ESPN The Magazine’s annual “The Body Issue” will feature photos of 22 famed athletes photographed in the nude. Among that elite group of sport celebrities will be American Venus Williams, a five-time Wimbledon tennis champion. The magazine will be available July 11.
This year’s issue displays an elite group of naked athletes including professional baseball power hitter Prince Fielder, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, and American football player Marshawn Lynch, running back for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Some of these sports stars have worldwide recognition, while others are best known only to the magazine’s American readers.
While the photos will be considered “tasteful” and not show much more skin than would be seen if the celebrities were wearing skimpy bathing suits, the intent is that they be at least somewhat “titillating,” if not pornographic.
Ms. Williams often identifies herself as “one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” as does her equally famous younger sister, tennis champion Serena Williams.
Serena actually preceded Venus, appearing in the first issue of this same annual “nude edition” of the magazine in 2009. She has subsequently appeared in many other publications in varying stages of undress or in skimpy outfits.
[ Link to news story… ]
Jehovah’s Witnesses: Does fame make a difference?
Whether Venus Williams or her sister Serena choose to undress and allow photographs that reveal all but their most private parts to the readers of a sports magazine (or in other venues), is really not the issue involved. The subject for discussion is the blatant hypocrisy of the Watchtower Society and its unequal treatment of some members who hold celebrity status compared to joe-average rank and file members attending local Kingdom Halls.
If the average Jehovah’s Witness posted nude photos on a Flickr account, or even hung some risqué pictures on the wall of the den or bedroom in their own home, it would be a certainty that they would be called before a judicial committee of elders, accused of engaging in porneia and dealt with harshly. The same would apply for JWs who might reveal with an offhand comment that they visit nudist resorts or clothing optional public beaches while on holiday. Even showing a bit too much cleavage at a Kingdom Hall can get a sister counseled by an elder or given the “evil eye” by other sisters.
The Issue: It’s Not Nudity – It’s Hypocrisy
The Watchtower has a history of treating its celebrity members with more of “hands off” approach than typical members (“publishers”) and their families. This also applies to higher ranking members of the organization – compared to those attending local Kingdom Halls.
While alleged “drunken behavior” or clinical alcoholism can find an average JW facing a judicial committee, high-ranking and highly visible Watchtower leaders (President Joseph F. Rutherford and Society Attorney Hayden Covington being notorious examples) are protected and their behavior both officially denied and hidden from public view.
The Watchtower’s official attitudes about sex and nudity often create unnatural and awkward situations for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Relationships between men and women, especially those who are dating or newly married, can often be extremely awkward for sincere Witnesses. JW women often relate that they are uncomfortable being nude in their own homes, even embarrassed in front of their husbands or other female family members. Nursing mothers often move to a far corner of a Kingdom Hall conference room or a restroom for fear that some brother might catch a glimpse of her breast or nipple.
Why the Williams Sisters are Prime Examples
Like rock singers Michael Jackson and Prince Rogers Nelson before them, Venus and Serena Williams have made it publicly known that they are Jehovah’s Witnesses in spite of their high-profile lives. That puts them directly under the spotlight and at the top of the list of “celebrity JWs.” [ See this Link and this Link ]
This is not to say that all JWs who are celebrities will act in hypocritical ways – far from it. Nor do we assert that the Watchtower Society openly publicizes the fact that some major public figures are JWs. Our position is that most famous and talented JWs are good citizens, well-behaved members of their communities.
But back to the Williams sisters for a moment:
Besides their propensity and willingness to take off their clothes and allow photos to be published for the titillation of male (and maybe a few female) sports fans, they have also (at often highly publicized times) bent other Watchtower rules that they have chosen to ignore. Watchtower leaders have been silent about these incidents.
Serena was disqualified from one tennis tournament after reportedly cursing – and then allegedly threatening – a line judge. For an athlete of her stature and reputation, this was a major embarrassment that resulted in her disqualification and potentially facing other penalties. The event got a lot of negative press for a while and created quite a buzz, even within the Jehovah’s Witness community.
After winning medals at an Olympic games, Serena and Venus grabbed an American flag and ran around the track waving it behind them – even draping themselves within it. While most Americans and your average sports fan would consider this to be expected and an honorable thing to do, such “displays of patriotism” and show of national preference are officially frowned upon by the Watchtower.
Ah! But here is where the hypocrisy really becomes apparent:
The Williams sisters, like some other JW celebrities, use a “get out of jail card” technicality to work the system both ways – they retain their status as “unbaptized Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Although raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family and associating with the Witnesses for most of their lives – and even publicly declaring themselves to be Jehovah’s Witnesses – remaining “unbaptized” allows them the freedom to get away with some actions that would get other JWs called before a “judicial committee” to face expulsion. That choice protects them from being formally disfellowshipped and shunned by family and friends.
In the past, unbaptized family members could, for the most part, get away with everything short of murder and be immune to Watchtower style discipline. But that has all changed in recent years. Since 1988, the Watchtower’s position has been that former “approved associates” (i.e., unbaptized publishers and family members) could not be “disfellowshipped” – but could be considered “disassociated” due to their unchristian behavior. Recently, the Watchtower leadership has confirmed that such unbaptized persons could be (and probably should be) shunned the same as “disfellowshipped” individuals. Apparently, the Williams sisters actions are being ignored by the elders – at least for present – with possibly some exceptions. [ See this link… ]
In other news articles and interviews, Serena has made it known that she intends to marry someday and is looking for a JW believer to be her husband. [ Link… ] It would appear that as long as she enjoys celebrity status and continues to have a successful athletic career, she and her sister will avoid baptism and continue to remain “approved associates.” The Watchtower and the elders at her local Kingdom Hall will continue to ignore most of what Venus and Serena do – no matter how far their actions stretch the rules. [ See this link… ]
Why? Because the Watchtower’s leaders both nationally and within their family’s Kingdom Hall feel they are better off simply ignoring both Williams sisters, their fame – and occasional notoriety. The Watchtower doesn’t want more publicity drawn to them for their cruel and inhumane disfellowshipping, expulsion, and extreme shunning practices. For now, it seems that their better choice is to let a couple of “unbaptized” JW wannabees just do their thing…