Another traditional Christian bumps up against Leftist attempts to "modernize" his church's teachings
And gets falsely called a Nazi for his pains. The fact that suppression of dissent really is Nazi is an irony that seems lost on his critics. Their authority is current Leftism, not the Bible. As Jesus said of the Pharisees, they are "whited sepulchres"
Note that when Turnipseed wrote "Here I stand", he was quoting "Hier stehe ich", a famous saying by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521
Earlier this year, Ryan Turnipseed, a college student and devout Lutheran in Oklahoma with a modest following on Twitter, found himself on the brink of excommunication by his church.
In response to his stern criticisms of the church, Turnipseed was first denounced as a fascist by an outside party, then lumped in with a call to excommunicate fascists led by his church, and finally summoned for a meeting with church leaders where they informed him and his father that he was associating with evil. The scene was simultaneously old-fashioned, with its back-and-forth accusations of heresy and bitter struggles over the soul, and “very online,” very 2023.
The specter of Christian nationalism and other supposedly extremist right-wing ideologies festering inside middle American churches has become a focal point within the political culture as well as the national security establishment. In February, in the same period when Turnipseed was clashing with his church, a leaked document from the FBI showed that the agency’s Richmond, Virginia, office was using funds earmarked for domestic violent extremism to monitor “radical traditionalist Catholics.” The FBI retracted the memo after it was exposed by a whistleblower, but not before it revealed that the agency’s criteria for designating people as extremists was that they preferred to worship at the traditional Latin Mass. To critics, it seemed to show the federal government taking steps to criminalize religious traditionalism.
Yet rather than simply being an attack by the government on Christians, the case mirrored a conflict that is playing out within churches as well. Last February, in an interview with the progressive Center for American Progress, Amanda Tyler, a lawyer and the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, declared: “the single biggest threat to religious freedom in the United States today is Christian nationalism.”
On Jan. 21, Ryan Turnipseed stepped into this larger debate and made his stand—as one does in the age of online religious wars—by authoring a Twitter thread about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) new edition of Luther’s Large Catechism.
Luther’s Large Catechism is the Lutheran doctrine outside of the Bible. Originally authored by Martin Luther, each section is broken down into explanations designed to help clergymen teach the Lutheran faith. It is foundational to Lutheranism—as vital to the faith as the catechism of the Catholic Church is to Catholicism. Turnipseed’s thread went softly viral, receiving just under 1,000 likes on a platform where the most viral tweets regularly reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of engagements.
Turnipseed’s central claims were that the LCMS’s new edition had gone so far in accommodating the dogmas of American political progressivism that the book undermined the faith entirely. In his thread, some of his complaints about the updated text were that it equivocated “homosexuality, pornography, sodomy, pedophilia, whorishness, and transgenderism with heterosexual fornication outside of sex”; “affirm[ed] the reality of transgenderism”; and contradicted scripture by “saying that Genesis is entirely separate from any ‘scientific’ theories.”
While there are a few places in Turnipseed’s thread where his judgments seem motivated by his own ideological concerns, his tone remains levelheaded. He’s stern, certainly, but there is no extremist language, no incitement to violence, and no name-calling. One gets the impression that he’s simply a conservative churchgoer who disagrees with changes being made and is deeply concerned. It’s the type of disagreement that is–or should be–par for the course whenever major changes are being made to a foundational religious document.
According to Turnipseed–and to LCMS President Matthew Harrison–he wasn’t the only person who raised objections about these changes. In a short piece published in a small publication called Christianity Today, other critics, like pastor and blogger Larry Beane and pastor David Ramirez, were also concerned that “some of the essays, which are not Lutheran doctrine, mishandled current issues like racial justice, human sexuality, and gun rights.”
On Jan. 23, two weeks after the updated Large Catechism’s release, President Harrison announced on Twitter that the LCMS would pause publication and distribution of the new catechism so he could evaluate the criticism they had received about the changes. Nine days later, the LCMS concluded that the changes would stay, and they would continue to distribute the updated version.
But here’s where the story takes a turn and enters the stage of national political drama. Harrison didn’t frame the controversy as a disagreement within the faith. Instead, Harrison presented it as something far more sinister. In a letter to the LCMS, he singled out the alt-right—an umbrella label used to describe various strands of neofascist and white nationalist ideology—for fomenting criticism against the new catechism and called for their excommunication.
In his letter, he wrote:
These “alt-right” individuals were at the genesis of a recent controversy surrounding essays accompanying a new publication of Luther’s Large Catechism. This group used that opportunity to produce not only scandalous attacks and widespread falsehoods but also to promote their own absolutist ideologies.
He called for a complete rejection of the alt-right, characterizing their views as “white supremacy, Nazism, pro-slavery, anti-interracial marriage, women as property, fascism, death for homosexuals, even genocide.”
Blaming the “alt-right” for the pushback against the church’s new directive didn’t sit well with Turnipseed. “Alt-right” is a very specific label, and a dated one at that. It’s not that no such movement has existed, but it’s often applied in a way that is deliberately vague and overly broad. In reality, “alt-right” describes a particular group of people that rose to national prominence during a particular moment in time that peaked in or around 2017. At worst, the label is a lazy smear against right-wingers. To evoke “alt-right,” in many situations, is to immediately shut down difficult conversations by associating conservatism with racially motivated violence.
Turnipseed discovered a week later that it wasn’t just that Harrison was condemning the “alt-right,” he was also condemning him personally. Shortly after Harrison’s letter was published, Turnipseed’s father received an email from a pastor stating that the church was concerned for his son’s physical and spiritual safety.....
Turnipseed defended his criticisms of the new catechism and summarized his problems with the condemnation of the alt-right in a blog post on the website Gab, a Twitter alternative that spun up during the 2016 elections after a particularly aggressive wave of suspensions that targeted users on the right and far right. In a post titled “Here I Stand,” Turnipseed laid out his views. Much of what Turnipseed describes in “Here I Stand” is unsurprising for a conservative Christian, and much of it would be sympathetic to moderate or progressive Christians as well.
But his coolly logical approach also reveals his commitment to a close reading of the Bible and of Lutheranism that places the historical foundations of the faith above the evolving moral concerns of the present.