LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The Southern California church headed by popular evangelical Pastor Rick Warren announced Saturday that Warren’s 27-year-old son has committed suicide.
Warren’s Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement that Matthew Warren had struggled with mental illness and deep depression throughout his life.
“Matthew was an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many,” the statement said.
“Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Despite the best health care available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life.”
Warren, the author of the multimillion-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life,” said in an email to church staff that he and his wife had enjoyed a fun Friday evening with their son before Matthew Warren returned home to take his life in “a momentary wave of despair.”
Church spokeswoman Kristin Cole said he died Friday night.
Over the years, Matthew Warren had been treated by America s best doctors, had received counseling and medication and been the recipient of numerous prayers from others, his father said.
Still, he struggled over the years.
“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said `Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’” Warren recalled.
Despite that, he said, his son lived for another decade, during which he often reached out to help others.
“You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man,” Warren wrote. “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.”
The elder Warren founded Saddleback Church in 1980, according to his biography on the church website, and over the years watched it grow to 20,000 members. He and his wife, Kay, began by holding Bible studies for people who weren’t regular churchgoers.
Warren is the author of numerous books and was named the top newsmaker of the year for 2009 by the Religion Newswriters Association, gaining attention with his invocation at President Barack Obama’s inauguration that year.
In 2008, the church sponsored a presidential forum with Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney had been invited to a similar forum last fall, but Warren canceled it, saying the campaign had become too uncivil.
As Saddleback has grown over the years, it has spread out from its Lake Forest headquarters, 65 miles southeast of Los Angeles, adding several other campuses and ministries around Southern California.
The church says it now offers more than 200 community ministries and support groups for parents, families, children, couples, prisoners, addicts, and people living with HIV, depression and other illnesses.