Another church falters — oh, how tongues wag

Isaac Hunter, Orlando's Summit Church

In November 2012, Isaac Hunter, son of megapastor Joel Hunter, stepped down from the Orlando church he founded, Summit Church, after admitting to an affair with a staff member. He was found dead of an apparent suicide on Dec. 10, 2013. (April 27, 2009)

Last week, tongues were wagging over the fall of Isaac Hunter, departed pastor of Orlando's massive Summit Church.

With talk of everything from adultery to alcohol abuse, the story made for a tantalizing tale that the media, including the Sentinel, wallowed in — and which readers and viewers lapped up.

I couldn't remember the last time Central Florida was this interested in church news.

Actually I could.

It was last year — when New Destiny Church founder Zachery Tims was found dead in a New York hotel room.

And that's what I find depressing.

These are the stories about modern-day religion that get told the loudest. The ones about hypocrisy and scandal. The falls from grace.

The vast majority of church-going people in Central Florida — the ones who fill the pews on Sundays and quietly and humbly serve others throughout the week — are the overlooked casualties of our tendency to highlight the worst religion has to offer.

I blame the media.

But I also blame the church itself — irresponsible leaders and the zealots who give the vast majority of sensible believers a bad name.

I also blame those sensible believers for not doing more to take back their religion.

And I blame human nature, which has many of us claiming to be sick of "bad news" — while lapping it up.

So many parts come together to give a distorted perception of what religion truly looks like in this community.

The media and consumers

If we're honest about it, the media have never really known how to handle or cover religion. So, often, we don't.

At the Sentinel, for instance, a full week's worth of writing about the scandal at Summit Church was preceded by insubstantial coverage of the congregation in the 10 years prior — even as it blossomed from a small weekly gathering at a movie theater to a multi-campus congregation with 5,000 members.

Over that decade, congregants traveled to Africa to combat AIDS. They served meals to the homeless in their back yard. They cleaned up at the zoo. They cared for orphaned children. And they raised major amounts of money to help their uninsured neighbors.

These are the kind of acts performed by churches all over Central Florida — acts that rarely get attention.

Some of that inattention is the nature of the media beast. If a plane lands safely, it's not news. If it crashes, it is. And Hunter's fall was a spectacular crash.

Still, if we cover only the crashes, we provide a distorted perspective.