He assured his family that no matter what happened, they would stick together. He had just driven his children to school and was painting their playroom. He calls her the most spiritual person he has ever known. "The human side of her endeared her to me," he says, "because it made her more like me." He recalls how his wife reacted when she learned about his extramarital affair years earlier. They see the cussing, the talking about the deacons. After the DNA revelations, many pastors no longer sought to share the stage with the bishop.
That's what my Uncle Earl would do.'" It's a battle D. is already losing, says Jan Royston, a former Chapel Hill member who knew the bishop. The bishop twisted scripture to prey on people for riches, glory and lust. E., in Royston's view, is just another manipulative, pulpit predator. "Donnie Earl can't help who and what he is." As tough as the critics are on D. could find normalcy, he had to learn to deal with the strange. He punctuated his sermons with "darling" and "honey," but there was little tenderness in the bishop's public persona. Prophets began calling him "The Chosen One" when he was just a child. And televangelists such as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart drew global audiences to their broadcasts. And he saw his share of wonders - broken people born again; incandescent moments when it seemed like the finger of God touched people's lives. He was the church emissary dispatched to pick up visiting preachers at the airport and tend to their needs. He met pastors who demanded a fueled private jet and $7,500 up front before they would deign to visit. He can't dress himself after the sermon because he is still 'under the anointing.'" D. And he treasured letters from folks who read his books, listened to his tapes or watched him on TV. It was called "The Christian Agnostic," and it was written to reassure skeptics who couldn't accept certain central Christian beliefs. They saw him as the weak link in the Paulk trio that built Chapel Hill. "It doesn't mean I condone everything that happened.
"He's made statements like, "I don't want to do that. They seized control of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1985 at a raucous meeting in Dallas, Texas. People testified to mighty acts of God: miraculous healings, revelations, divining evil spirits. He surrounded himself with people who wouldn't question his authority. felt like he had caught his father with a dirty magazine. There were others, too, who thought Don Paulk needed their prayers. " He agreed to return only if the bishop signed documents empowering him to make financial decisions for the church.
Chapel Hill eventually became one of the nation's first integrated megachurches. He sat offstage most of the time because of his medical needs, but he resented seeing D.
I was just writing as fast as I could." The bishop returned D. On the bishop's 60th birthday, Chapel Hill celebrated with a video tribute. "My hair, my face, my body – I was like, that looks like me in black and white," D. The bishop championed civil rights when many white Southern churches refused to admit African-Americans. when called upon to deliver a public prayer -- after all, it was his church. "They got me sitting on the front row like a little puppy," the bishop grumbled to a fellow pastor.
We need to talk." Then he called his parents and his sister. In person, she and her husband laugh and joke easily. You may be a father figure in some ways, in spiritual ways, but I will not disrespect my father." He hugged the bishop and walked out of the front door. By 2009, the church grounds looked like a fading strip mall. The balconies were empty; sections of the sanctuary were roped off so that congregants would have to sit nearer the television cameras. Cancer ravaged his body but not his self-assurance.
They sat upright like nervous students on the first day of school. Clariece Paulk loves worship so much that when she was a kid her mother used to punish her by not allowing her to go to church.
"He fights that," says his 76-year-old dad, Don Paulk. He was expected to become the family's fourth generation preacher and succeed the bishop one day. Conservative Christians helped elect Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980. Don Paulk looked like the bemused outsider as he stood in the pulpit with his charismatic brother and his celebrated wife. They were effusive; he was a stoic who didn't like getting "mushy." They reveled in the titles and rituals of church; he openly rolled his eyes if he disagreed with a sermon. The bishop loved getting recognized at the airport. "Let's pray for your daddy," she said as she grabbed her son's hands. "From the moment we stepped back in there, the bishop was allowed to preach if D.
was the only male offspring with the Paulk surname. The Paulks identified with African-Americans because they themselves felt like outsiders as poor Pentecostals in rural Georgia. We were not accepted; we were the minority," Don Paulk says. They were riding a wave: the rise of evangelical Christians in America. E.'s father's face in some of the photos taken during Chapel Hill's rise.
Royston started an online support group for former Chapel Hill members wounded by their experiences. Once, the bishop drove away a church member who challenged his authority by implying that she was a lesbian. It eventually became the fourth-largest church in America, with 12,000 members. Don Paulk, though, had questions about God that the traditional church couldn't answer. "He would do whatever Earl Paulk would tell him to do." Thumma, the Chapel Hill expert, said Clariece Paulk was "clearly the authority in the family." Her husband was "fragile" and "weak-willed." "He was utterly jealous of Earl," Thumma says, referring to the bishop. You could read that into his body language every single meeting." Like his father, D. started to roll his eyes at some church traditions as he became a young man. The church grabbed national headlines for dispatching volunteers into a violent housing project in Atlanta and turning it around. Some installed specialty license plates on their cars inscribed with the "K" church crest, a symbol of the bishop's kingdom theology. left the church in 2003 and started his own congregation. He struggled just to rent a hotel room and a microphone for the Sunday services. In 2005, the bishop's fortune took another bad turn.