I want to begin by saying that I sympathize with Rick Warren and his family over the suicide of his son Matthew. In no way should this post be misconstrued as a lack of sympathy. That being said, the first stage of grief is denial. Rick Warren chose last week to engage in some very public denial by announcing his forgiveness of the person who sold a gun to Matthew Warren.
I am as big a gun control advocate as there is, but I also am morally and psychologically informed and so I must say that the person who sold that gun to Matthew Warren did nothing wrong unless Matthew indicated he intended to use the gun to kill himself or someone else. I find that very unlikely. Rick Warren’s forgiveness of the person who sold the gun ignores the reality that a suicidal person who has decided to act on their suicidal ideation will make a suicide gesture. Suicidal males succeed more often than suicidal females because males prefer extremely violent means of suicide. If Matthew Warren did not have a gun, he would have in all likelihood used an equally violent means to kill himself. What’s more, the seller did not cause Matthew’s depression and suicidality. In the end, Matthew alone chose to end his life and so is responsible for his actions – no one else.
There has been much speculation in social media that Matthew Warren was gay, and there has been push back that such speculation is insensitive. I don’t know if Matthew was gay or not. I do know that one has to expect speculation when the son of a virulently anti-gay Pastor like Rick Warren suicides. Rick Warren’s wife, Kay, has become an HIV/AIDS activist over the last decade and is seen as an ally of the LGBT community because of her work with HIV/AIDS and her appearances at LGBT rallies. This is a recipe for speculation, and when one seeks public visibility as Rick Warren has sought it over the last few decades it is unreasonable to believe that such speculation will not occur. Once you move into the limelight you cannot control it – it shines where it will.
Over the coming weeks I believe there will be more information forthcoming. There will likely be some evidence based information about Matthew Warren’s sexual orientation. I suggest we hold our judgment until we have more facts. If it turns out that Matthew Warren was gay, then there will be no way to avoid his parents’ complicity in his death – a fact which would only intensify their grief. Since we cannot change the past, and I am sure at this moment whatever the details of the Warren family history might be both Rick and Kay are desperately wishing they could change the past, there is little point in judging or attacking the Warrens.
Unfortunately, certain deeply wounded members of the LGBT community are publicly celebrating Matthew Warren’s death as some kind of twisted punishment of Rick Warren for his failure to see the light on LGBT issues. Apparently their wounding is so deep that they cannot see they are using the same hate-filled rhetoric used against them by conservative anti-gay activists. If an approach is wrong it is wrong for everyone, and rejoicing in the suffering of another is ultimately always self-destructive.
The best thing that could come out of this tragedy, regardless of the issues of sexual orientation, would be an honest and forthright conversation about mental illness and the need to pass legislation demanding mental health parity in insurance coverage. Of course, the Warrens could afford to private pay for mental health services for their son and still he died. Imagine how great the struggle is for the vast majority of Americans who do not have the Warren family’s resources.