Rick Warren’s Tragedy is Not a License to Attack

Why are people attacking Rick Warren over the death of his son?
Why are people attacking Rick Warren over the death of his son?

We live in a hateful world folks, and I’m thinking it’s past time for us to grow up and leave these childish things behind.

A man loses his child to mental illness and suicide, and a large number of us use that as an excuse to attack him because of his religious beliefs.

You can find, among hundreds of comments on USA TODAY’s news story on Matthew’s death, comments such as the Cincinnati poster who says, “Either there is no God, or God doesn’t listen to Rick Warren, despite all the money Rick has made off of selling false hope to desperate people.” In another comment, the same poster counsels Warren to “abandon primitive superstitions and accept the universe for what it is — a place that is utterly indifferent to us.”

It is simply outrageously heartless and cruel and those who have joined in on this should be ashamed of themselves. And if they aren’t sensitive enough to understand why they should be ashamed, we should help them in their understanding. More on that in a minute.

First things first, I am not a Rick Warren fan. I have some problems with his theology, and I’m reasonably certain he would have some problems with mine. But there is nothing in the tragic death of his son that can be used to support or attack his theology or his beliefs. And most certainly, now, in his grief, is not the time to attack him.

Unless of course, you are a heartless coward.

Yeah, I’m a little bit angry over this.

My friend Catherine Brittain Allison, best known to many of you as Katie Allison Granju, lost a son under similarly tragic circumstances. Because she wrote a book about attachment parenting, the somehow controversial idea that parents should actually prioritize the raising of their children rather than treat it as a part time job, Katie was viciously attacked on the internet by hateful people who apparently have nothing better to do than spill their venom all over people who are already hurting. Because she was an outspoken advocate for her son on her blog and in her life, things got even worse. Another pastor I’ve met, Steve Berger, lost his son to a car crash. Steve got a tremendous outpouring of love and support from his congregation, but there were other voices who were less supportive. Pastor Steve doesn’t have the fame that Rick Warren has, not even as much as Katie, so he was spared most of the venom.

I don’t understand this need some of us have to pour salt on open wounds. I have a hard time believing that we can be so cruel as to delight in the misfortune of others. My best guess is it is some kind of atavistic belief in sympathetic magic, almost like we are ritually protecting ourselves from a similar event by attacking the victim. If we can attribute the cause of the tragedy to a characteristic of the person, then we can explain it, rather than have to deal with the fear that it is just random chance, and we are vulnerable. Taking that a step further, if the characteristic we chose is one we don’t share, we can comfort ourselves even further. And finally, if it is a characteristic we disagree with, we can go so far as to feel morally superior and even somewhat approving of an event which we have transformed from a senseless tragedy to some sort of moral retribution.

Are we so afraid that we are willing to trade somebody else’s pain for our own peace of mind?

I think we are better than that, so let’s prove it.

It’s not enough to refrain from the attacks ourselves. It’s not even enough to quietly disagree with them. It’s time to stand up and oppose them vigorously and passionately, just as we would if those attacks were coming against us or a member of our family. Whether you agree with Rick Warren or not, whether you are a Christian or an atheist, the one thing we all have in common is we are going to deal with tragedy. Let’s embrace that painful truth and let it bring us together.

I’m not going to get into a long argument with atheists about whether the death of Matthew Warren proves that God doesn’t exist, or with Christians about whether his death indicates that Rick Warren is not a true Christian. Both positions are wrong, by the way, but now is not the time for the discussion. Now is a time for us to offer condolences and support to a man who just lost his son.

Here is what I am asking; as soon as you see, hear, or read something negative or argumentative directed at Rick Warren, respond politely but firmly. Say something along the lines of “Now is not the time for this discussion. The family is grieving and that deserves our respect.” Don’t get drawn into a debate or an argument. Just make your point and disengage. Walk away if you have to.

For myself, I’ve never lost a child, although I came far closer than I ever believed possible. Maybe that has given me a different perspective on things. All I know is that I pray that God grants Matthew’s family grace and peace through this dark time, and that God is merciful to Matthew.

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