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He hid his television set in a closet because he didn't want his congregation to discover he could succumb to worldly temptations. "He was Triple A," says Don Paulk, who is 11 years younger than his brother. They turned out for the pageantry, a show enlivened by Clariece Paulk. She was a classically trained pianist who introduced dramatic skits, modern dance, "Bach and rock" music – stylistic flourishes now common in megachurches. E.'s face and told him the Lord had something for him to say, D. looked at the expectant congregation and said, "The Lord hasn't told me anything today." He handed the microphone back to the astonished prophet and sat down. The church's spire soared majestically 245 feet, and the sanctuary featured stadium seating. The amount of money in the weekly offerings fell, but the bills kept coming. With a wife in college and two kids, he told the bishop he had to make a decision for his family. Though his body and his church were failing, the bishop remained defiant. "I can't do it, and I don't want to do it." It was a call D. "I don't want to go back," his wife, Brandi, told him. He warned another critic that he might come after him with his .38 revolver. People didn't flock there just to hear the bishop preach. One Sunday when a pastor placed a microphone in front of D. was becoming his own man, and there was one man who didn't like it – the bishop. The church celebrated its newfound status by completing construction of a million, 7,000-seat neogothic cathedral. E.'s confidence rose, though, the church's fortunes continued to plummet. Tabloid television shows joined the fray, and the Internet was eventually filled with lurid details about the bishop's sex habits. He was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to have parts of his bladder, colon and prostate removed. "I need you to come back and take over," he told his son, who had left three years earlier. He would be returning to the scene of a crime, a place where there was constant talk of lawsuits and depositions and reporters taking notes in the pews. 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. 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. She is part of a community of ex-Chapel Hill members who still feel betrayed by the Paulk family. E., no one was more so than the man who left him such a complicated legacy. He was the anti-Joel Osteen, a stout, craggy-faced man who scowled more than he smiled and preached with a raspy, hectoring voice. Boys, it seemed, were the only ones chosen by God in the patriarchal, Pentecostal culture that D. Chapel Hill, whose services were broadcast in Africa and Latin America, was part of that mix. started to notice that behind the scenes, a megachurch was a lot like a basketball court: competitive and filled with games. When they arrived, they were surrounded by pastor groupies: "armor bearers," "adjutants" and "servant spirits" who did everything from pick up their dry cleaning to pump their gas and carry their Bibles. E.: How to extract a fat offering from a congregation, how to fake prophesizing and how to perform the all-important "courtesy drop" – crumpling to the ground when a man of God presses your shoulder during a "healing." D. remembers one pastor's behavior after he delivered a sermon. "He began to read too much of his fan mail," Don Paulk said. "He was a patsy," says Jan Royston, the ex-Chapel Hill member. Bush had honored the church with a "Point of Light" award for outstanding community service. He said he didn't want the drama or the challenge of preaching every Sunday to an almost empty 7,000-seat sanctuary. But what am I supposed to do, leave my elderly parents alone and let my uncle die? 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.

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.

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 ,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.

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.

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There would be no Bible study for him to lead that night. "The Holy Ghost was our counselor." Both she and her husband say they couldn't put on sack-clothes to publicly bemoan the way D. was born because that might make their son feel like an abomination.