LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The Southern California church headed by popular evangelical Pastor Rick Warren said his 27-year-old son committed suicide on Saturday.
Warren’s Saddleback Valley Community Church near Los Angeles said in a statement that Matthew Warren had struggled with mental illness and deep depression.
“Matthew was an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many,” the church’s 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. But Matthew Warren took his life Saturday after “a momentary wave of despair at his home.”
Over the years, Matthew Warren had been treated by America’s best doctors, medication, counselors and prayers for healing, Warren said.
“You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate man,” he 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 beeline to that person to engage and encourage them.”
Saddleback’s website says that about 20,000 people attend weekend services at the Orange County church.
In 2008, the church sponsored a presidential forum with Barack Obama and Republican 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.
Warren was named the top newsmaker of the year for 2009 by the Religion Newswriters Association, gaining attention with his invocation at Obama’s first inauguration and comments in the aftermath of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned gay marriage.
Warren also has made headlines for his fundraising abilities, raking in more than $2.4 million after making a plea for donations in 2010 to fill a $900,000 deficit at his Southern California megachurch.
The evangelical pastor made similar pleas after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami, raising $1.7 million and $1.6 million from Saddleback parishioners.