Pastor Who Was Pushed Out Of Church After Performing In Drag On HBO Show Raises Money For Living Expenses

He started receiving emails attacking him once the episode aired.

Reverend Craig Duke HBO / Facebook

A pastor from Indiana was forced to leave his job after facing backlash for appearing at a drag queen event.

Reverend Craig Duke, who has been a Newburgh United Methodist minister for three years, says he was “bullied out” of the church after receiving an influx of emails attacking him.

“You have thrown NUMC under the bus to elevate a minority of individuals,” one of the emails addressed to Duke said. 


A following email said that Satan must be pleased with the discord of LBTQ rights, according to Duke.

The pastor had recently perform as a drag queen on HBO's 'We're Here.'

The HBO show follows a trio of drag queens, Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O'Hara and Shangela Laquifa Wadley, as they travel across the United States to small towns to perform drag shows.

In each town, they pick out a local community member, who is dubbed their “drag daughters,” and teach them how to perform in drag.

Duke had been chosen to perform alongside drag queen O’Hara in an episode that aired on November 8. 

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The duo had performed to ‘We Are Who We Are’ by Kesha, with Duke in a bright pink wig and white robe.

Duke had originally thought most of the 400-member congregation would share his views on inclusion and LGBTQ rights, especially since he has been rather vocal about his support for the community.

“It was a matter of sadness and disappointment and heartbreak on my part ... realizing I was losing the ability to lead,” Duke said in a statement to the Associated Press.


The emails had “felt very personal” and the attack against his job caused Duke to worry about his mental health.

Reverend Craig Duke's conservative community appeared outraged by his actions. 

During the episode, Duke had made a comment about how conservative the Southern Indiana community is, and how easily it is to offend people.

“You can't do a drag show like this in southern Indiana and not offend someone,” he said. “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.”

It had been shortly after the episode aired that Duke began receiving the angry emails from congregants. 


Enough of them had been negative that the church’s Staff Parish Relations Committee insisted that Duke request a new assignment from Bishop Julius C. Trimble of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Before the scheduled appointment, Duke had attempted to lead a Bible study focused on sexuality in the church, but quickly received another “negative, bullying, attacking email from a church person.”

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“It just got to the point where the conflict, the anger grew too much, and so for my mental health, too, I started to back away, and I told my district superintendent that the conflict was so much, it was at such a level from some, that I was unable to be an effective leader,” Duke told the Religion News Service.


Some of the congregation members even had complaints before the episode had aired, saying that Duke had failed to give them advance notice of his decision to be on the show.

With some scenes being filmed at the church, that only further angered congregants, causing Duke to write an apology letter in August, saying he was sorry the trust in his leadership had been damaged.

“I was willing and excited to share God’s love with the LGBTQ community on a national level,” Duke said, defending his actions.

According to a letter written by Mark Dicken, the interim pastor at Newburgh United Methodist Church, Duke was “relieved of pastoral duties” effective December 1, and will receive a reduced salary until February 28, 2022.


A GoFundMe account has been started by friends of Duke for him and his wife Linda Duke, and has raised over $50,000.

O’Hara, who Duke appeared on the drag show, also shared the GoFundMe on their twitter, urging people to donate money to Duke and his wife.

Duke has expressed his unwillingness to return to pastoring, telling the AP that there is a possibility he and his wife will establish “an inclusive camp” for youths and young adults.


Despite the negative response, Duke said he had an unforgettable experience on the HBO show, and that it was an “incredibly wonderful, refreshing, and deepening 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.”

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.