It is a strange quirk of contemporary life that the two dominant players in woman’s tennis today are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Moreover, they are sisters. Imagine, year after year ….seven of the last nine, the Wimbleton crown boils down to a family affair, one sibling or another, sometimes a deciding duel between them. That’s how it was this year, with Venus finally besting her sister Serena to capture the crown.
It’s a strange quirk because, for one, there’s not that many of Jehovah’s Witnesses to start with, and for another, they generally keep out of the limelight. Indeed, they are encouraged to do so. Watchtower literature is replete with accounts of persons who gave up potential or even actual stardom in this or that field so as to “have a greater share in the ministry.” Fame and spirituality abound with conflicts. You can get yourself in odd situations, as Prince did. How many superstars manage not to get a big head? How many have marriages that last more than ten minutes? Some do both, of course, but with lesser mortals idolizing their every move, and photographers hounding them everywhere, it is a significant challenge.
But the counsel to go low-key is just that: counsel. It’s not law. It serves to sway the majority of Jehovah‘s Witnesses, being from a respected source and all. Still, individuals embrace it only to the extent they are inclined or feel able, for any number of reasons. As for the Williams sisters…..well, they just like to play tennis, I guess.
Because they’re celebrities, everyone wants to know their opinion on everything, and because they are black…..what about the first black Presidential candidate? Are they excited about Obama? Venus declined the question. But Serena effused she was "excited to see Obama out there doing his thing.''...."I'm a Jehovah's Witness, so I don't get involved in politics. We stay neutral. We don't vote,'' she said. "So I'm not going to necessarily go out and vote for him. I would if it wasn't for my religion.''
Now, for the most part, no one cares. She’s not voting? Ah, well, just one more odd factoid about a quirky religion. But here and there were some critics with very pronounced opinions.
For example, the “friendly atheist” passed this very unfriendly judgment: "Because we all know God hates people who have a sense of civic duty." And a race-oriented blog whose URL I have misplaced fretted that Serena was letting down the entire black race! What if all blacks were Jehovah’s Witnesses and didn‘t vote? the blog host opined. Why, then Obama wouldn’t have a chance. What about that, Serena?
A number read into Serena’s remarks that she, and by extension all of Jehovah’s Witnesses, would love to vote for the next Pres, but the over-controlling, mean JW organization won’t allow it. Vic Vomidog, author of Forty Years Down the Toilet….My Wasted Life with Jehovah’s Witnesses, was of that opinion. Even the Associated Press bought into that view, writing that the Williams sisters "say they're not allowed to vote because of their religion."
Jehovah’s Witnesses take any number of positions that go against the grain of contemporary thinking today. It’s well, when called upon to explain why we do this or don’t do that, that we give a reason. For example, you don’t say we don’t accept blood transfusions because we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. You say we don’t accept blood transfusions because the Bible speaks against it. That's not a detailed answer, of course, but it points in the right direction.
You don’t say we don’t celebrate Christmas because we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. You say we don’t celebrate Christmas because the day is not Christ’s birthday, because he never said anything about celebrating his birth anyway, and because most Christmas customs come from non-Christian sources.
Sometimes it’s just as well to deflect the question. Not that you’re ashamed of your position. It’s just that you want to be known primarily as one who trusts in God’s Kingdom, or who makes known God’s name and purposes. You don’t especially want to be known primarily as one who doesn’t take blood and doesn’t celebrate Christmas. As a corollary to your main position, okay, but not as a main position in itself. So, for example:
Q: “So how was your Christmas?”
Now, what do you say about not voting? Look, the Williams sisters are athletes, not JW spokespersons. They can hardly be expected to give long-winded statements on religious convictions. Few want to hear it anyway. Easier to say “we can’t do it.” Serena’s answer’s not bad, really. She said we are neutral. We are. Frankly, I don’t know any quick sound bytes to give reporters when asked about voting. Oh, I suppose you can say “our vote is for the Kingdom” or some such pious remark, but it leaves an odd taste, doesn’t it? and raises as many questions as answers.
The Bible uses the word “ambassadors” illustrating for us the politically neutral role Christians are to play:
“We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ’Become reconciled to God.’” 2 Cor 5:20
If you were an ambassador from a foreign country stationed here in the U.S. (where I am), you would adapt to all laws and customs locally. You’d likely come to love the land in which you live, and its people. But when it came to the politics of your host country, you wouldn’t take a position…nor would anyone expect you to. It is not your business…your business is to represent wherever you are ambassador from. Even if heavy issues develop and positions evolve for which, since you live here, you may have some feelings, still, it is not your job to take sides. Your lack of involvement would not be because of callousness, or apathy, or lack of interest in fellowman…but it is simply not your place, representing another government, to take sides in the disputes of your host country.
Now, God’s Kingdom is a government very real to Jehovah‘s Witnesses. It is the government with which God will bring an end to human rule, unite all peoples, restore earth to it’s original paradise state, and extend everlasting life to all those under it’s rule. We view it as the only hope for mankind. No amount of tweaking of human governments will ever approach what God brings through his own rule. We believe that it rules from heaven now, and will shortly extend its rule earth wide. Those who believe in it are charged to represent it, to announce it….in effect, to act as ambassadors of that government. And an ambassador does not vote in the country in which he is stationed.
There. That's an explanation. But it runs substantially longer than a sound byte, doesn't it?
I only came across one other place on the web that gave a reasonably accurate reason for our non-voting. Here.It seems worthy of mention, if only because it stands alone.