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Pastor faces backlash after dressing in drag on HBO show

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Pastor Craig Duke, who faced backlash after dressing in drag on the HBO program "We're Here," has been relieved of his pastoral duties at Newburgh United Methodist Church in Indiana.

Emails from congregants started not long after the program aired Nov. 8, Duke said, according to Religion News Service, which noted that some of the comments that Duke got were positive. But others were not.

"Enough were so negative that — at the 'insistence' of Newburgh’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee, Duke said — he requested a new assignment from Bishop Julius C. Trimble of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church," RNS reported.

Duke intended to head a six-week Bible study regarding sexuality at the church, according to the outlet. But Duke said an additional "negative, bullying, attacking email from a church person" that came on Nov. 14 "flipped the tide."

“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 said.

Mitch Gieselman, the superintendent of the South and Southwest District of the Indiana Conference, discussed the situation in a November note to the congregation.

"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," Gieselman wrote. "Duke will continue with a significantly reduced salary until no later than February 28."

Here's more from the letter:

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.

A crowdfunding campaign meant to benefit Duke has already raised tens of thousands of dollars.

“The outpouring of support — not just in emails and Facebook and all those experiences, but also financially, which a group started and it’s just really been incredible and unbelievable — may lead us a different direction. We really just don’t know at this point,” Duke said, according to RNS.

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