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Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren Says Only God Can Kill Us

calvin and hobbes death

Several years ago, Southern Baptist Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, came out in opposition to California Senate Bill 128. If passed, the bill would have given terminally ill Californians the right to terminate their own lives. Warren, whose son committed suicide in 2013, thinks that none of us should have the right to determine when we die. According to the Purpose Driven pastor:

“I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years.”

“The prospect of dying can be frightening, but we belong to God, and death and life are in God’s hands…We need to make a radical commitment to be there for those who are dying in our lives.”

According to the Death with Dignity National Center:

SB 128 would allow patients who are mentally competent and have fewer than six months to live, as determined by two physicians, to obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives in a humane and peaceful manner, while protecting the vulnerable with strict guidelines and procedures.

Warren’s comments illustrate, once again, why there must be a strict separation between church and state. While Warren might find some vicarious purpose and meaning in suffering, many Americans do not. In Warren’s world, the Christian God is sovereign over all, including life and death. Warren tries to frame his objection as “wanting to be there for those who are dying,” but I suspect there are many Californians who have no need of Pastor Warren or any other pastor or priest “being there” for them during the last days of their life.

While the government certainly has an interest in protecting those who are vulnerable, mentally ill, or unable to make a rational decision, I see no compelling reason for government to forbid the terminally ill from ending their lives through drugs provided by their physician. Warren is free to suffer until the bitter end. He is certainly free to let cancer eat away at his organs or allow ALS to turn him into a vegetable. If that’s what his God demands of him, far be it from me to deny him the right. However, millions of Californians do not worship Warren’s God, nor do they have such a “Biblical” view of suffering, death, and pain.

right to die

Chronic illness and pain are my “dark passengers,” to quote Dexter, the serial killer. I fully expect that I will continue, health-wise, to decline. I see no cure on the horizon, and I highly doubt God is going to send Benny Hinn to fake heal me. There could come a day when I no longer desire to live in what Christians call this “house of clay.” I am sound of mind — okay, mostly sound of mind. Since God is not my co-pilot and I have no desire to be a poster child for suffering, shouldn’t I be allowed to determine, on my own terms, how and when I end my life?

Perhaps I will never reach the place where the reasons for living are no longer enough to keep me alive. There are days when my pain is unbearable and I ponder what death will be like. THE END. Lights out. I have the means of death at my disposal. I take medications that would surely do the trick, but maybe not. Perhaps they wouldn’t quite send me and Toto to the other side. Then Polly would be left with a brain-dead vegetable of a husband. Wouldn’t it better for a doctor to prescribe drugs that are sure to do the trick? If we can execute murderers (against their will), surely we can help the terminally ill die when they want to call it a night. Wouldn’t this be the compassionate thing to do?

Many people are opposed to assisted suicide for religious or philosophical reasons. By all means, suffer to your heart’s content, but you have no right to demand that others play by the rules of your religion or philosophy. I hope the California legislature will not allow Evangelicals and Catholics to pressure them into not giving the terminally ill a death with dignity option. The dying should have the right to determine when and where the show ends. (Please read Dying with Dignity.)

This post was originally written in 2015. The California legislature and then-governor Jerry Brown, after legal challenges by religious zealots, successfully enacted and put into effect the California End of Life Option Act. God loses again.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child to suicide. But he was mentally ill, not terminally ill from cancer or another horrible life-threatening disease.

    We’d all be so much better off if people like Rick Warren would just deal with their own issues and keep their fucking noses out of everyone else’s business.

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      I would not wish what happened to Rick Warren’s family on anyone…no parent should have to bury their own child….But part of me will always wonder if the so-called “mental illness” Warren’s son suffered from was being gay or transgender, and his suicidal despair caused by being told all his life, by his church and his own father, that those things were abominations and an affront to God. Maybe he was even forced into “conversion therapy?” *shudder*

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    I watched my father pass from early onset Alzheimer’s disease and my husband from cancer. To say the last six months of their lives was rough is accurate and says not enough. People are kinder to their family pets then they are with each other.

    As for Mr Warren, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. It’s my opinion that he still values quantity over quality. I hope his eyes are opened soon.

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    This is a tough one—meaning we treat our terminally ill dogs and cats better than our terminally ill people. Here are the things I intuitively think fundies would be concerned about:

    1) Killing one’s self would be the sin of self murder,

    2) The death sentence issued in Eden was meant to be accompanied by great pain and suffering, Therefore, failure to endure the suffering would be stepping around the will of God and getting off easy.

    3) You owe it to your family to be there until your last breath.

    One thing I have never understood though—and perhaps Bruce can explain. God made it clear in Eden that the pain of childbirth for the woman was a punishment straight from his will. That being the case, it has always surprised me that fundies allow the use of spinals and drugs to alleviate pain during child birth. I would think that the IFB would demand complete, total, and alleviated female suffering during child birth to be certain that women do not escape from even one pin prick of the pain appointed unto them as the punishment for Eve’s sin. On the sly, maybe I could get a movement going on this in the IFB. Whatcha think? Snag a few dumb preachers, talk some theological nonsense to them that sounds like it is right out of the KJV Bible, and then let them do the magic on their congregations.

