Paulk's reputation was severely tarnished in his later years by allegations of sexual misconduct, including several illicit relationships and accusations that he had molested children.
Paulk was born on May 30, 1927, in Appling County, Georgia, near Savannah, to Earl Pearly Paulk, Sr. and Addie Mae Tomberlin Paulk. His father was a minister in the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), eventually rising to assistant general overseer of the denomination. At 17, Paulk said he received a call from God to enter ministry.
Paulk graduated from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina in the 1940s, and earned his divinity degree from Emory University's Candler School of Theology, becoming the first Pentecostal to attend the historically Methodist seminary. While at Candler, he married Norma Davis, a girl who had attended his father's church.
While attending Furman, Paulk served as an associate pastor at his father's church in Greenville. While at Candler, he was called to his first pulpit, a Church of God in Buford, Georgia; north of Atlanta. It was during this time that he began preaching against racism. Years later, he said that he was influenced by seeing his uncle shoot a black friend in the back for cutting corners while plowing cotton. Paulk's stance was not typical for his time; it had long been common for white Southern preachers to use the Bible to justify support for racial bars.
In 1952, Paulk was named pastor of Hemphill Avenue Church of God (now Mount Paran Church of God) in Atlanta just as the civil rights movement was getting underway. He was one of the few white pastors who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Not long after taking over at Hemphill, Paulk became a member of "Concerned Clergy," an interracial group of Atlanta pastors who opposed racial segregation. The group was led by King's father, Martin Luther King, Sr., and met in the basement of the elder King's church, Ebenezer Baptist Church. During this time, he served on a committee that observed Georgia's then-segregated schools, and determined that "separate but equal" was a fiction.
Earl Paulk said that he signed The Atlanta Manifesto, a statement prepared in the fall of 1957 by a group of clergymen in Georgia, relating specifically to the violence in Little Rock, Arkansas, and in general to issues of racial integration from the point of view of Christian social responsibility., but examination of that document does not include Earl Paulk's signature.
Paulk resigned from Hemphill in 1960. Officially, it was due to differences of opinion with Church of God leaders regarding his stance on racial integration, as well as the fact he allowed women in his church to wear jewelry (at the time, the Church of God, like many Pentecostal denominations, strongly admonished women against wearing makeup or jewelry). However, it later emerged that he'd had an extramarital affair with a woman in his church.
In 1960, Paulk founded the Gospel Harvesters Evangelistic Association with his wife, his brother Don (also a former Church of God pastor), and his sister-in-law Clariece. During its early years, the church held services at St. John's Lutheran Church in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta. It later moved to its own building in nearby Inman Park.
From the first day, Paulk was committed to opening the doors of his church to all people, regardless of racial or economic background. Not surprisingly given his opposition to segregation, he was one of the first white pastors to open the doors of his church to blacks. This stance wasn't popular even with some members of his own church; when the first blacks set foot in the church in the early 1960s, several whites walked out in protest. In response, one of the whites who remained, Ida Williams, gave a 15-minute sermon in which she said, "It is not the will of God that we should have prejudice." To this day, the church has a fairly large black membership for a church led by a white pastor.
Paulk remained active in the civil rights movement during this time. For instance, at a meeting of Concerned Clergy, he was one of the pastors who blessed the first civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. Later, he and his brother picketed a produce market which sold food to blacks at inflated prices. The resulting public outcry caused the store's closure.
In 1972, the church moved to the southern part of DeKalb County and became known as Chapel Hill Harvester Church. While there, the church experienced massive growth, enlarging the building several times, having services in a tent, then moving its services into a building known as the "K-Center." In 1989, the church broke ground on a large, Gothic-like building off Interstate 285 in Decatur. Dedicated in 1991, this building is known as the "Cathedral of the Holy Spirit," and eventually the church changed its name to "the Cathedral at Chapel Hill."
The church was famed for combining visual arts (particularly with the dance team) with a liturgical style. Under his sister Clariece, who headed the church's arts ministry for many years, it became known for its music ministry as well. Paulk, who had previous television and radio ministry experience, later expanded his media ministry and for many years his show aired on TBN. He also was a semi-regular guest on TBN's "Praise the Lord."
In 1982, Paulk was ordained as a bishop in the International Communion of Charismatic Churches. His public housing ministry was named one of a "thousand points of light" by President George H. W. Bush He ultimately gave up the senior pastor's title to his brother Don, but was still acknowledged as the real power.
In later years, he became one of the few mainstream Pentecostal/charismatic leaders to welcome openly gay and lesbian members.
Paulk's church population numbers exploded during the 1990s; at its height it had 12,000 members. Recent scandals (see below) have significantly diminished its numbers; as of 2007 it had 1,500 members.
In August 2009, with the church property facing foreclosure, the campus was sold to another local growing church; who then allowed Chapel Hill to use their old sanctuary. In 2012, it changed its name to Spirit and Truth Sanctuary, and moved to its own facility in another part of Decatur.
Paulk was involved with many sex scandals spanning several decades.
In 1992, six women accused Earl Paulk, Don Paulk and two other nephews who were ministers at the church, of sexual manipulation. One of them was Tricia Weeks, who had ghostwritten Paulk's autobiography. The story received considerable national coverage. Earl Paulk denied the allegations, claiming Weeks was either mentally unstable or under evil influences. However, he admitted the adulterous affair which forced him out of Hemphill Church of God 32 years earlier.
