An Indiana pastor has lost his job after performing in drag on We’re Here.
The HBO series follows RuPaul’s Drag Race fan-favourites Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela as they travel to small – and often conservative – towns in the United States.
There, they task reserved local residents with flaunting their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent for one-night only drag spectacles, while exploring the country’s modern attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people.
In a recent season two episode (8 November), Craig Duke – a pastor at the Newburgh United Methodist Church in Newburgh, Indiana – performed alongside his drag mother, Eureka, in a bright pink wig and white robe to Kesha’s number-one hit We R Who We R.
“You can’t do a drag show like this in southern Indiana and not offend someone,” Duke, 62, said in the episode. “I’m hoping it’s a bridge for my daughter, for the church I serve, for the denomination I love and for me.
“And I’m hoping that my voice will become stronger.”
Three weeks after the episode aired, the church announced that Duke had been “relieved from pastoral duties”.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Duke said he was under the impression that most of his 400-member congregation shared his inclusive beliefs, and that he was shocked when a prominent member of the congregation attacked him over email.
According to Duke, one email said he has “thrown NUMC under the bus to elevate a minority of individuals” while another claimed Satan would be pleased with his decision to back the LGBTQ+ community.
Duke said the attacks “felt very personal” which led to him worrying about his mental health. “It was a matter of sadness and disappointment and heartbreak on my part … realizing I was losing the ability to lead,” he said.
Protocols for the United Methodist Church state that a pastor is unable to resign. Duke, however, made it clear to his immediate superior – regional superintendent Mitch Gieselman – that he could no longer remain at the congregation.
Duke, who was a Methodist minister for three decades, last preached on 14 November. In a letter to the congregation dated 26 November, it was revealed that Duke would be relieved of his duties on 1 December.
Gieselman said that Duke had not resigned or been fired, but that his salary had been reduced and he and his family would have to move out of the parsonage by 28 February.
“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,” wrote Gieselman.
Despite the backlash from within his church, Duke has been met with an overwhelming amount of support from We’re Here viewers and members of the LGBTQ+ community. A GoFundMe page subsequently raised over $58,000 for the pastor and his family.
“I experienced as much love and acceptance, and dare I say more, within the drag culture and the L.G.B.T.Q. community than most people would experience within the settings of the church,” said Duke. “Not one person questioned what I was doing there; it was complete acceptance.”
Everyone met Pastor Craig a couple of weeks ago on the Evansville, IN episode of #WereHere Sadly his participation in the show has caused the Church to “relieve him of his pastoral duties.”
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— Eureka! (they/them/theirs) 🐘👑 (@eurekaohara) December 5, 2021