Pastor ‘fired from church’ after getting in drag for Drag Race queens’ HBO show

An Indiana pastor has been removed from his ministry after his appearance in drag on HBO’s We’re Here.

Pastor Craig Duke most recently served at Newburgh United Methodist Church in Newburgh, Indiana.

He participated in HBO’s We’re Here, a docu-series in which Drag Race alumni Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela travel to small cities and towns, transforming locals into drag performers.

Duke was put forward to participate in the series by local organisation, River City Pride, and said he wanted to show support for his local queer community, including his pansexual daughter.

However, according to a GoFundMe page set up for Duke, he was “relieved of pastoral duties” at the church following his drag appearance.

The fundraiser, first reported on by Queerty, explains: “Unfortunately, Craig’s participation in this show 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.”

The page describes Duke as “a man of faith, a father, a husband, a social justice advocate, and ally for the LGBTQIA+ community.”

In an interview with Religion News Service, the he described being on the show as “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 are different than you are. The invitation to be part of the show allowed me that,” he said.

The pastor also said during the episode that he knew of LGBT+ people in his community. He wanted to learn to be “empathetic, not just sympathetic.” 

Duke also stated that he wanted to show support for his daughter, who came out two years ago as pansexual.

The Newburgh church has reportedly claimed that “much of [the] information” surrounding Duke’s exit “has been less than completely accurate”.

In a letter obtained by Queerty, Mitch Gieselman, superintendent of the South and Southwest District of the Indiana United Methodist Church, wrote: “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.”

The Newburgh United Methodist Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Duke has since won support from members of the LGBT+ community and organisations including Eureka, who urged followers to donate to the fundraiser.

Bob the Drag Queen tweeted: “It’s a shame that even proximity to queerness is reason enough to fire someone.”

Shangela posted a video to Instagram defending Duke, who she said “has been bullied by a large portion of his church congregation out of his role because of his showcase of love for the LGBTQ+ community”.

Ross Murray, senior director of the GLAAD Media Institute, said (per Deadline): “Pastor Craig Duke stepped into a community that has experienced disproportionate church-based trauma to proclaim a message of God’s love for all of creation.

“Pastor Craig is emulating the example of Jesus, who also spent time with those who were rejected by the pious. 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.”