In 2001, Jessica Battle, a college student who had been part of the church’s arts ministry dance group, sued Paulk, accusing him of molesting her between the ages of 7 and 11, and later of forcing himself on her when she was 17. The suit was settled out of court in 2003 for $400,000, allegedly using money from Mona and Bobby Brewer.
Cindy Hall was born in 1960 and was one of the first children born into Chapel Hill Harvester. In 2003, she claimed that Paulk had convinced her into a lengthy affair that also included her having sex with Paulk's brother, Don. Hall alleges that the affair began in 1983 (in a manner very similar to Mona Brewer's a few years later) when Paulk prayed for her, then kissed her. He then would say he intended to "make love" to her. At one point, Paulk supposedly would tell her that they had a "special gift of love outside holy matrimony". The relationship became a weekly occurrence. She left the church in 2003 after being convinced that Jessica Battle was telling the truth about being molested by Paulk.
Hall chose not to become involved in the Brewers' lawsuit in part because of the length of time since her relationship with Paulk. Hall also claims that at Paulk’s request, she denied having sex with him, lying under oath at her deposition for the Battle case.
Mona Manning Brewer came to the church at the age of 19, four years after her conversion to Christianity. She was a Sunday School teacher who married Bobby Brewer, a minister at the church, in 1987. She was also featured regularly as a soloist on Paulk's television program. Brewer claimed that on September 11, 1989; Paulk felt "'impressed of the Lord' to get to know her better". She stopped by his office the next day, becoming a regular visitor. She alleged that a church official stated that there had been a "word of knowledge" claiming that she was about to enter a new relationship that would benefit her. That relationship became an extramarital affair that lasted 14 years.
She didn't break the relationship off until September 2003, years later, and didn't tell anyone until hearing about Cindy Hall. She then told her husband, who bided his time until the refinancing of the church was finished. In March 2004, Bobby Brewer angrily confronted Earl and Don Paulk at the Brewers' house, at one point hitting them both.
The Brewers eventually sued Paulk and his church on August 31, 2005, claiming Paulk misused his position to manipulate her into a sexual relationship for fourteen years and claiming Paulk owed US$400,000 for a loan Brewer issued to settle the Jessica Battle suit.
Paulk denied the allegations from Brewers but his attorney acknowledged a sexual relationship between the bishop and Mona Brewer. Paulk claimed that the relationship was brief and that she was the initiator.
On Monday, March 5, 2007, at a pretrial hearing, the Brewers' lawyer wrote out a request for dismissal of the case by hand and handed it to lawyers for Paulk and the church. This was just as a ruling was about to come on a motion by Paulk's lawyers to dismiss the allegations. By dropping the case before the ruling, the Brewers left open the possibility of filing another suit with the same allegations. "We were having difficulty even at this point getting witnesses to speak out against the acts of Bishop Paulk and the church," Levenson said. "Sometimes you just have to do this."
The Brewers did, in fact, refile the suit with another judge. However, in February 2008, DeKalb County Judge Mark Anthony Scott threw the case into limbo when he ruled that she was "of sound mind" when she and Paulk began their relationship. Scott ordered the Brewers to reimburse Paulk for $1 million in legal expenses for filing a frivolous suit. Under Georgia law, the second suit they filed couldn't continue until the attorneys' fees were paid. However, in February 2009, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed Scott's decision, citing numerous instances where Paulk himself stated under oath that he was Mona Brewer's "spiritual adviser, minister, pastor and reverend."
Although Paulk's death removed him from the suit, Mona Brewer said she fully intended to continue her suit against the church.
On October 14, 2007, Donnie Earl (D.E.) Paulk, who had become senior pastor of the church a few months earlier, informed a shocked congregation that a DNA test had revealed he was Earl Paulk's son, and not his nephew as he had believed for all his life.
D.E. Paulk had been raised as the son of Don Paulk, Earl Paulk's brother. However, the test confirmed that he was the product of an illicit relationship between Earl Paulk and his sister-in-law, Clariece Paulk, who was married to Don. During the Brewer case, Earl Paulk had denied sleeping with anyone other than Mona Brewer. However, prosecutors and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation suspected he was lying, and triggered an investigation that led to a court-ordered paternity test on Donnie Earl Paulk. As a result, Paulk was charged with perjury on January 14, 2008. Two days later, Paulk pleaded guilty to the charges, for which he was sentenced to ten years probation and a thousand-dollar fine.
Don Paulk later said that he has forgiven his brother, and said D.E.'s paternity "made no difference in my love for my brother or my son."
Paulk's daughter, Beth Bonner, appeared on WAGA in Atlanta on December 11, 2007 and apologized on behalf of her family for her father's misdeeds. She claimed to have confronted him as far back as the 1980s about his immorality. According to her, he had confessed and promised to reform, but reneged on his promise. Revelations that D.E. Paulk was her half-brother rather than her cousin had come as no surprise to her, she said.
Interviewed on the same station the next day, Bonner's daughter, Penny White (née Penielle Brooke Bonner) went public with allegations, previously made only in court papers, that her grandfather Earl Paulk had sexually abused her as a child. Earl Paulk issued a statement through his lawyer denying the charge. 
In addition to the sex scandals, Paulk also found his theology criticized concerning accusations of promoting Dominionism and Word of Faith teaching. Before opening his doors to the gay and lesbian community, he had close ties to the Reconstructionist movement.
Paulk died early on the morning of March 29, 2009, at Atlanta Medical Center after a long battle with cancer.