How Alternative is Your Singlehood?
- Tim Laitinen Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2014 3 Mar
We didn’t know he was controversial.
American evangelicals were simply enjoying the Winter Olympics like everybody else. We chuckled at photos of two toilets in the same bathroom stall, and we heard about all the stray dogs being rounded up in Sochi. There were the athletes, of course, and some new stars being born as medals were won. Despite Bob Costas coming down with an eye infection, everything seemed to be going off without a hitch.
And then an NBC Sports website covering the Sochi games posted a story about David Wise’s “alternative lifestyle.”
And Christian media outlets and bloggers went, “huh?”
The kid from Nevada who’s a halfpipe skier? Who just won gold?” What’s so “alternative” about his lifestyle?
We braced ourselves for what NBC’s Skyler Wilder was going to reveal about Wise’s bizarre habits, personal preferences, and worldview.
Turns out, Wise’s “alternative lifestyle” is what we evangelicals consider to be normal family life. For Wilder, however, and young skiers in the daring, radical culture of the halfpipe world, Wise’s lifestyle choices are bizarre. Wise isn’t a carouser, or a ladies man, or a party animal, with Wilder’s implication being that any of those activities would make him “normal” in the elite orbit of Olympic athletics.
Instead, Wise is happily married and the proud father of a little girl. And he’s all of 23 years old – an age that NBC’s Wilder can’t seem to fathom.
“He’s not like the rest of the field,” he marvels. “Wise is mature far beyond his years. At only twenty-three years old, he has a wife, Alexandra, who was waiting patiently in the crowd, and together they have a two-year-old daughter waiting for them to return to their home in Reno, Nevada.”
So, that is the “alternative lifestyle” of David Wise? Being married and a father? All at the age of 23?
Wilder writes as though Wise has discovered some strange new universe in which morality, matrimony, and paternity are actually desirable and possible. Throughout his article, Wilder never tries to hide his amazement at Wise and the contentment Wise expresses about the beliefs he holds about marriage and family.
Granted, part of Wilder’s incredulity may have been a literary strategy to make his article about such a squeaky-clean halfpiper more attractive to NBC’s jaded audience of sports enthusiasts. Particularly young sports enthusiasts, who might, as part of our nation’s growing cohort of single never-marrieds, be even less generous towards Wise’s lifestyle than Wilder is. Wilder seems to at least be in awe of what makes Wise different; other observers might simply scoff in derision at the throwback to what they consider to be an anachronism: monogamy and paternal responsibility.
After all, if being an Olympic athlete as well as a married father at 23 wasn’t news, NBC wouldn’t have had a story. Wise’s life is considered newsworthy today because it doesn’t fit the norm. If the Olympic village at each of these games wasn’t the hotbed of sexual activity it’s reputed to be, Wise would be just another family man who happens to provide for his family through sports. As it was, one of the biggest side stories of these games was how athletes were using social media to, um, broaden the pool of fellow athletes they could date.
Still, even though the Olympics and its athletes aren’t exactly representative of society at large, it tells us a lot about our culture when the media perceives that somebody like Wise has become the exception to the rule, doesn’t it?
Indeed, what’s sobering for many of us evangelicals who’ve reacted to Wilder’s article with surprise is that his perspective is likely the dominant one for a new generation of Americans. Singlehood is growing, and so is single parenthood. Outside of your church, how many 23-year-old males do you know who are married? With children? Such guys used to be the norm in the United States.
Statistics vary, but we know that both men and women are delaying marriage, and many are delaying parenthood. Some experts even say that reproductive sexual activity in general is stagnating, and question whether the pervasive pornography available for free on the Internet may be making young men particularly ambivalent about sexual fidelity. The morning-after pill, along with contraceptives, has already changed the landscape of irresponsible sexual behavior, making marriage and procreation far more optional in the minds of young people than ever before.
And then, in 2014, there’s some fresh-faced “kid” from Nevada who, at an age when men used to be finished with both college and the first year of their marriage, says he can’t wait for him and his wife to get back home to their daughter.
“I think my lifestyle — the fact that I have a little girl to take care of and a wife — really takes the pressure off of my skiing,” Wise told Wilder, “because first and foremost I have to be a good husband and father.”
“Really?” exclaims Wilder. We can almost hear the buzzing in his head as his brain tries to fathom such a mindset.
For us evangelical singles, Wilder’s perspective may not seem so unusual, since we’re part of the cohort he expected Wise to be in. It’s perceived to be a cohort full of people more interested in fun than fidelity, and sex more than sanctimony. Of course, the reality of singlehood remains quite different from its perception, but Wilder isn’t out to justify one lifestyle or another. He’s simply amazed that a halfpiper can claim to enjoy what young singles these days mostly consider to be excess baggage: a spouse and a kid.
Meanwhile, we evangelical singles would do well to remember the amazement we likely felt when learning that Wise’s lifestyle of marriage and parenthood is now considered “alternative.” No matter the reason for our own singlehood, and regardless of whether we’re a parent, believers in the Gospel of Christ cannot deny that marriage and family remain God’s ideal design for the flourishing and perpetuation of mankind.
Delaying marriage can be a good thing for a variety of reasons, but the reasons Wilder implies are normal for people like Olympic athletes aren’t Godly ones, are they? After all, it’s not Wise’s studiousness, or single-minded focus on building his skill set, that makes his a supposedly “alternative” lifestyle. It’s being committed to one woman through marriage, and fathering children only with her.
Actually, we singles can also honor God’s ideal of marriage and family with our own sexual morality. It may not appear glamorous, or make us popular with our unsaved friends, but then again, it doesn’t seem like Wise is looking for popularity from his peers in the Olympic Village, either. Respecting the virtue of the marriage bed and its role in creating and sustaining healthy families isn’t just for other people to do. Each of us needs to make that commitment, whether we’re married or not.
So… how alternative is your singlehood?
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
Publication date: March 4, 2014