Rick Warren, critics, and the hope of God’s Son

This week is the funeral for Rick Warren’s son Matthew. The 27-year-old Christian took his own life last week after a battle with depression that began when he was a young boy.

I first heard of this tragedy via text from friends such as Pastor Perry Noble. Upon receiving the news, I placed my hands on my head in shock and started weeping for my friend Pastor Rick, his family, and church family. I was in the middle of enjoying spring break with my wife, Grace, and our five kids, having family fun. My older daughter, 15-year-old Ashley, was standing nearby when I received word of the death, and, seeing me weep, she came up to console me and see what was wrong. I told her what had happened and told her that Satan hates pastors’ kids and is sometimes relentless in attacking them. I told her I loved her and kissed her on the head. I could not imagine what Rick and Kay Warren were experiencing at that moment.

Grace and I prayed for the Warrens and their church, and then informed our kids of what had happened so they could be praying also. I then texted my executive elders, Pastors Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner, telling them of the news so they could pray for our friends at Saddleback Church. In my message I told them that the hatred of critics and enemies was coming and that it would be “irrational” and “demonic.”

I knew it was coming: Venom. Hatred. Criticism. Evil.

My heart sank knowing what grief would be added to the already unimaginable grief. And, it has happened. It even happened on my Facebook wall in response to my post, which simply said, “Teared up hugging and praying over my 5 kids today while praying for my friend Pastor Rick Warren whose 27-year-old son died. Please pray for his family & their church family.” Most Christians responded with kindness and a promise to pray. Some, however, said some ugly things I will not repeat. They were not alone.

A recent Google search for “Matthew Warren” turned up an article in a business journal regarding speculation that he was gay, an atheist’s rebuke for the Warren family grieving at all if they believe in Jesus and heaven, a paranormal article explaining that Matthew was born under the emotional zodiac sign of Cancer and his parents must have neglected his emotional needs, among others—all on the first page of most popular search results.

USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Post, and other news outlets have reported on the flood of irrational and hateful responses. Pastor Rick via Twitter and Facebook, gave us a glimpse into his own pain saying, “Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest…”

Anyone with a modicum of a conscience has to grieve the way many people have treated Pastor Rick and his family during this, the most difficult season of their life. And anyone who has journeyed with someone they love battling mental illness or depression knows that it is incredibly complex and unpredictable, and defies simplistic diagnosis and treatment. Only God clearly sees the interplay between the chemistry of the body, the life of the mind, and the hope of the soul, since it is all marred and complicated by the sin that has entered the world.

But, why?

Why is there so much evil heaped upon one of the most loving, encouraging, and generous men I have known in my entire life? My friend who texts me to say he loves me and is praying for our church and wants to know if there’s anything he can do to serve us? My friend who not only spoke at our first Resurgence conference, but also spent maybe an hour hugging nearly every person who attended? My friend who has repeatedly over the years asked me if there were any young leaders I knew that he could encourage and serve?

There are three kinds of people who attack Pastor Rick.

1. People who disagree with him

Rick Warren is one of the most high-profile Christians alive today. People who dislike (or even hate) Christian beliefs despise him because they see him as representative of those beliefs. Most of those people are non-Christians. This is to be expected. The more people you influence, the more people who hate you. It’s a corresponding scale. If you influence 10 people, one will oppose you. If you influence 1 million people, 100,000 people will oppose you. Like Pastor Rick once told me, “If you call the shots, you take the shots.” This is the price leaders pay to get Jesus’ message out.

2. People who wrongly think they know what he believes

These people are often well intended but badly informed. Rather than reading the doctrinal statement on his church’s website to discover what he believes, they instead get bizarre bits and pieces strung together out of context from extremist “discernment” ministries with no theological credibility or research integrity. Subject to lying, fearful and gullible people are then guilty of lying and gossiping as they swarm like bees around a colony every time some queen bee summons them for orders to head out for online stinging. I make a conscious effort to avoid these and porn sites for the same reason: they are filled with horrible trash that ruins lives. Not long ago, however, I was flipping through channels and sadly stumbled across a well-known televangelist and stopped only because I heard the name of Rick Warren. The host was ranting about something called “Christlam,” which is apparently a last-days/end-times deception, wedding Christianity and Islam into a one-world religion to deceive the elect. It would have made a funny Saturday Night Live comedy sketch, but instead was a grievous charade in the name of Jesus Christ as Pastor Rick has been very clear about this issue. This is just one example of an irrational fools’ parade of nonsense out there against him.

3. People who are jealous

Jesus’ brother James speaks of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (James 3:14). People who are ambitious for themselves become bitter against and envious of those who have succeeded. Pastor Rick is successful. He has a huge church, massive influence, and best-selling books. Some people are jealous. They believe they are godlier, humbler, wiser, more informed, more helpful, more truthful, and more deserving of a large platform.

So they criticize and oppose, as sometimes the easiest way to make some noise is to become the critic of someone who has a lot of influence. Lift up the rock of irrational, overblown, unreasonable criticism and you will see the roach of jealousy scurrying away from the light.

I’m no coward or compromiser. I’ve not gone soft. I’ve not watered down my sauce. I have always fought for the truth when it was required. I don’t just personally believe in the Bible, sin, the cross of Jesus, and the wrath of God in hell—I emphasize these truths and scream them like a madman to anyone who will listen from one of America’s least-churched cities.

I also deeply love my brothers and sisters in Christ who walk in the truth—even those I disagree with on secondary, open-handed issues. And, the truth is that a lot of people would honor Jesus today if they publicly repented to Pastor Rick of things they have said publicly about him, his family, and his ministry that are untrue during this, the hardest moment of his life as he and Kay hold hands and weep over the death of their younger son. You may want to defend yourself by saying you disagree with some things he’s said. But heck, I disagree with some things I’ve said, and you disagree with some things you’ve said. And, the truth is, you would not hold up well under the scrutiny he receives and opposition he endures. I don’t know how he does it.

To my Reformed brothers and sisters, I would remind you of the Desiring God conference a few years back where Pastor Rick was invited by another friend, Dr. John Piper. Pastor Rick did not make the event but spoke via video simulcast. There were many who speculated that he was proud and too important to show up. I’ve seen this a few times, as he also cancelled last minute at another event where we were both scheduled to speak. In every instance, he gave the simple explanation of pressing family matters. In hindsight, maybe he wasn’t being proud or rude but rather being a devoted dad to his son and not wanting to divulge details to a hating online mob.

I pray for him and Kay to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, as they need perseverance that is supernatural. I’d encourage you also to pray for them, especially this week.

Pastor Rick, I love you. Thank you for loving Jesus and so many people. I weep with you for the loss of your son. I rejoice that you worship a Father who buried his Son and is perfectly able to comfort you today. And, I rejoice that your son worshiped God’s Son who not only died, but rose from death and ascended into heaven where he welcomed your son and is preparing a family reunion that will last forever upon the resurrection of the dead. It will be a glorious day when you hug your son again!