Should Serena Williams Swear if She’s a Jehovah’s Witness? September 16, 2009

Should Serena Williams Swear if She’s a Jehovah’s Witness?

You’ve likely seen the clip of tennis star Serena Williams cursing out a line judge in her semi-final match at the U.S. Open this past weekend — the outburst cost her a point, which ultimately meant the end of the match for her.

Williams, however, is a Jehovah’s Witness. Is she allowed to do that?

Slate asks and answers that very question.

Cursing, then, is a sin among Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it’s a “nonjudicial” one — meaning it’s not sufficiently grave to merit formal censure from Witness elders and cannot lead to “disfellowshipping” (expulsion from the congregation). Infractions for which you might be disfellowshipped include abortion, sexual abuse, adultery, heresy, and murder. The Sept. 8, 1989, edition of Awake! recommends that “if a fellow Christian lapses in his or her speech,” the best corrective is “a kindly reminder — not a lecture.” Habitual cussing, however, may warrant a talking-to from a fellow Witness or some kind of disciplinary action from family members.

I don’t think swearing is some horrible sin. But the outburst just shows how a religious label does little to change one’s behavior if the person isn’t too serious about it.

If you don’t want to live up to the ideals of your faith, why bother labeling yourself in the first place?

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  • littlejohn

    I wonder what the JW’s think of a woman having gigantic biceps that couldn’t possibly have been achieved by hitting tennis balls. Let’s see, you can’t smoke or drink, but you can inject synthetic hormones in your butt? I suspect you can do whatever you want if you’re a high-profile sports celebrity.

  • Tony

    Is Maria Sharapova a Jehovah’s Witness as well, or is there some other reason she keeps coming to my house?

  • Richard Wade

    Her religion is irrelevant. One could call her out on any of her other categories, saying that she is an embarrassment to those groups as well. Her race, her religion, her gender, her nationality, her political party, her sport, her sponsors, her family all have vested interests in their members behaving with dignity and decorum, and members will still do whatever they do. Jehova’s Witness or not, so the hell what?

    I think Williams’ behavior appears to be that of a spoiled brat, which is an occupational hazard of being a celebrity. If actors and athletes are surrounded for their entire youth by people who constantly say “you’re wonderful,” they’re going to end up acting like brats.

    I’m just glad she’s not left-handed. That would have been absolutely mortifying to me and my southpaw friends.

  • littlejohn

    Wait a minute, Wade! Your a lefty??? Get the hell out of here! We were all created in god’s right-handed image!

  • Tony

    God only gave us left hands so it would feel like someone else doing it.

  • @ Richard

    Power to the left-handers!

    In general:

    I’m just glad they have a specific offense in regards to sexual abuse. Someone should inform the Catholic church they’ve been one-upped.

    P.S. Maybe the Catholic church does have a specific offense in regards to sexual abuse, but you can’t tell it by their actions.

  • Richard Wade

    hmm. maybe that’s why my right hand…

  • Why are we talking about this? Is it relevant? Why is Tony wasting his time here if Maria Sharapova is coming to his house?

  • I’m sixteen and live with a JW family.

    I dunno, they treat cursing as something foul (my dad says cursing is for uneducated people who can’t express themselves in any other way… which is clearly not true– swearing, when used sparsely, can add strong effect or emphasis to a statement imo), but they all slip up sometimes. I know my dad pitches a fit even when I use something as minor as acronyms with the “f word” in it.

    But JWs aren’t perfect (or nazi) in that regard. They don’t swear, but it’s not a huge big deal if someone stubs their toe and lets out a “shit” or two.

    With Serena pursuing such a high-profile career and knowing the Witnesses’ attitudes toward that, I seriously doubt she’s a bible-thumping JW.

    In some congregations, going to college is enough to make people think you’re putting “the world” first and Jehovah second. They want you to waste your life knocking on doors to prepare for OMFG ARMAGEDDON (it’s coming, for real this time), and going to college or pursuing a career is frowned upon. omgwtflol glad I got out of that. 😐

    Before I was out, my dad wanted me to hold off on college and do at least a year of pioneering. o___O

  • Jim Baerg

    Littlejohn: The accusation of steroid use seems a bit thin on evidence to me. After reading your comment I googled for pictures of Serena & her arm muscles look easily achievable with weight training & no steroids. Baseless accusations of misconduct aren’t particularly admirable behaviour.

