For nine years, Joel Hunter served as a spiritual adviser to former President Barack Obama, a position that sent him across the globe on scholarly and spiritual pursuits. In 2014, Hunter attended a conference in Tehran called “World Free of Violence and Extremism from the Perspective of Abrahamic Religions,” which was dedicated to dismantling stereotypes of religious extremism as a means to work toward peace.
“We believe that we have something in common, and out of the commonality of our religious communities, we can build the kind of relationship and trust that politics simply can’t,” he said to Payvand. “Only through religious leadership or the exchange of religious leaders, we believe peace is going to be successfully built between our two countries.”
At 2 p.m. Fri., Aug. 17, in the Hall of Philosophy, Hunter will bring years of interfaith dialogue experience to inform his discussion during the Institution’s eighth Interfaith Friday. Hunter will represent evangelical Christianity as he engages in dialogue with the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Chautauqua’s vice president of religion.
For 32 years, Hunter served as senior pastor of Northland Church in Florida, and grew the congregation to about 20,000 weekly attendees across three locations. In 2017, he left that leadership role to pursue volunteer and nonprofit work. Hunter described this transition as a calling from God.
“When I knelt at the altar to give my whole life to Jesus, I was a part of the Civil Rights movement,” he wrote on Northland Church’s website. “My focus on Jesus was not only for personal salvation after this life but also for compassion towards the marginalized in this life. My call to follow Jesus and serve the vulnerable is stronger than ever.”
Hunter now serves as founder and chairman of the Community Resource Network, an organization dedicated to helping homeless and impoverished families. He also chairs the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, a Florida nonprofit group that works alongside government officials and other organizations in a collaborative effort against homelessness.
Hunter said the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness represents an intersection across political, spiritual and social spheres.
“We have huge community leadership and momentum here,” Hunter said on the show “Welcome Home.” “Everyone from our government officials to our business people to our nonprofit provider people specializing in homelessness and the faith community guide about $50 to $60 million in this central Florida area to the most effective way … to get people permanently housed.”
Having spent years in the public sphere, both as a well-known pastor and as Obama’s adviser, Hunter is often cited as both a religious and political figure. However, Hunter’s friend and radio co-host, the Rev. Bryan Fulwider of Orlando, said Hunter does not let politics divide his character.
“He is always willing to stand on principle for what he truly believes in,” Fulwider told The Washington Post. “Joel likes to say that the reason he works across religious lines as an evangelical Christian was that he knew that no one group could do the job of caring for the needs of the community and the world alone. He did some courageous stuff.”
Hunter regularly works to engage different communities through “A Community Conversation,” a program he started that hosts radio shows, blogs and videos that discuss current social issues.
The program’s radio shows include “Power Talks” and “The Bright Side,” in which Hunter brings in social issue experts to engage in thoughtful dialogue.