Recently, when reading the following article, Recognizing the humanity of Jonestown's victims, by San Francisco Examiner columnist Stephanie Salter---an interview with the Rev. John V. Moore and his wife Barbara, published at the 20th anniversary mark of the the Jonestown tragedy, where they lost two daughters and a grandson---I couldn't help but compare my emotional response with that from news this year of the suicide of Rick and Kay Warren's 27-year-old son Matthew.
I was struck by the vast differences in the response of the families. Salter opens her piece on the Moores' by saying that at the encouragement of his wife, the Rev. Moore preached a sermon in his church seven days after learning of the deaths of his offspring. Rick Warren, on the other hand, took four months away from his official duties to grieve and process his loss. The AP reported on his return to the pulpit, that Warren said "I was in shock for at least a month after Matthew took his life."
People will react differently to such losses, of course, but it is in their contrasting messages---the emotional truth conveyed, or not, that I speak. I can identify with the feelings of the Warrans; admire their strength as public figures; share in a common humanity, even if I distance myself from their politics and dogma. After twenty years of emotional maturation, Mrs. Moore said of her husband's rapid return to preaching, that: "[i]t was a testimony of love for our family and the frailty of the human spirit." Huh?
The Huffington Post, said that Warren tweeted on Sunday, April 7, apparently only hours after his son's death, that "Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest. Your notes sustained us." That sounds like the not-pretty fallibility of anguish to me. While the Moores' admission that they received State Department confirmation of the deaths of all three family members on Sunday, Nov. 19, (which seems impossible, if Guyanese authorities had only entered the compound in the late morning that day) reflects a blasé tone-deafness at their elitist privilege. How many Black families received the same government services?
That the Moores' could claim their daughters displayed "a solid commitment to classic Christian service and social justice," is an outrage, when at least one of them used her nursing skills to administer the death doses to hundreds of children, while another bore a child by the Satanic, and already married, dictator. Is that considered a Christian "service?"
This is how the good Reverend Moore describes the Manichean struggle between good and evil that is the moral lesson of so much Jonestown death:
"It wasn't simply that something went wrong along the way with Peoples Temple," said John. "The seeds of destruction were always there amid all the positive stuff. It was more like an escalation of compromise. They kept cutting corners until they were so compromised, they really were different. By the time they got to Guyana, they thought the end justified even the most extreme means."I've never seen "the ends justify the means" applied to suicidal ideation before, only homicide. When you drink poison, you die, not your enemies.
Apparently, according to a posting at PJ Tatler, Left Celebrates the Death of Rick Warren's Son, the "haters" Rev. Warren complained about center around the issue of whether or not his son Matthew was gay, and I have to say, that was the first thing I wondered about. That comes from my experience of the reality of suicide.
So I was ironically surprised to see the claim that:
While serving as pastor at San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church in 1965, John Moore preached about the open inclusion of homosexuals in the Methodist Church.There must be a newspaper clipping locked away behind some CIA firewall to justify such an historic example of liberalism, although I'd find it more believable if he was preaching inclusion in Reno in 1978. Fifty years later and it still hasn't done much good. As to why was Rick Warren's son lost in 'wave of despair', that must remain a Warren family secret for now.
November 17, 1998, The San Francisco Examiner, Recognizing the humanity of Jonestown's victims, by Stephanie Salter, Examiner columnist,
SEVEN DAYS after he learned that two of his daughters and his grandson had died in the mass murder-suicide of Jonestown, the Rev. John V. Moore delivered his Sunday sermon to his United Methodist congregation in Reno. He had not planned to speak, but his wife Barbara convinced him the effort was crucial.
Twenty years later, she says: "It was a testimony of love for our family and the frailty of the human spirit."
The Moores, who now live in Davis, have been married and joined in Christian ministry for 55 years. With their living child, Rebecca, a professor of religion and philosophy at the University of North Dakota, they have labored for two decades to keep their daughters - and all those who died at Jonestown on Nov. 18, 1978 - from being one-dimensionalized as poor, stupid sheep.
"Our family refused to be imprisoned by shame," said Barbara Moore. "Now, for the first time in 20 years, there is a sense (among the public) of the humanity of the people who died in Jonestown."
