It's been almost 50 years since Earl Paulk, the archbishop of a Protestant mega-church in the Atlanta suburbs, was first accused of having sex with a parishioner. Now, though, he faces the scandal of his life after his family revealed – at the pulpit – that he had slept with his brother's wife and fathered a child by her.
The 80-year-old pastor has led a charmed existence, fending off sexual harassment suits while also earning praise from politicians all the way up to the President of the United States for his "extraordinary work for God and the community". This latest revelation, though, may be a little harder to escape unscathed. The secret of Archbishop Paulk's love child was exposed by a court-ordered paternity test as part of a perjury investigation, and confirmed to the congregation of the Chapel Hill Harvester Church by none other than the love child himself, 34-year-old D E Paulk, who had been known until then as the archbishop's nephew.
"I am so very sorry for the collateral damage it's caused our family and the families hurt by the removing of the veil that hid our humanity and our sinfulness," the younger Paulk, who has inherited the mantle of head pastor, told his flock a few Sundays ago.
His confession was made public this week by an Associated Press reporter.
D E Paulk said he did not learn the secret of his parentage until the paternity test. "I was disappointed, and I was surprised," he said.
Earl Paulk has been embroiled in the fight of his life for the past two years after two of the staunchest members of his church community, Bobby and Mona Brewer, turned against him. Mr Brewer, a former pastor at the church, filed a suit claiming that Archbishop Paulk owed him $400,000 he had borrowed to settle a suit from a congregant who claimed she had been sexually abused by the archbishop since she was seven years old.
Mona Brewer, meanwhile, accused Archbishop Paulk of manipulating her into an affair that lasted 14 years, from 1989 to 2003, by telling her that sleeping with him was her surest path to eternal salvation.
Archbishop Paulk was forced to admit that he had, indeed, betrayed his wife with Ms Brewer, a longtime church singer, but said in a deposition hearing that the affair was brief and had been initiated by her. He also claimed she was the only woman he had slept with outside of marriage.
That statement triggered an investigation by both the local district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which suspected he was lying under oath. That, in turn, led to the paternity test on his "nephew".
Accusations of sexual impropriety are nothing new for Earl Paulk. He was forced out of the first church he pastored, the Hemphill Church of God, because of an extramarital affair to which he later admitted.
In 1992, six women came forward to say they had had secret sexual relationships with one married minister or another from the Paulk family. One, a ghostwriter who helped write Earl Paulk's autobiography, said she had an affair with him lasting two years. Archbishop Paulk's brother, Don, admitted he was a sinner and vowed to embark on a personal "restoration". Just three weeks later, he declared: "I have risen and am ready to fight again."
For decades, the church had an unusually progressive reputation for churches of its type – admitting black members in the 1960s, ordaining women and welcoming gay congregants. The sex scandals, have, however, severely damaged the church's support base, with membership declining from about 10,000 at its peak to about 1,500 now. A support group for former congregants with a wide online following describes the church as a cult. "You escape from a cult," the group leader,Jan Royston, said. "We all escaped."Reuse content