December 6, 2021
Religion News Service
When Pastor Craig Duke appeared in the HBO reality show “We Are Here”, he knew that some members of his united Methodist congregation would appreciate this episode, and that others would not even watch it.
He also knew that some members of his congregation supported the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the church and others did not, and that would make his appearance on the show a “challenging experience”.
But he didn’t think it would cost him his job.
Duke was relieved of his pastoral duties at Newburgh United Methodist Church near Evansville, Indiana, last week after receiving aversion from congressmen over his appearance on the show – in which he wore a pink wig to the skies and was dubbed Ke $ ha, saying: “Welcome to the church.”
“It is clear that there were people who were more dissatisfied with my participation than I knew, or at least the group that was dissatisfied continued to work together,” he said.
Believers’ emails began shortly after Duke’s episode “We Are Here” aired on November 8, the pastor said.
The show follows renowned drag artists Eureka O’Hara, Shangel and Bob Drag Queen as they travel to small towns and places across the United States, turning locals into drag queens. Duke accepted the invitation to appear in an episode filmed around Evansville because he said he wanted to better empathize with LGBTQ people in his community and express support for his daughter, who recently declared herself a pansexual.
Some of the messages the pastor received were positive. It was so much negative that, at the “insistence” of the Newburgh Committee for Staff-Parish Relations, Duke said, he asked Bishop Julius C. Trimble of the United Methodist Church’s Indiana Conference for a new assignment.
It is not uncommon for united Methodist bishops to regularly assign pastors to various churches or other leadership positions. These appointments generally take effect in July, and in the meantime Duke planned to conduct a six-week Bible study on sexuality in the church – something he hoped would create dialogue within the congregation.
But another “negative, harassing, offensive e-mail from churchgoers” arrived on November 14, which “turned the tide” for the pastor, he said.
It just came to a point when the conflict, the anger, grew too much, so I started retiring for my mental health, and I told my district chief that the conflict was so great, that it was in one of some, that I was not in I can be an effective leader, “he said.
In a written statement to the Religion News Service, the Indiana Conference confirmed that Duke “resigned from his church duties and entered a time of renewal, reflection and recovery” after a mixed response from believers to his appearance on the show. He did not resign and was not fired, it was specified.
“He and the Conference felt he was no longer able to serve effectively in the parish service with the Newburgh congregation,” the statement said.
The Rev. Mark Dicken, who pastorized Newburgh from 2004 to 2011, said Duke’s departure was “a pretty painful experience for everyone.” The church has a long history of “openness” to all people in its community, he said.
“This is not a homophobic assembly. In fact, it has an extraordinary number of not only allies, but also parents, grandparents, siblings of LGBTQ people, ”Dicken said.
The retired pastor has been serving as a temporary pastor in Newburgh since Duke and his family were out of town for Thanksgiving.
Mitch Gieselman, superintendent of the South and Southwest Indiana Conferences, then emailed the congregation to inform them that Duke would be “released from pastoral duties” beginning Dec. 1.
Duke will continue to receive a “significantly reduced” salary from the church until February 28, although he will no longer perform any pastoral functions there, it is stated in the email submitted to the RNS. He and his wife Linda can also continue to live in the church parish house during that time.
Gieselman said in his email that he has received numerous calls and emails, which are critical and support Duke’s appearance on the show “We are here”. He also pointed out that Duke had not committed any offense or other offense to the United Methodist Book of Discipline with his performance as a darling on the show.
“Our desire is to give Craig the opportunity to be able to re-use his many gifts as a pastor in the local congregation,” Gieselman wrote in his email.
The book on discipline, the denomination’s rulebook, says that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-proclaimed homosexual practitioners” cannot be ordained ministers, appointed to serve or be married in the church.
United Methodists remain divided over the language and are expected to consider a proposal to split the denomination at the next meeting of its global decision-making body, the General Conference. That meeting is currently scheduled to begin in August 2022.
For those believers who sent negative messages, Duke said, “some would use the terms‘ disgust ’,‘ anger ’,‘ disappointment ’,‘ shame ’for wearing a dress and being part of that experience.
As Newburgh’s staff-parish relations committee begins the process of working with the conference overseer to help the bishop appoint another pastor to lead the church, Duke said he wasn’t sure what would follow for him.
Friends founded GoFundMe last week to help the pastor and his family over the next few months, which has already raised more than $ 23,000 after his “drag mother” Eureka O’Hare, who helped him create his drag persona on ‘We’ re Here “, he tweeted about it on Sunday (December 5).
“Craig is an amazing person and deserves the same love he shares with everyone around him,” O’Hara wrote on Twitter.
LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD has also offered to help Duke tell its story and connect with support resources.
Ross Murray, a deacon within the Evangelical Lutheran Church that affirms LGBTQ in America and senior director of education and training for the GLAAD Media Institute, said Duke’s appearance on “We’re Here” followed Jesus’ example.
“Pastor Craig Duke has gracefully engaged a community that has experienced disproportionate trauma and church-based exclusion to proclaim God’s message of love to all creation. Pastor Craig follows the example of Jesus, who also spent time with those who were rejected by the pious, ”Murray said.
“The fact that members of his own church are harassing him and the church hierarchy to drive him out of his service is a disservice to the Congregation, the Evansville community and the service of the United Methodist Church.”
Duke said that as a United Methodist elder, he was guaranteed a minimum wage and a new appointment at the Indiana Conference.
But, he said, he too has to make some decisions.
“The outpouring of support – not only in emails and Facebook and all those experiences, but also in the financial one, which the group launched and it was really amazing and amazing – can take us in a different direction. We really just don’t know at the moment, “he said.
All the money GoFundMe raises in relation to its goal will go to “the most efficient inclusive ministry we will either start or be a part of,” Duke said.
One thing has not changed in the past few weeks, he said.
“My message the whole time was, ‘God loves you, period, as you are, where you are.’ No, ‘God loves you if …’ God loves you unconditionally, and that hasn’t changed, “he said.
Emily McFarlan Miller covers evangelical and major Protestant Christianity.for Religion News Service.