The Moores' dead girls, Carolyn and Annie, shatter all the lonely loser stereotypes that experts tend to slap on people who join cults like Jim Jones' Peoples Temple. They came from a close and loving home that thrived on a solid commitment to classic Christian service and social justice.
The biblical quotation that adorned the Peoples Temple stationery - the one from Matthew 25:35-40 about serving Jesus by helping the poor, sick and imprisoned - was practically the Moore family credo.
In the years the Moore children were growing up, they shared their home with some 15 kids who needed a safe, loving place to heal. They marched with their parents in rallies for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.
While serving as pastor at San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church in 1965, John Moore preached about the open inclusion of homosexuals in the Methodist Church. He picketed vineyard owners with Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers. He and Barbara counseled college students about everything from unplanned pregnancies to accepting or resisting the military draft.
Carolyn's husband, Larry Layton, discovered Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple in Mendocino County when Layton was serving alternate duty as a conscientious objector at a state hospital. (The only person convicted after the massacre at Jonestown, Layton is serving a life sentence.)
Even before the Moores' easy-going dog, Willy, broke character and growled at meeting Jim Jones, John and Barbara had misgivings about the charismatic pastor. There was too much "Jim says" in Carolyn's letters.
"That adulation of Jim Jones, that idolotry and the secrecy and paranoia were there from the beginning," said John. "When I first met him (then realized Carolyn was intimately involved with him), I thought, "Oh, my God. Here's another Elmer Gantry.' "
But the Moores also saw their daughter "living out the guiding spiritual principles" that their whole family had shared. And they knew that drawing a line in the sand and alienating Carolyn was the quickest way to lose her.
When Annie, too, joined Peoples Temple after nursing school, John and Barbara tried to combat their mistrust of Jones by focussing on the multitude of Christian positives in the church, from its diverse and multi-ethnic population to its work with the poor, uneducated and mentally retarded. As Barbara writes in an essay on a comprehensive Jonestown web site. (www.und.nodak.edu/dept/philrel/jonestown/witness.html):
"I told myself that some good things were happening in Peoples Temple and that it would probably phase out in time as many movements do."
But, of course, Jonestown ended in unthinkable horror, with the murder and suicide of more than 900 members in the jungles of Guyana. Among the 409 children was Carolyn's 4-year-old son Jim Jon or "Kimo." His father was not Layton but Jim Jones.
For most of the last 20 years, the media, academic and religious attention have centered on Jones. The hundreds of others who died in Guyana became only a nameless, faceless mass, posthumously represented by grotesque photographs of poisoned, bloated bodies.
Such dehumanization, the Moores contend, not only profanes the inherent sancity of each Peoples Temple member's life but dangerously deludes the rest of us. If we believe that Jones was simply a whacko and that everyone who followed him was too, we'll miss any chance we have to learn from Jonestown, to acquire tools that can help us discern the false prophet from the true servant of God.
"It wasn't simply that something went wrong along the way with Peoples Temple," said John. "The seeds of destruction were always there amid all the positive stuff. It was more like an escalation of compromise. They kept cutting corners until they were so compromised, they really were different. By the time they got to Guyana, they thought the end justified even the most extreme means."
For the past 20 years John, Barbara and Rebecca have viewed their role in the Jonestown tragedy as a calling. At first, it was a hard and bitter one. Over time, it's become a calling to experienced counseling, consolation and - when asked - warning. As John writes on the web site:
"When we are in the midst of pain and suffering, we hear a voice within asking, "Why?' But there is another voice asking a different question: "What will you do?' The "Why?' question was not answered, but I knew that I had the power to make choices . . . We chose to work with God to bring whatever good we could out of the tragedy of Jonestown."