    BTW does tennis have drug tests like most of the Olympic sports?

  • Tizzle

    I hope that this first step of swearing will be part of a longer path towards coming out as a lesbian. It was one of my first steps to not being a JW.

    She’s hot.

  • Sha

    Mariana, the disdain for college was initially one of the first things that turned me away from the Witnesses as a teenager. One year at convention, they were praising a student who had turned down full-rides from Ivies to go Pioneering instead.

  • Ash

    Whilst I agree that religion doesn’t change a person, it can give you ideals to try to bend yourself to (although, in my view, usually wrong or unnecessary ideals). One can just as easily label oneself anything that you want to aspire to, whilst also accepting that you may not consistently adhere to those ideals – if I labelled myself a humanist, yet spouted racist nonsense 1 time without thinking, would that necessarily mean that I didn’t still aspire to humanist values and want (but occasionally fail) to live up to them? Should I then disavow myself of my self-given label?
    She fucked up on the swearing. Big deal. I’d rather she thought about the inanity generally, rather than change her label on such a trivial (even to the JWs apparently) detail.

  • Sha:

    Yeah, me too. I’ve always been interested in science and education, and it was only a matter of time before I discovered I’d been duped.

    There were a lot of internal struggles I didn’t realize I had until I renounced my faith.

    I remember being very young– twelve– and just finishing reading the Wikipedia article on evolution. The next time it came up, my dad brought up “holes in the fossil record” and I said “well, not really– but I know evolution can’t be true because the Bible is” and defended it as a “good theory” for someone who didn’t have “the truth.”

    I didn’t recognize that I had the tools to give it up then– it was right in my face, too.

    But hey, I started really reading about evolution when I got to my freshman biology course and discovered that (1) I really, really liked biology and (2) it didn’t work without evolution!

    I never went through a moderate Christian phase because of the fact that so many ID/creationism critics are also advocates of naturalism, and reading about one easily leads you onto places like Pharyngula and RDnet.

    So you know, I gave it up altogether and became a secular humanist. I can’t tell you the relief of going to bed one night and saying to myself, “oh my God I’m an atheist” and “no more meetings, no more forcing myself to believe stupid things and I can finally read Naruto and play Disgaea.” X’D

    I’ve been so much happier not having to fight contradictory views on gay rights, what’s hand-waving woo and what’s actually spiritism (hah, I had a skeptical mind for a long time and couldn’t get behind demon activity) and getting answers after countless hours of research to “wait on Jehovah for change” or just pray more about it.

    Hah, I’m free. :]

  • TJ

    If you don’t want to live up to the ideals of your faith, why bother labeling yourself in the first place?

    Pretty simple really, they’re bandwagoners. They want to belong to something so they’ll accept whatever label they need to.

    If they don’t label themselves religious, their opportunities to make friends dry up.

  • TXatheist

    Littlejohn, is it confirmed she juiced?
    I just think steroids use is overblown.

    As an ex-JW they do swear. It’s why I had little trouble with being good. I didn’t smoke or swear and drinking is ok which I did back then. In JW world just say you’re sorry and you are forgiven especially when you are famous and giving money to the Watchtower Society.

  • mike

    littlejohn: If you have evidence of steroid use let us see it, otherwise keep your unfounded opinions to yourself. Serena is worthy of criticism for many things, but she is not on steroids. Consider that tennis players do more training than just “hitting tennis balls”, and also look at some of the muscle-bound hulks in the men’s game (Rafa Nadal, Gael Monfils) for comparison..

    Jim Baerg: Yes, tennis has draconian drug testing that is absolutely out of hand. Two players were recently given huge suspensions for testing positive for cocaine, but both tests showed an amount that would not register as positive for even a US military drug screening. One of these players (Richard Gasquet) successfully appealed and convinced an arbitration court that his exposure to cocaine was from kissing a girl in a bar who had taken cocaine (his test was consistent with this amount of exposure). Since cocaine is hardly “performance enhancing”, be assured that if Serena were doing something as obvious as steroids, she would have been caught by now.

