are sinners, none of us worthy of God’s love. Yet His love for us was so vast that He sacrificed His son for us. Those of us who don’t believe that story understand that all humans are imperfect, and that this life, as short and painful as it often is, is made bearable only by the love and compassion of other human beings.
Whether you believe that Rick Warren is an honest minister, a fallen minister, or a religious charlatan, it is a rejection of all that makes humanity beautiful or the object of God’s love to take joy in the pain of the Warren family. It is a rejection of the Bible and human decency to claim to know who deserves what, to sit in for God or the universe in judgment and to smugly affirm that we know what God would do if only He knew what we know, that we know what each human merits and should be the ones to give it to them.
Mental illness can be intractable in the face of medicine, therapy and prayer. We do what we can. And what we can do, each of us, is to lift each other up, to share each others’ burdens, to not add to another’s pain. Life is hard enough as it is. If you think that Warren is a bad man, remember it’s better to do good than to fight evil. We should not seek to see that others get what they deserve, but to help them get better. We’ll all wish that for ourselves some day.
Anonymous hatred can be fun, but we’d all be better off without it.
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.
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