April 6, 2013, Orange County Register, Rick Warren's youngest son commits suicide, by Alyssa Duranty and Erika I. Ritchie, diigo,
April 7, 2013, Orange County Register, Rick Warren thankful for support after son's death, by Erika I. Ritchie, diigo,
April 7, 2013, PJ Tatler, Left Celebrates the Death of Rick Warren's Son, diigo,
April 8, 2013, EurWeb, Family's Letter About Rick Warren's Son's Suicide, by Brittney M. Walker, diigo,
April 8, 2013, CNN News, Rick Warren's son lost in 'wave of despair',
April 9, 2013, Orange County Register, Coroner: Matthew Warren died of self-inflicted gunshot wound, by Erika I. Ritchie, diigo,
April 9, 2013, HuffingtonPost.com, Rick Warren's Son Commits Suicide, by Jaweed Kaleem,
April 9, 2013, The Daily Mail, Matthew Warren autopsy: Rick Warren's son died from self-inflicted .gunshot wound, autopsy shows,
April 10, 2013, HuffingtonPost.com, Rick Warren Responds To Critics After Son's Suicide, by Jaweed Kaleem, diigo,
April 11, 2013, Orange County Register, Rick Warren says son shot himself with illegal gun, by Erika I. Ritchie, diigo,
June 7, 2013, HuffingtonPost.com, Prayers For Pastor Rick Warren And His Family, by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush,
June 8, 2013, Reuters, Cause Of Death Revealed, by Dan Whitcomb,
July 26, 2013, Orange County Register, Rick Warren returns to pulpit, by Erika I. Ritchie, diigo,
July 27, 2013, Fox News, Rick Warren returns to pulpit four months after son's suicide, diigo,
July 27, 2013, Associated Press, Rick Warren Returns To Pulpit After Son's Suicide, by Andrew Dalton, diigo,
July 29, 2013, ChristianityToday, Rick Warren's First Sermon Since Son's Suicide Promises Push on on Mental Health, by Abby Stocker,
July 29, 2013, New York Daily News, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren preaches first sermon since son’s suicide, tells megachurch members not to be ashamed of mental illness, by Leslie Larson, diigo,
July 29, 2013, Los Angeles Times, Pastor Rick Warren preaches for first time after son's suicide, by Jack Dolan, diigo,
July 29, 2013, ChristianityToday, Rick Warren's First Sermon Since Son's Suicide Promises Push on Mental Health, by Abby Stocker,
Pastor envisions campaign to rival megachurch’s work on HIV/AIDS.Following the April suicide of their son, Rick and Kay Warren have a new purpose for their 20,000-member megachurch: removing the stigma of mental illness from churches.
Rick Warren, joined by his wife on stage, preached at Saddleback Church on Sunday for the first time since Easter, five days before Matthew Warren's death. The sermon, the first in a six-part series on grief entitled "How To Get Through What You're Going Through," related the Warrens' journey to rely on hope in God in their subsequent grief.
"God knows what it's like to lose a son," Rick Warren noted.
He ended by promising his Saddleback congregation that their next major ministry focus would address mental illness within churches. Though Saddleback already sponsors a support group for family and friends of people with mental illnesses, Warren envisions a program similar to Saddleback's campaign against the stigma of those with HIV/AIDS.
"It's amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there's no shame and stigma to it," Warren told the congregation. "But if your brain breaks down, you're supposed to keep it a secret…. If your brain doesn't work right, why should you be ashamed of that?"
The Warrens noted in April their plans to use proceeds from the sale of their son's house to fund a mental health ministry. Rick Warren noted in a recent Orange County Register interview that the initiative would take inspiration from Saddleback's existing HIV/AIDS initiative: "Ten years ago, God called Kay, and then me, to help remove the stigma attached to HIV & AIDS," he said. "Now, it looks like we're being called to help remove the stigma for a much bigger disease. 34 million people have HIV & AIDS but 400 million battle mental illness worldwide."
In his four-month absence, Saddleback hosted a wide variety of substitutes preaching for Warren, including Greg Laurie, Francis Chan, Wilfredo de Jesus, Russell Moore, Jud Wilhite, Perry Noble, Judah Smith, Mark Driscoll, Doug Fields, Pete Wilson, Matthew Barnett, Steven Furtick, Craig Groeschel, and Alan and Phil Robertson (of A&E's Duck Dynasty).
Saddleback will broadcast the July 27 service online every two hours for a week following Warren's return to the pulpit.
In the months since Matthew's death, Rick Warren has used the media attention surrounding his family to voice support for church initiatives such as a resolution passed by the Southern Baptist Convention addressing mental illness. Leaders have voiced support for the Warrens, with some, such as former Southern Baptist president Frank Page, sharing their own stories with mental illness and suicide.