Rick Warren, bestselling author and pastor of an evangelical mega church in Orange County, preached for the first time on Sunday after his son’s suicide.
Matthew Warren, 27, shot himself in the head in April following a long struggle with mental illness. The Warren’s youngest child died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He shot himself with an unregistered gun he purchased online.
On Sunday, his father appeared in jeans and a black T-shirt in front of an estimated 10,000 congregants at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and vowed to fight prejudice against people with mental illnesses.
“It’s amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there’s no shame and stigma to it,” Warren said. “But if your brain breaks down you’re supposed to keep it a secret.”
“If you struggle with a broken brain, you should be no more ashamed than someone with a broken arm,” he told the crowd.
“It’s not a sin to take meds. It’s not a sin to get help. You don’t need to be ashamed.”
On Monday, he tweeted: “I’m back. And fearless after months in God’s presence.”
After his son’s suicide, Warren and his wife, Kay, launched a petition about mental illness urging “educators, lawmakers, healthcare professionals, and church congregations to raise the awareness and lower the stigma of mental illness.”
“Matthew was just one of about 11.4 million American adults that suffered from severe mental illness in the past year,” the petition states. “In fact, one in five Americans experiences some sort of mental illness.”
Ultimately, they both hold to the hope that God is with people during their times of trouble, and that God will raise the dead. Matthew’s body was buried in brokenness, Kay said, but will be raised in strength. Rick reminded everyone that heaven is coming. He quoted the Book of Revelation: “Then God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.”
Rick then made a promise: Saddleback’s next big ministry push will be to remove the stigma associated with mental illness in the church. “Your illness is not your identity, your chemistry is not your character,” he told people struggling with mental illness. To their families, he said, “We are here for you, and we are in this together.” There is hope for the future: “God wants to take your greatest loss and turn it into your greatest life message.”
For the next six Sundays, Rick will preach a sermon series entitled, “How to get through what you’re going through.” He will devote a message to each of the six stages of grief: shock, sorrow, struggle, surrender, sanctification and service. A larger program to address the specifics of mental illness has yet to be revealed, but it will be similar, Rick said, to the way their church has helped to tackle the HIV crisis.
Then, as the service closed, Rick joined the worship team in singing “Blessed Be Your Name.” He lifted his Bible high above his head and declared boldly to the God he serves: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.”