Son of Obama Spiritual Adviser Commits Suicide

Isaac Hunter

Late last night, police in Florida found the body of Isaac Hunter, son of Florida mega-church pastor Joel Hunter, who has served as a “spiritual adviser” to President Obama since his 2008 campaign.

Here’s what you should know about this high-profile tragedy.

1. Hunter Had Been in a ‘Downward Spiral’ Since Admitting He’d Had an Affair

Isaac Hunter, founding pastor at Summit Church in Orlando, Fla.

Isaac Hunter was himself a mega-church pastor from 2002 to 2012, when he resigned after admitting he’d had an affair with a staff member.

According to the New York Daily News, one week after Hunter made his confession, his wife filed a temporary restraining order against him. In her order’s petition, Rhonda Hunter accused her husband of physical abuse, and threatening the family with firearms while under the influence of alcohol, writing:

“I currently fear for my life and the lives of our three children…Isaac is unstable and has demonstrated erratic behavior, alcohol abuse and fits of rage.”

She also submitted photos of bruises she claims were inflicted by Isaac in early 2011. Isaac Hunter denied all allegations of abuse, of his family or of alcohol.

2. Hunter Apparently Contemplated Suicide in 2012

Isaac's father Joel, preaching via satellite (via New York Daily News)

Isaac’s father Joel, preaching via satellite (via New York Daily News)

In court documents from 2012, family members claimed to have found an apparent suicide note, addressed to other leaders at Hunter’s church:

“I would very much like to be remembered as a person who loved his children, his parents, his brothers, and his best friends — well, while I could. I fear I will love them better in my absence. As I have become what I never wished to be, a burden on those I love the most.”

3. Hunter Founded One of the Fastest Growing Churches in Florida

Summit Church Facility

Summit Church Facility.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Hunter founded “Summit Church” in 2002, building the congregation out of a youth ministry he’d been running at his father’s church.

Summit began with just 300 members, its first service conducted at the “Aloma Cinema Grill”. The church moved from there to a local high-school, until finally settling into a former AMC movie theater in 2005. Since then, Summit has become one of the fastest growing churches in the state, expanding to five separate locations, with a congregation of 5,000 members.

4. Obama Consults With Hunter’s Father Joel on ‘Weekly Basis’

In late October 2012, CNN published an article examining President Obama’s “evolving” relationship with his own Christianity. According to the report, the presidency has made Obama a more religious man. The article described Isaac’s father Joel as “a Florida-based pastor who has been in touch with Obama nearly every week since he took office.” In the piece, Joel Hunter says of the President’s faith:

“There is a deepening development in his relationship with God. He chooses to stay faithful in daily habits of study and prayer and consistent times of interchange with spiritual leaders.”

5. Religious Commitment Has an Inverse Correlation With Suicide


Isaac Hunter is the second child of a high-profile evangelical preacher to take his own life this year. In April, Mathew Warren, son of Rick Warren, author of the best-selling “Purpose Driven Life”, was found dead by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

But if you think religious zealotry and a risk of suicide are linked, science says you’re wrong.

Among many studies that have shown an inverse relationship between religious commitment and suicide, is a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2004, which found “religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts…than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation.”

The study hypothesized that the moral prohibition against suicide common to major religions may account for much of the discrepancy.

If there is a sociological risk factor linking the deaths of Isaac Hunter and Matthew Warren, its the presence of firearms in both men’s lives.

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that twice as many Americans kill themselves in states where most households own a gun, than in states where rates of gun ownership are low.