    Speaking of Serena… she and her sister always say “I want to thank my god, Jehovah” in every trophy presentation, and now even their father sits in the stands with a silly baseball cap that says “JEHOVAH: MY GOD”. It is becoming quite silly. Still, they are really the only obnoxiously religious ones in the sport that I can think of (apart from some South American players making the sign of the cross now and then). It is nowhere near as bad as baseball/football/basketball. Maybe it’s something to do with team sport vs individual sport?

  • RG

    I really don’t give a fuck what she does

  • 1. Cocaine is absolutely performance enhancing. For all performances, and until the cocaine wears off / runs out.

    2. Natural lefty…until I broke my hand and had to learn to go right. All racquet sports are left – as are pool, darts, batting and hockey…but throwing a ball, bowling and…ahem…strictly right.

    3. I don’t think anyone lives up to the claims they make or like to believe about themselves. Hypocrites, all of us.
    If I am to be honest, I must first admit that I fall short of my own demands, and thus do try to refrain from schadenfreude whenever some theist misses their mark (at which I fail…but I TRY!).
    Of course, there is difference of degree between Ray Comfort and Serena – same as there’s a difference between George Thorogood and John McLaughlin.

    I have no knowledge to what measure the Williams sisters meet their godly mark, but I’m not prepared to trump up their faith as some reason why they MUST NEVER go full McEnroe on a penultimate match point foot fault.
    Much the same way as I don’t expect a humanist – who says “I need no god for good behaviour” – would be similarly faulted for “I’ll jam this ball down your fucking throat!”
    I no more attribute that outburst to godlessness than I fault Serena for a lack of her personal godliness.

    /they’re obvious enough. we need not stretch.

  • This is an incredibly petty post topic. What is the value of picking on people’s religion when it is completely irrelevant to what they’re doing? She’s a world class athlete under a lot of pressure getting angry and saying things she shouldn’t. End of story. It has nothing to do with whether she’s living up to her religious standards or not or whether religion affects people positively or negatively, or any other such thing. There’s no need to be judgmentally cataloguing every sin of every religious person and taking out a smarmy megaphone to announce their hypocrisy and how it relates to their religion. It’s really, really unseemly.

    Let’s save picking on religious people for when their religion (either in thought or practice) is the basis of their bad behavior or when their hypocrisy highlights the unrealistic character of what they expect from people. All ethical people know we shouldn’t go around threatening to shove our rackets down people’s throats. Her religion is not excessive in telling her not to do such things and her religion is not the reason she did it. Her religion is irrelevant. It’s an ugly pair of glasses one has to wear to judge people entirely in terms of their Otherness to you where everything bad they do is more than a human failing but an expression of their being a member of the group you are opposed to. That’s one of the major forms of prejudice.

  • Ah well. Sometimes a woman just has to blow off some steam. It’s intense competition, and the best in a sport are really driven. She’s probably embarrassed by the outburst now (though maybe not). All Things Considered interviewed some line judge or other who’d officiated Serena’s matches several times and said her conduct was usually same as anyone else’s.

    But one has to behave themself. Like that Congressman who shouted to Obama ‘you lie.’ Was he not censured? Doesn’t matter if he was right or wrong. You have to comport yourself in accord with the rules of the house.

  • MichelleAntoinette

    I am late to the conversation. but lets us just remember before we start pointing fingers that we all mess up some time or the other. i don’t curse because of being one of JW but at time i do lose my cool and curse under my breath at that time i appologize to my Heavenly father and pray for self control. the old personality is sometime hard to put away. as my brother the apostle paul said. i desire to do what is right because of the man i am .but in me i have a wrestling because i am a slave to sin law. which makes me a miserable man. in other words we all mess up some time or the other because of a sinful body. and yes Jehovah’s withness drink its against our religion to get drunk but we do drink after all Jesus turn water into wine didn’t h.e so since Jesus did so . who am i to rewrite the bible and say its wrong. drinking till one is drunk and display disorderly conduct now that is a different thing. lets us display a forgiving attitude and pray for Serena. choa

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