    “In the Bible it says women are to endure great pain during child birth!!! Folks!!! I want to tell you here today, both the men and their women, it is against the will of God ‘amighty’ for women to receive any form of anesthesia during childbirth. Now you women out there!!! Listen up. Pain in childbirth is your appointed punishment for Eve’s sin. It has been appointed to all women by God himself!!! Every last one of you. You have no right to skirt God’s will for you in childbirth with Satanic remedies such as Demerol and spinals!!! If you do, you are violating the will of God, and Hell itself could be your destination. You could die during childbirth and end up there before you even see your new baby—and all because you violated the will of God during childbirth. Now, I want to see the hands of all you woman that are with child. C’mon!!! Raise those hands high. Now, husbands, you are the Lords over your wives. You have a responsibility before God to take over this situation and make sure your wife gets no anesthesia during childbirth. Yimmy? Brother Carpenter. I’m gonna make my pastoral rounds at the hospital, and you better not tell me that they gave your wife pain drugs or other anesthetic procedures during childbirth!!! You hear me. I want a promise from you right now before this entire congregation.”

    No. I have never set foot in an IFB church—but I can imagine what it must be like. But you know what? If a person were to get this idea to catch on and become popular among males in the church, I bet the IFB women would make the entire church come crashing down hard and fast just to escape the pain.

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    Charles, I am confused. Do you believe in a deity? I ask because you seem very concerned on how fundimentalists would react to physician assisted death.

    As for pointing out the hypocrisy of not using pain medication during childbirth – you do know there is a method called natural birth? Your involved scenario seemed a bit mean and lacking in real life experience. That’s just my impression.

    Look – just as with all touchy medical issues the decisions need to be made by the doctor and patient. I don’t want to use specific procedures such as abortion or physician assisted death but if they become necessary I have the right to decide to use them.

    If someone else is worried about my soul perhaps they need to remove the plank from their own eye.

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    I have a friend through Facebook that is going through a super rough time. She was doing so poorly that she believed if she stopped sleeping with her oxygen, she would die. Well, her partner got her in the hospital anyway. But the horrible plot twist is her partner’s PTSD, autism, and other assorted mental issues caused him to blow his brains out recently. I suspect that the possibility of her dying emotionally sent him off…but now she’s screwed. Oh, and BTW, she is in Texas in a small town with inadequate health care, as Texas never did the Medicaid expansion through the ACA.

    She would be better off if she could also die, because she is in horrible pain, with her bones (especially spine) breaking down. And there is no person to help her much, at least, not for long term.

    So my friend lives in horrible pain, and crushed due to her partner’s suicide. This is the medical legacy bequeathed to us by our government’s disinterest in treating healthcare like a human right.

  6. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Vermont has a provision for end of life care that allows euthanasia, as it’s called. I think that while no person should be forced to die ever, the option for euthanasia should be entirely the patient’s call. Hospitals have chaplains, so if these people have an issue about preparing for death, or helping someone doing that, let them focus on a good death, because plenty of people now will suffer needlessly, and still not die as Christians anyhow.

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    “The prospect of dying can be frightening, but we belong to God, and death and life are in God’s hands…”

    Then why do they allow life saving medical treatment? Seems like they’re denying their god’s will. But, then again, they’re only anti-science when it suits their narrative.

  8. Avatar

    My cousin committed suicide in 2016. He suffered from a variety of mental illnesses that could never be adequately treated, and he got to the point where it was all just too much, so he overdosed on his meds and alcohol at his friend’s house – I guess he didn’t want to be alone – and even mentioned to his friend that he wondered of his meds plus alcohol would do it for him.

    Another close relative tried to commit suicide during covid – it was just too much for him. Fortunately this relative got help and is much better.

    We euthanize our pets rather than seeing them suffer – and as someone who was there through end of life for my mom, damn, it’s horrible suffering and starving for days. It’s cruel, plain and simple. It’s much more cruel to let someone go through that than to do the simple and painless procedure we do for our pets. Why would anyone be opposed to consensual euthanasia? I haven’t seen a deity mitigate anyone’s end of life suffering. I live in a state that allows death with dignity, and I plan to go that route if necessary. I don’t want my end to be like my mom’s or my grandfather’s. I believe my end of life should be my choice if necessary.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      OBSTACLECHICK wrote: …It’s cruel, plain and simple. It’s much more cruel to let someone go through that than to do the simple and painless procedure we do for our pets. Why would anyone be opposed to consensual euthanasia?…

      It’s a rhetorical question but I can’t help answering… Our way of life on this continent still has a rotten backbone of sick religion continuing to make suffering an ideal way of being. The religious spout-off about the sanctity of life while teaching that the body is evil and that humankind is broken and in need of a capital ‘S’ saviour. So it really makes sense that we should be allowed to needlessly suffer as we collapse into death, to starve and cry out for mercy and not be heard. This is God’s Plan, right? The Christian, being honest would not ask, How can help you? They would insist on an honest question: How can I harm you?
      May all extremist religion, all Islam and Christian fundamentalism, go the way of the Trump family, disappear onto golf courses and into private enclaves, fade, fade into history. There is so much healing to do that is pre-empted by religions like this; Over 70 million Americans voted for the Republican thug now leaving the White House.
      If you want to be entirely wrong-headed and dumbed down, choose an IFB church. Hate yourself and let some crazed Jesus flogger tell you how to harm yourself every day, every moment. Or (and this is possible) begin to care for yourself as a human being, not a wreck of flesh on legs but simply a person allowing yourself day by day to be… Now there’s a true beginnning, an honestly human choice.

  9. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    My condolences to you, Obstacle Chick, for your cousin and other family members. Yes, it ought to be up to the patient to decide whether to live, or not to. I wouldn’t want others to decide my fate for me. I’m sorry that Rick Warren lost his son to suicide and all, but he needs to realize that he has no right to override a person’s life decisions. If he’s truly worried about the end of life mindset of terminally ill people, he should visit the terminal ward floors in any hospital around him. And be of service there, instead of sitting in his plush office all day !

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