Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Greengrocers Of CrossFit Gyms

Christian gym employees learn the cost of discipleship the hard way

News from the world of fitness:

A high-ranking CrossFit employee was fired after tweeting his support for a CrossFit gym’s cancellation of a Pride event, citing his belief that celebrating LGBT pride is a “sin.”

Russell Berger was the mega-successful fitness company’s chief knowledge officer, often de facto spokesperson, and a co-author of the Russells, a blog about scientific misconduct that he maintained with colleague Russell Greene.

But Berger got into hot water Wednesday afternoon when he tweeted about a CrossFit gym in Indianapolis, Indiana, where owners canceled a workout in honor of Pride Month. Many of the coaches and employees quit in protest, according to WTTV TV in Indianapolis. On Wednesday, the gym posted notices that it was shutting down.

“As someone who personally believes celebrating ‘pride’ is a sin, I’d like to personally encourage #CrossFitInfiltrate for standing by their convictions and refusing to host an @indypride workout,” Berger wrote. “The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing.”

The company fired him. More:

His anger over the Indianapolis situation arose after reading news reports about it. “I have no qualms with the gym owner expressing his personal convictions, I have no qualms with customers and coaches leaving because they have different convictions,” he said. “But I did have qualms with the massive response from people who had no direct business relationship with the affiliate, but just engaged in social media–organized public destruction of his business’ reputation and forced him to shut his doors. I think that’s an expression of pure intolerance, not being able to disagree with someone and engage in meaningful discourse.”

Berger says he often tweets about CrossFit as an employee and public representative of the company, as well as religious issues “as a social media user and the pastor of a church.” So his tweets are “nothing I haven’t said before on social media.”

Read the whole thing.


I can understand why CrossFit did what it did. You can’t be a spokesman for a company and tweet out something that can be so damaging to the company’s brand. Berger had to make a choice between his job and his personal convictions, and though he had the choice made for him by his imprudence, I believe he wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The case that caused Berger to tweet is more troubling. The owner of the now-closed Indianapolis CrossFit gym did not want to host a Pride event, out of religious conviction. According to a local media account of the controversy, this was the owner’s statement about the matter:

“Our underlying goal for the staff and members at CrossFit Infiltrate and our other gyms CrossFit White River and University Ave CrossFit, is total health and well-being for the individual and the community. Total health involves the body, the emotions, relationships, and the spirit. At the foundational detractor from health, as we believe God sets the parameters for, is pride. We believe that true health forever can only be found within humility, not pride. Humility is seeing oneself as they truly are, and as God truly defines them to be. As a business we will choose to deploy our resources towards those efforts and causes that line up with our own values and beliefs.”

Lots of staff quit the gym over this, and it had to close. Again: that is people’s right. The owner, apparently a Christian, has now lost his business (temporarily, one hopes) because of his faith stance. It did not involve the government, but the choice of his employees and customers not to associate with a Christian business owner who does things like this. It’s a free country.

However, don’t underestimate the power of this gesture. Gay activists and their supporters among the gym’s employees destroyed this Christian’s business, not because he wouldn’t allow gays to work out at the gym, but because he would not permit them to celebrate gay Pride there. They shattered his business overnight without filing a charge or a lawsuit, but solely by using the power of stigma and collective action.

This is what I told you in The Benedict Option was going to happen, and is going to keep happening. I likened people like the CrossFit gym owner to the greengrocer from the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel’s famous essay:

Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power — and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs.

Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity. Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” — and it’s going to cost him plenty.


Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system — but he has preserved his humanity. And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether this party or that politician holds power…

In my book, I said that Christians have to help each other when our livelihoods suffer because of stances like the one the CrossFit affiliate and employee Russell Berger have taken:

When that price needs to be paid, Benedict Option Christians should be ready to support one another economically—through offering jobs, patronizing businesses, professional networking, and so forth. This will not be a cure-all; the conversion of the public square into a politicized zone will be too far-reaching for orthodox Christian networks to employ or otherwise financially support all their economic refugees. But we will be able to help some.

