dragged down

Pastor relieved of duties by church after donning drag on HBO’s We’re Here

Eureka O'Hara hugs Rev. Craig Duke on HBO show We're Here
Eureka O’Hara hugs Rev. Craig Duke on We’re Here (Photo: Jake Giles Netter/HBO)

A pastor has allegedly been “relieved of pastoral duties” by the church he worked for after he donned drag on the HBO series, We’re Here.

Pastor Craig Duke is a proud LGBTQ ally. The married father preaches about inclusivity and love for all. In 2018, he took over as lead pastor at Newburgh United Methodist Church in Evansville, Indiana.

Last month, he appeared on We’re Here, after being suggested by the local Evansville Pride organization.

Related: Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O’Hara get their own TV show

The show features drag performers Eureka O’Hara, Shangela, and Bob the Drag Queen. The trio travels across small town America, transforming locals into drag queens and highlighting local stories of perseverance and inspiration. You can watch a clip of his segment from the 4.55 mark below.

At the time, Duke told Religion News Service, “It was an incredibly wonderful, refreshing, deepening, powerful spiritual experience.

“I was surrounded and immersed in a culture that I’ve never been immersed in, 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 different than you are. The invitation to be part of the show allowed me that.”

Duke said he participated because he wanted to learn greater empathy for the LGBTQ community and also show support for his daughter, who came out as pansexual two years ago.

However, it now seems his involvement in We’re Here did not go down well with his church. Last week, a GoFundMe was set up to raise money for Duke and his wife after he was apparently let go from the church.

“Pastor Craig considers himself to be a man of faith, a father, a husband, a social justice advocate, and ally for the LGBTQIA+ community,” says the fundraiser, set up by Chris and Erin Sexton. “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.”

Indiana Pastor Craig Duke on We're Here
Pastor Craig Duke on We’re Here (Photo: Jake Giles Netter/HBO)

It says that Craig’s participation in We’re Here, “Unfortunately … caused much turmoil in the church that he was serving at the time and ultimately lead to him being ‘relieved of pastoral duties’ at that church. Craig will continue with a significantly reduced salary until no later than February 28. Obviously, this poses a major challenge to Craig and his family as they determine their next steps.”

At the time of writing, the GoFundMe has raised over $18,000 of a $30,000 target.

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The Newburgh United Methodist Church’s website makes no mention of Craig being dropped. However, the weekly sermon section on its newsletter, previously written by ‘Pastor Craig’, is now being penned by ‘Pastor Mark’. Queerty has approached the church, and Rev. Craig Duke, for comment.

We’re Here’s Eureka O’Hara was among those to highlight the GoFundMe page.


A couple of hours after we published this story, Queerty was forwarded a copy of the letter that members of the Newburgh UMC were sent on November 26, by Mitch Gieselman, Superintendent, South and Southwest District, Indiana United Methodist Church.

“There has been a great deal of information circulating in recent weeks concerning the status of Rev. Craig Duke in the wake of his appearance on the HBO production ‘We’re Here’,” says the letter. “Much of that information has been less than completely accurate. My hope is to clarify the situation as best I’m able.

“No single resolution will be satisfactory to all. 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. 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.

“Rev. Duke is being relieved from pastoral duties effective December 1, 2021. He will not be available to perform any pastoral functions at NUMC. He and Linda will continue to reside in the parsonage until no later than February 28, 2022, but he will not be at the church in any capacity. Rev. Mark Dicken will serve as interim pastor, with full pastoral authority, until a full appointment is made.”

It goes on to state, “Craig has not ‘resigned,’ nor has he been ‘fired,’ as these are not actions that are consistent with our appointment system. While there is a diversity of opinion regarding the moral implications of Rev. Duke’s actions, he has not been found to have committed any chargeable offense or other violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

“In short, Craig has reached a place where he feels unable to continue to serve in parish ministry at present. During his time of being relieved from pastoral duties, he will be engaging in a process of renewal, reflection, and recovery that will be monitored by our conference Director of Leadership Development, Bishop Trimble, and myself. Our desire is to provide an opportunity for Craig to again be able to utilize his numerous gifts as a pastor in a local congregation. He will not, however, be returning to the NUMC pulpit.

“For now, I appeal to you to keep Craig and Linda in your ongoing prayers.”