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hid behind furniture in his family's church in Atlanta whenever pastors prophesied. E.'s family would join the prophet in laying hands on him while predicting mighty signs and wonders for the boy they called "The Promised Seed." No prophet, though, came close to predicting what really happened to D. And no one predicted that after years spent extricating his family from assorted scandals, D. would do something in church that was, for many of his parishioners, far more outrageous than anything his notorious uncle did. is 6-foot-1, with broad shoulders and beefy "I've been working out" arms. He denied the allegations, and the suit was settled out of court. His father called him and apologized for his indiscretion. His first instinct, though, was to stick by them when he saw news crews chase his father and uncle into their homes. Chapel Hill needed something new to help draw people back to the pews. No one predicted that his family would build one of the most racially groundbreaking megachurches in America only to see it collapse from a series of bizarre sex scandals covered by "A Current Affair" and other tabloid magazines and TV shows. The bishop had slept with his brother's wife while sharing the pulpit with both. The headlines also don't explain what happened to D. How did she explain her actions to her son and husband? Clariece Paulk, 76, recently told me that she prayed for over 20 years that no one would discover her secret. The women's accusations were covered by the television program "A Current Affair." In 2001, a church member filed suit against Earl Paulk Jr., saying he started molesting her when she was seven. was at college in the early 1990s when the first wave of sex scandals hit. "I wasn't naive enough to believe that there was no truth to it; I wasn't naive enough to believe that all of it was true." He was seeing another side of his family as well as 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. "I still have notebooks and notebooks from when he would preach," D. The Paulks were Pentecostals who were looked down upon by other Christians for their fervent worship services and belief in signs and wonders from God. White pastors criticized the bishop for his stance on civil rights but he kept reaching out to black parishioners. E.'s grandfather, Earl Paulk Sr., baptizes converts in a river. They portrayed the Paulk ministers as diabolical manipulators, saying they used their spiritual authority and their "kingdom theology" to justify extra-marital relationships. Later that year, Don Paulk publicly confessed to an extramarital affair. He allowed him to preach every other Sunday and beamed with pride when D. The bishop had hired many down-on-their luck pastors to prop them up until they could find work and support their families again.
"You need to come up here," the prophet told the wide-eyed 9-year-old, D. Glossy photos of the church's glory days show the Paulks shaking hands with politicians, gospel music stars and world-renowned preachers such as Joel Osteen, Oral Roberts and Robert Schuller. His church grounds aren't crammed with worshippers, buses and police officers directing traffic. "It's strange for us to be normal," he says, "to not have anything in the news about us, to not be talked about or to not be the biggest church on the planet. She calls him "baby" and giggles like a little girl when he makes fun of her. E.'s birth, though, she moves to a chair on one side of the living room while her husband sits alone on a couch. "He knew every month that I cried when I wasn't pregnant again. Swilley was the senior pastor of another successful megachurch, the Church in the Now. "That's not the way he thought," says Swilley, who was not among the accused Paulk family ministers. He writes little short stories about her hyperactive nature. Bishop Jim Swilley, another nephew of the bishop, visited him in the hospital. became a standout high school basketball player -- good enough to land a college scholarship as a point guard -- the bishop was a familiar figure in the stands. E.'s wife, Brandi Paulk, says her husband and the bishop drew energy from one another. overheard church members joking about the bishop being his father. He spent five years at Chapel Hill gathering material for his dissertation on the church. He experienced a series of dreams in college that convinced him to become a minister. Pentecostals had been dismissed as country bumpkins, vulgar, lower-class whites who talked in tongues while getting "slain in the spirit." But the Paulks were different. returned to Chapel Hill, Mona and Bobby Brewer, a longtime church couple, had filed a suit against the bishop, with the wife claiming he manipulated her into a sexual relationship that had lasted years. He subsequently swore in an affidavit that she was the only woman he had slept with outside his marriage. He drove them to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters for the DNA tests. "If it wasn't for the bishop, you wouldn't be here, nor your two children." Pearson told D. "He was a powerful person who as young man tried to get help and was told that the best thing you can do is act like it doesn't exist," D. "What I heard many times was that Donnie Earl is called Donnie Earl because they didn't know if he's Earl's or Don's," says Scott Thumma, a sociology of religion professor at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. focused on his future instead of dwelling on the past. had the right name at the right place at the right time. The bishop had co-founded Chapel Hill in 1960 with his brother and sister-in-law. "I don't think they cared one bit about me," he says of the couple behind the lawsuits. Everybody is going down." On a November day in 2007, D. stepped into his Honda Accord with the bishop and his parents. "Before you were a bulge in that old man's pocket, the vision of the cathedral was in his spirit," Pearson said. "If you judge him now, you talk to me in your 80s and tell me what you've endured," Pearson said. He said the bishop could lose his preacher's license if his fleshly struggles became known.
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.