I also pointed out how we need to start building parallel economic structures, and patronizing them. That gym owner in Indianapolis will no doubt be cut loose from his CrossFit affiliation — and if he starts another gym, faithful Christians in that city who work out at CrossFit gyms or elsewhere should move their membership to that one. We cannot expect Christian business owners to take these kinds of bold stands if we won’t do our best to support them when they pay the inevitable price.

Russell Berger and the as yet unknown owner of the Indy gym — they are two Havel’s greengrocers of our time and place. Every other Christian-owned business in Indianapolis is put on notice that if they don’t agree to host Pride events, or in some way signal their support of Pride, they could suffer the same fate. There is no law that will protect a business from a boycott by its own employees or customers — nor should there be, in a free country. 

These CrossFit Christians are getting hard lessons in the cost of discipleship. These lessons are going to become more frequent. What kind of lessons — in courage, and in solidarity — are the rest of us Christians learning? Pay attention. This is important.

UPDATE: Let me make it clear again, since on evidence of the comments, some readers don’t understand. I think it was foolish for the CrossFit spokesman to tweet what he did, and I think that it was fair for the company, given its values, to fire him over that (even though I wish they had not). I support the right of the employees of this Indy CrossFit gym to quit in protest, and the right of customers to leave it in protest. It’s a free country. Whether they were morally right to do it is a separate question. It is an indisputable fact that the owner’s business was destroyed by the insta-boycott. Had he allowed the Pride workout, he would still have a business. He didn’t, and so he doesn’t.

That’s life in these United States today: if you don’t give LGBT activists and their sympathizers what they want, you could lose your job or your business. “Tolerance” is what a lot of us have been saying all along it was: a ruse and a wedge. A reader comments:

But at what point were businesses essentially required to hold “Black pride” events, as this gym was? Indeed, what gyms across America to this day are hosting “black pride” workouts?

Here’s the problem with the LGBT movement: Those who aren’t on board aren’t merely required to “tolerate” them – they’re required to applaud. The gym is shut down not because gays aren’t allowed to join – but because they gym doesn’t want to celebrate them.

The gym is required to celebrate them; or at the very least, a privately owned business is not permitted to cancel a previously scheduled “pride” event.

This isn’t how tolerance works. But then you aren’t interested in mere tolerance, are you?

Of course they aren’t. And I would urge Christians who are pleased with the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision to keep in mind that there is nothing in that decision that would protect a business from the fate of the Indy CrossFit gym. We may have the legal right under some circumstances to refuse to do certain business practices that violate our religious belief, but we have no right to be protected from the economic consequences of exercising that belief.

In conservative Catholic circles, the informal network of gay priests is sometimes called, derisively, “the Lavender Mafia” — a term that expresses the belief that they conspire together to look out for their own interests, and to punish anybody who disagrees. In real life, the mafia often imposes “protection money” on small businesses, in which the business owner pays a kind of tax to the mob to keep bad things from happening to his business. Coming soon: businesses that don’t have Pride celebrations, or in some sense fail to acknowledge the High Holy Month of Pride, will see bad things happen to them — boycotts and suchlike. Forewarned is forearmed.

In a normal world, Christians on staff at a gym owned by an atheist could have scheduled, I dunno, an Easter Worship Workout (silly, yes, but so is a Pride workout). The atheist owner could say, “Wait a minute, I welcome your business, Christians, but hosting an event that celebrates your religion is too much for me. I believe that religion is a destructive force.” The Christians may be hurt by that, but they respect his beliefs, and realize that he is acting out of principle.

To act to force an atheist business owner to host a religious event that violated his deeply held principles ought to have been seen by those seeking to host that religious event as disrespectful and indeed as bullying, and an affront to the kind of virtues we need to live together in a pluralistic republic. But that’s not how Pride people roll, being prideful.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now