The Story: The firing of an executive at CrossFit reveals how bigotry toward orthodox Christians is becoming more open and accepted.
The Background: According to Buzzfeed News, a high-ranking executive at the fitness company CrossFit 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.”
Coaches at CrossFit Infiltrate in Indianapolis planned a special workout in support of Indy Pride, WTTV News reports. In an email sent to members by gym management, they explained the event was canceled because “the owners of the gym value health and wellness, and they believe that this event does not.” After a large contingent of coaches, staff, and members left, the gym was forced to shut down.
In response, Russell Berger, chief knowledge officer for CrossFit, wrote on Twitter: “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. The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing.” Berger is a also a CrossFit trainer and a pastor at a local church in Huntsville, Alabama.
In response to a Twitter user who pushed back, Berger wrote, “Thankfully I work for a company that tolerates disagreement. I have homosexual coworkers who I love and respect, and as far as I am aware, they aren’t demanding I be punished for my views.”
He was wrong. After initially being placed on an unpaid leave of absence, Berger was fired. On Twitter CrossFit wrote,
CrossFit is a diverse community in every way, and that’s what makes us strong. No matter who you are, how you’re built, what you believe, or who or how you love—we are proud of you.
The statements made today by Russell Berger do not reflect the views of CrossFit Inc. For this reason, his employment with CrossFit has been terminated.
CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman was more straightforward in expressing his opinion. “[Berger] needs to take a big dose of ‘shut the ____ up’ and hide out for awhile. It’s sad,” Glassman said in an interview. “We do so much good work with such pure hearts—to have some zealot in his off-time do something this stupid, we’re all upset. The whole company is upset. This changes his standing with us. What that looks like, I don’t know. It’s so unfortunate.”
What It Means: In reaction to this news story, many people on social media claimed there is an inconsistency in CrossFit claiming they are “proud” of people “no matter who you are” or “what you believe” and the bigoted statement made by the company’s CEO, Greg Glassman. But, when properly understood, CrossFit’s position is not at all inconsistent.
When individuals or corporations claim to tolerate all people or beliefs, they are merely referring to tolerable beliefs. Every society and culture eventually decides what beliefs cannot be tolerated and which are “beyond the pale,” that is, outside the agreed standards of decency.
The origin of the phrase “beyond the pale” comes from the archaic term “paling fence.” The “pale” is the area enclosed by such a fence, an area that is enclosed and safe. As the website Phrase Finder explains,
Catherine the Great created the Pale of Settlement in Russia in 1791. This was the name given to the western border region of the country, in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, “beyond the pale.”
In most of America, groups often considered “beyond the pale” include the Ku Klux Klan and pedophile activists, like NAMBLA. But for companies like CrossFit, the beliefs and views of orthodox Christians are also “beyond the pale.” In their view, it would be as harmful to “tolerate” us as it would be to tolerate neo-Nazis.
Lest you think I’m being hyperbolic, consider the reaction if an employee of CrossFit had criticized a workout for Evangelical Christian Pride month. The example is absurd, of course, because the company would not consider evangelicals or their lifestyle would worth celebrating, and certainty not in the way that homosexuality is considered worthy of celebration today. As Glassman said, “I am crazy proud of the gay community in CrossFit.” It is unthinkable that he’d make the same claim about theologically conservative evangelicals or other orthodox Christians.
Despite Glassman’s willingness to openly express his disgust for Christian “zealots,” CrossFit has to tread lightly. CrossFit is not just a product, it’s a community. Some within that community, of course, hold views (such as that celebrating “pride” is a sin) that would put them beyond the pale. This puts them in a delicate situation. The company needs customers who hold such intolerable views to keep it to themselves, and to hide who they really are. What the company needs, to paraphrase Glassman, is for Bible-believing CrossFitters to “shut the ____ up and hide out for a while.”
Fortunately for CrossFit, many Christians are willing to do just that.
When Christian artists were told they must use their talents to celebrate same-sex marriage, many of their fellow believers agreed they should be forced to “bake the cake.” The absurd justification was that using one’s gifts for a commissioned work of art was not an “endorsement” of the message that same-sex marriage was good and normal—even though that was the reason LGBT activists sought to compel the artistic speech in the first place. Initially, though, as long as we were willing to bow before the god of sexual identity, the activists didn’t seem to care how we rationalized our submission.
But indirect acceptance is no longer sufficient. The activists suspect that some of us still believe certain sexual behaviors are “sinful” and want to expose this intolerable bigotry. If we won’t join them in marching in a gay pride parade, they will march us out beyond the pale.
This is an example of what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called Neuhaus’s Law: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” As Neuhaus explains:
Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.
The problem for Christians is that we take our name from the God-man who had the “effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.” Jesus was clear about both the standard of marriage being between a man and a woman and his abhorrence of sexual immorality (Matt. 19:4-12). When companies like CrossFit claim that only intolerable bigots hold such views, they’re talking about our Lord and Savior.
How will we respond when they ask, “Aren’t you a follower of that bigot Jesus?” Will we have the boldness to acknowledge him before others (Matthew 10:32), or will we say, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m just here for the workout.”