As most Christians know by now, last weekend the son of America’s most famous preacher, after Billy Graham, killed himself with a shot to the head. Rick Warren, mega-church pastor of Saddleback Community Church, announced via the internet that his son’s long battle with mental illness had come to this tragic end. I’ve kept silent on this terrible event until now, but several things compel me to comment.
First, an assortment of Warren’s enemies, from gays to atheists, have weighed in with cruel castigation. They suggest that the tragedy is judgment for opposing gay marriage or that the Warrens should accept the “fact” that their son is rotting in the earth with no heaven in sight. These critics need to leave the grieving couple alone and not impose a political or polemical template upon this awful deed.
Second, some Christian witch-hunters, who go after anyone they don’t agree with, have declared the suicide was good riddance for a man they consider heretical. Other misguided believers suggest the son is in hell because he killed himself. The latter group show zero understanding of the ravages of certain mental illnesses. Would they also condemn to hell a man who broke his leg and died from blood clots as a result? Of course not. Well, sometimes the brain breaks which causes a diminished capacity for moral perceptions of life and death issues.
One more thought. Warren says that his family tried everything to cure their son, seeking out the best doctors and mental health specialists. But what if some demonic force was taking advantage of the young man’s emotional condition? It’s not likely that they would have sought deliverance since it lies outside Warren’s theological purview, as least as far as one can tell from his preaching. It’s not my intent to point a finger of accusation at what may not have been done, but rather to say that the church can no longer summarily dismiss demonic factors in cases of mental distress. In some cases, it could be the key to preventing another sad outcome like the Warren experienced.