The most famous living Jehovah’s Witness is arguably tennis star Serena Williams, who’s on track to win another grand slam title at the U.S. Open this weekend. She’s repeatedly thanked “Jehovah God” after winning tournaments and said last week that she wouldn’t be celebrating her daughter’s first birthday because the Witnesses don’t do such things.
But if she’s talking about her faith publicly, then it’s worth asking how seriously she takes their other beliefs. Because her history in the public eye includes plenty of instances in which she went against what Witness leaders have said.
As Lloyd Evans notes in the video below, she’s posed for magazines wearing next to nothing, sells her own provocative clothing, twerked on camera, spoken out in support of LGBTQ rights, urged girls to pursue their dreams, and (obviously) excelled in sports. All of these things are perfectly fine on their own — she can do whatever she damn well pleases — but they’re also things that Witnesses have specifically told members they shouldn’t be doing. (Those weren’t suggestions, either.)
Is Williams aware that her religion holds opposite positions from her? Is she aware when she fights on behalf of domestic abuse victims that the Witnesses have encouraged women to stay in abusive relationships in the hopes that their husbands will come back to Jehovah? Does she care that victims have died because of the Witnesses’ beliefs about blood transfusions? Does she know that believers are told to completely disassociate from Witnesses who leave the faith, even if they’re family members?
She doesn’t have to be a religious scholar to have an opinion on these matters. But if one of the most famous athletes on the planet wants to talk about her faith when the spotlight is on her, she should at least know the good and the bad instead of just cherry picking certain parts of it as if they represent the totality of the Witnesses. (In other words, she should be more like Stephen Colbert, who routinely discusses his own Catholicism but doesn’t shy away from criticizing the Church when it’s in the news.)
It would be wonderful if Williams could speak out against the worst practices of the Witnesses. With her influence, it would both inform the world about what JW beliefs are and possibly spur change from the inside.
By the way, Williams hasn’t actually been baptized as a Witness. That means everything she says is technically as a fan of the religion but not as a member. If she ever got baptized in the faith, it’d be interesting to see how the Witness leaders treat her, especially when she routinely goes against what they preach.
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