Pastor Rick Warren, the best-known name in American evangelism after Rev. Billy Graham, lost his 27-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide this week.
Uncounted strangers have joined the 20,000 congregants who worship at the megachurch network “Pastor Rick” built in Southern California, Warren’s nearly 1 million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers in flooding social media with consolation and prayer.
But a shocking number are taking this moment of media attention to lash out at Warren on the digital tom-toms. The attacks are aimed at him personally and at his Christian message.
Some unbelievers want to assure Rick and Kay Warren, his wife and Matthew’s bereaved mother, that there’s no heaven where they’ll meet their son again.
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.”
Some rush to add pain to the Warrens’ world because, in their view, he did not show sufficient compassion for the unremitting pain suffered by gay youths rejected by parents and peers. They were outraged when Warren took a political stand for Prop 8, which overturned legal same-sex marriage in California in 2008 and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Others have appointed themselves 140-character theologians in a debate over whether someone once saved can lose his or her salvation if suicide is against God’s law. These posters, rather than waiting for Judgment Day, have ruled for hell.
But Bruce Kwiatkowski of the University of Toledo posted on Facebook: “I appreciate what Pastor Ronald Cole said about the subject of Christian suicide. He said the Lord will say, ‘We weren’t expecting you yet…’ ”
John Schuurman observed on Facebook that celebrity culture makes everyone “fair game” and the anonymity afforded by social media that allows people to “send out hate flames without any consequence.”
Read more: USAtoday.com