Venus Williams is posing nude for the 2014 issue of ESPN Body. Usually an announcement like that would be pretty normal fare when it comes to sports celebrities. Williams joins dozens of other sports stars who have posed nude or semi-nude for the annual magazine, out since 2009.
But Venus Williams’ appearance in the buff may warrant a closer look. The very first edition of Body, in 2009, featured her sister Serena, also nude. All the nudes for Body magazine are tastefully done. But the Williams sisters are raising eyebrows for their appearance for one simple reason.
The Williams sisters are Jehovah’s Witnesses. To anyone familiar with the Witness belief structure, this will cause some raised eyebrows. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a strict in-house judicial structure that would bring sanctions, including expulsion and shunning, down upon rank and file members who did something like pose nude for a magazine.
But Venus Williams doesn’t seem concerned. In fact, in this video feature about the nude appearance, she even mentions how her spirituality helps her in her life. She does not mention Jehovah’s Witnesses by name, but that is her affiliation.
Williams has also spoken in interviews in the past about her sex life. But she is unmarried. This is also something that would ordinarily result in the expulsion of a Witness member.
Are the Witnesses giving celebrities like Venus and Serena Williams a pass for their infractions? The answer may lie in how the Jehovah’s Witness structure works.
The Witnesses were formed in Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s by a religious writer named Charles Russell. He wrote books that claimed to interpret prophetic passages in the Bible, including using occult pyramidology practices in combination with Bible verses to predict the future.
Russell recruited people from among his readers into study groups and organized them into sales teams to promote his books. To this day, individual members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are still called “publishers”, hearkening back to this setup.
When Russell died, a large organization called the Watchtower Society continued to handle distribution of his many books, magazines, and tracts. The group used volunteer labor from among the faithful to do the printing, and still do to this day.
The company elected a new president who changed many things about the fledgling religion, including doing away with birthday celebrations, holidays, voting and military service, and instituting a top-down authority structure that still exists. Many people left. But the group survived, and that is what Jehovah’s Witnesses are today.
But one tenet of the Witness faith that comes to bear in the Williams sisters’ situation is that Witnesses are only beholden to the Watchtower organization once they have been baptized into the church. At the baptism ceremony, they vow loyalty to the Governing Body of the corporation.
The Witness Governing Body is a council of seven men who rule from Witness Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. This Governing Body is the source of all doctrine and judicial direction for the church. Its members are appointed for life, though three men have resigned over the years, some of whom went on to write tell-all books about the secret meetings of the council.
Apparently, the Williams sisters, although they self-identify as Jehovah’s Witnesses, have never been baptized. Therefore, they are not, technically, members. And, therefore can not be put out according to traditional Witness judicial procedures.
So, Venus and Serena Williams are free to do whatever they like, just like the rest of the world. And they can claim to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many Witnesses like to point out that they count the Williams sisters among their number, as well as other celebs like Prince, bassist Larry Graham, and singer/guitarist George Benson.
But the Williams have a loophole.
Everything I have done in the past 2 and 3 months would not have been possible without Jehovah God. I'm so grateful to know about him.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) September 16, 2012
Image via YouTube