Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of megachurch pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide Friday. Warren died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, said Deputy Daniel Aikin, with the Orange County Coroner’s Office.The tragedy raises questions about how churches deal with mental illness. As Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, notes, people with mental illness are often attracted to religion and the church, either to receive help in a safe environment or to live out the worst impulses of their mental illness.
Unfortunately, few churches have the proper expertise and resources for help.
Rick Warren and his wife founded Saddleback Valley Community Church, a megachurch in Southern California. Some 20,000 worshippers attend the church weekly.
In a note, he addressed his son’s mental illness: “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.”
In his blog, Stetzer calls on churches and pastors to deal more openly and honestly with mental illness. And to “end the shame” associated with it. Finally, he advises churches to be unafraid of medicine sometimes needed to treat mental illness.
“Why should this be of concern to people of faith?” Stetzer writes. “Simply put, there is no place where Americans are more connected and no place where grace is more expected than the church.”
How does your church deal with mental illness? Has it ever been an issue?
I am doing a story on this topic and would love to hear your thoughts. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 717-771-2024.