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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Earl Paulk, DeKalb's frisky "bishop," to be laid to rest

For many years, one of the most interesting running scandals in metro Atlanta was the saga of the Chapel Hill Harvester mega-church and the many, many female parishioners who'd accused the Paulk family patriachs of various acts of sexual misconduct.

click to enlarge Cathedral of Holy Spirit, as seen by Google Earth
  • Cathedral of Holy Spirit, as seen by Google Earth

Sadly, for us mega-church skeptics, those stories likely have come to an end with the death of "Bishop" Earl Paulk at 81. A funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in the since-renamed Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Flat Shoals Road in South DeKalb.

Paulk got the boot from his first pastoring position, at what is now Mount Paran Church of God, back in 1960 for having an extramarital affair. But, like a latter-day Elmer Gantry, he didn't let that scandal deter him. A few years later, he founded Chapel Hill Harvester Church with his brother Don. The church eventually grew to a membership of around 12,000, but allegations of sexual shenanigans continued to dog the Paulks.

In 1992, six women accused the Paulks of "sexual manipulation" – using the wacky teachings of their self-styled evangengical religion to convince gullible chicks that God himself wanted them to get busy with the bishop. A decade later, a young lady sued Earl Paulk for molesting her as an adolescent. Paulk settled out-of-court for $400,000 – using money borrowed from Mona Brewer, a Sunday school teacher who filed a 2004 lawsuit against Paulk for coercing her into a 14-year affair. When Brewer's husband, a minister at the church, found out about the affair, he punched out both Earl and Don Paulk.

All of the controversy had a negative impact on the church membership, which has dwindled in recent years. The last straw may have come in 2007, when a DNA test revealed that Don Jr. wasn't Earl's nephew, but rather his biological son. Good times.

So, with the passing of Earl Paulk, the Atlanta mega-church scene becomes a less colorful place. But wait! The Brewer suit against Paulk – which was briefly derailed by a trial judge, but reinstated by an appeals court – is going forward against the church itself, so there still might be a few juicy details to come out.

For more entertaining reading about those naughty Paulks, see this long article from the AJC. For a primer in the Paulk theory of "Kingdom Theology," check out this link.

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