Metro Weekly

Pastor fired by church after appearing in drag on HBO’s We’re Here

Pastor Crag Duke's appearance on the HBO series allegedly "caused much turmoil" at Newburgh United Methodist Church

We're Here, Pastor craig duke, drag, hbo
Pastor Craig Duke on HBO’s We’re Here – Photo: Jake Giles Netter / HBO

A United Methodist Church pastor has been fired after appearing in drag on HBO’s We’re Here.

The series, hosted by Drag Race stars Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela, features its three hosts traveling across small-town America to stage one-night-only drag shows featuring local residents. 

Pastor Craig Duke was reportedly “relieved of pastoral duties” by Newburgh United Methodist Church in Evansville, Ind., after the LGBTQ ally underwent a drag makeover in an episode of We’re Here that aired last month.

Duke, an outspoken LGBTQ ally whose daughter came out as pansexual two years before the episode was filmed, told Religion News Service that We’re Here was “an incredibly wonderful, refreshing, deepening, powerful spiritual experience.”

“I was surrounded and immersed in a culture that I’ve never been immersed in,” he said, “and one of the things in ministry, if you want to involve people different than yourself in your ministry, you have to go to where people are different than you are. The invitation to be part of the show allowed me that.”

But in the wake of his We’re Here episode, a GoFundMe set up for Duke and his family claims that he was “relieved of pastoral duties” by Newburgh UMC and will have a “significantly reduced salary.”

“Pastor Craig considers himself to be a man of faith, a father, a husband, a social justice advocate, and ally for the LGBTQIA+ community,” the GoFundMe states.

“Craig has a hope and has fought for a fully inclusive church that is welcoming to people of all races, all genders, and all sexual orientations. He longs for a day that all people are able to marry and serve as ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church.”

The GoFundMe, created by Chris and Erin Sexton, claims that Duke’s participation in We’re Here “caused much turmoil in the church that he was serving at the time and ultimately [led] to him being ‘relieved of pastoral duties’ at that church.”

“Craig will continue with a significantly reduced salary until no later than February 28,” they wrote. “Obviously, this poses a major challenge to Craig and his family as they determine their next steps.”

We're Here, Pastor craig duke, drag, hbo
Pastor Craig Duke and Eureka O’Hara on HBO’s We’re Here – Photo: Jake Giles Netter / HBO

The GoFundMe page was shared on Twitter by We’re Here host Eureka, who urged their followers to help support Duke.

“Everyone met Pastor Craig a couple of weeks ago on the Evansville, IN episode of [We’re Here.] Sadly his participation in the show has caused the Church to ‘relieve him of his pastoral duties,'” they wrote. “If you can donate, great! If you can’t, please share!”

Eureka added: “Craig is an amazing person and deserves the same love that he shares with everyone around him.”

Fellow We’re Here host Shangela took to Instagram to urge her followers to support Duke, saying he had been “bullied by a large portion of his church congregation out of his role (or with relieved duties) because of his showcase of love for the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s take a stand.”

The GoFundMe ultimately raised more than $58,000, beyond its initial $30,000 goal.

In an update, the Sextons said that Duke and his wife, Linda Duke, would be using the additional money “to begin some kind of inclusive ministry whether it be a new and affirming church or a faith based camping experience for LGBTQIA+ youth/families.”

In a statement posted on the GoFundMe page, Duke thanked those who had donated for their “incredible support.”

“We have greatly exceeded our goal and are therefore removing the donation tab from the GoFundMe. There are many other LGBTQ organizations and people that also need support,” he said. “As we take the next step it is with the foundation of love and gifts you have shown and given us. May the bridge of understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community continue to expand across our community and beyond as God’s love shines through.”

However, a letter circulated among Newburgh UMC members from a regional superintendent of the Indiana United Methodist Church claimed that “much” of the information regarding Duke’s firing “has been less than completely accurate.”

“I’ve received numerous calls and emails that are highly critical of Craig’s actions, and I’ve received numerous messages of support for him,” the letter, obtained by Queerty,  states. “In such a polarized climate, our main intent is to foster an environment in which both NUMC and the Duke family can move forward in grace.”

It confirmed that Duke had been relieved of his pastoral duties on Dec. 1 — after his episode of We’re Here had aired — and that he and Linda were allowed to reside in the parsonage until “no later than February 28, 2022.”

“He will not be available to perform any pastoral functions at NUMC [and] he will not be at the church in any capacity,” it states. “Rev. Mark Dicken will serve as interim pastor, with full pastoral authority, until a full appointment is made.”

Ross Murray, Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute, told People that Duke had “stepped into a community that has experienced disproportionate church-based trauma to proclaim a message of God’s love for all of creation.”

“That his own church members bully him and the church hierarchy into removing him from his ministry is a disservice to the congregation, to the Evanston community, and to the ministry of the United Methodist Church,” Murray said.

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