Serena Williams, you’re one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, period. But there’s another side to you, one that is especially exasperating to people who used to be members of Jehovah’s Witnesses: the one where you sadly symbolize the hypocrisy and bigotry of JW.org and the Watchtower Society. You know, that religious Cult whose God you say is your secret weapon.
And that makes it quite a bit gratifying that German athlete Angelique Kerber claimed the #1 spot in global Tennis, snatching it from a visibly distraught Serena. Serena Williams and her sister Venus are professed Jehovah’s Witnesses. Serena is said to participate in the proselytizing work, she is a regular visitor to the Kingdom Hall and she speaks openly about her faith:
As a Jehovah’s Witness, she explains, she doesn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas, and is not allowed to vote.
Serena says they have kept to themselves for a number of reasons. “I think it was the race, the Jehovah’s Witness and just not joining in with other people. (Source)
In a 2002 interview with ASAP Sports, she put it like this: “I am Jehovah’s Witness. If you don’t believe in God — I think if you don’t believe in God, it’s going to be tough to live life because pretty much that’s the basis of life, it comes from God. And so being a Jehovah’s Witness, obviously we believe in God and the Bible. And without Him, I wouldn’t be here right now. I really thank Him for everything.” (Source)
During an interview following her July 11 Wimbledon victory, a radiant Serena Williams pointed to the sky and declared: “I have to give thanks to Jehovah God for today. I just really relied on His strength.”
Religion News Service (RNS) had anticipated her words in the July 10 article, “Serena Williams’ Secret Weapon: ‘Jehovah God.’” (Source)
So why is Serena Williams a source of frustration for former (and possibly: current) Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Because her way of life would get the rank and file into trouble:
- She partakes in competitive sports
- She swears and cusses like a sailor
- She threatened a line judge
- She got naked for a magazine cover
- She visits birthday parties of celebrities like Beyoncé
Now, personally, I’m fine with all of that (minus the threatening bit, I guess). I really am. And it is not really about Serena either. It’s about the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. All of these things are no-gos for members of the organization.
You see, the above-mentioned conduct would warrant a sit-down with the Elders of any congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. You’d be at least reprimanded, if not stripped of your privileges (like partaking in the proselytizing work). Going naked for a magazine cover (eg. “loose conduct”) would not get you disfellowshipped (eg. ex-communicated) per se but the community would most definitely distance itself from you. But if you were repeatedly seen partying at birthdays of friends, you would be disfellowshipped, meaning: your friends and family no longer would have any contact with you.
And yes, it makes no difference that Serena Williams and her sister reportedly aren’t baptized members. In a major change, JW.org has extended the shunning policy to include inactive members who have transgressed. But also unbaptized professed Jehovah’s Witnesses are subject to scrutiny and risk being labeled bad association, in effect a kind of shunning light, which would implicate any true Jehovah’s Witness avoiding you for fear of being reprimanded as well (yes, there is guilt by association among Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Just as a small amount of pollution can contaminate clean water, friendship with those who do not practice godly devotion can contaminate our spirituality and lead us into adopting worldly viewpoints, dress, speech, and conduct. – JW.org
Occasionally, there may be a situation in the congregation that calls for us to watch our association. Some individuals might engage in questionable conduct. […] Paul cautioned Timothy that even among fellow Christians, there might be some who do not act honorably. Timothy was told to keep clear of such ones, not making them his close associates. – JW.org
This is how the rank and file is dealt with. Serena Williams (or other prominent Witnesses) ? Not so much.
Am I being petty? Maybe. But as a Jehovah’s Witness, I experienced close friends being publicly shamed for far less. I profited off the double-standard among Jehovah’s Witnesses myself (I elaborated on this in a piece I wrote for JW Survey). That’s why this subject is one I take seriously.
Dear Serena, it’s nothing personal. I hope you live your life to full effect and I am sincerely happy about every Jehovah’s Witness that doesn’t give a f*ck about the batshit rules in place in the organization. But for me and many other former Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is frustrating to see how JW.org treats you differently than normal members. For a religious group that claims to be the only true religion, that claims to be directed by God himself, that prides itself on its honesty, its love, that prides itself on being the happiest people on earth, this is unacceptable.
So, Serena, I hope you understand that, despite being one of the greatest athletes alive, when I watch you play, I see a symbol of the bigotry and hypocrisy of a Cult. Plus, on a side note, your secret weapon Jehovah God somehow failed you. And that’s why it’s a bit gratifying to know Angelique Kerber has taken your spot for now. No offense.