Few Odd Fellows But Plenty of Weirdos
Higher Education and Jehovah's Witnesses

Serena, Venus, and Obama

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?”

A: “Quiet.”

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.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

Moristotle

Nice analogy to explain why people of a certain...ambassadorial persuasion don't vote. Good on you, skilled communicator Tom!

Tom Barfendogs! So many of the men with JW associations you've referred to on your blog seem to go by "Tom," but I suppose that THIS Tom wasn't Barfendogs before he became an apostate. I mean, "Barfendogs" sure seems to be making a very negative statement about the organization he left after all those "wasted" years. (Perhaps his presumed name change is explained in his book; if I find out, I'll let you know.)

Moristotle

Tom, I immediately went and read your post about Tom Barfendogs. Nope, seems he was always Barfendogs. Go figure[, Moristotle]!

And, of course, that post handily lists a bunch of corroborating Toms.

Hmm...could "Tom" be a modest (generic) tag for MALE Jehovah's Ambassadors (taken from "tom turkey," perhaps)? Are there any Henrietta (or simply Hen) Sheepandgoats, or Wheatandweeds, or Weedsandwheats, or Fishandchips, or Pearlsenswines, or Barfendogs? Or any female JW bloggers by any name at all?

NateDredge


It’s certainly funny the things that draw attention to a given religion. It’s like the whole Serna quotation reminded the media that there are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that they hadn’t done a story on that particular religious group in a while. I can respect Serna’s position on this issue, she’s being honorably consistent with the teachings of her faith, however if you’ve seen some of the outfits she’s sported at parties and what not, she could probably do to hue a little closer to the line on matters of modesty in dress.

Also wanted to point out that your later point on the difference between “law” and “council” is well taken, Mormons have that to in regards to matters like the drinking of caffeinated beverages or the viewing of R-rate films. I’m still looking forward to a further explanation behind the Watchtowers education council.

Finally your comment about JW’s positioning themselves as “strangers and foreigners” in this world reminded me of a quotation from the ancient Letter to Diognetus, which I read for the first time only yesterday in a book by Pope Benedict XVI, the book is titled Christianity and the Crises of Cultures. I leave you with that quote:

For Christians are not distinct from other men in terms either of their territories, their language, or their way of life… They live in the cities of the Greeks or the barbarians, as the lot has fallen to each one, and they adapt to the customs of the place in their clothing and food and in the rest of their ways of living, offering the example of their marvelous form of social life, which all admit has something incredible about it. They live each in his own native land, but as if they were foreigners. They take their share in all the burdens, as citizens, and they put up with everything, as strangers. Every foreign land is a native land for them, and every native land is a foreign land. They get married like everyone else and have children, but they do not expose their newborn children. They share their table, but not their bed. They live in the flesh, but not according to the flesh. They dwell on earth, but they are citizens of haven. They obey the laws that have been laid down, but with their manner of life they rise above the laws. They love all and are persecuted by all… To put it in a word, Christians are in the world what the soul is in the body… The soul loves the flesh that hates it and loves its limbs: Christians, too, love those who hate them. The soul is shut up within the body, but it is the soul that sustains the body: Christians, too, are held in the world as in a prison, but it is they who sustain the world…. God has assigned them such a high position, and they are not allowed to abandon it.

tom sheepandgoats

Moristotle:

Yes, Barfendogs always was Barfendogs, even in happier times. I'm at a loss to explain the current alignment of his name and position. It strangely coincides with a passage found in 2 Peter 2:20-22:

"Certainly if, after having escaped from the defilements of the world by an accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they get involved again with these very things and are overcome, the final conditions have become worse for them than the first. ....The saying of the true proverb has happened to them: 'The dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire'" One would almst think the name was prophetic, a circumstance that makes no sense to me.

BTW, did I ever tell you about Tom Sowmire?

Only a certain number of JWs are named Tom, but it just so happens these are the ones I know best. Most have other names. Some are named Howard, for example. Also, the women have many names. I really don't know anyone named Henrietta.

However, I did work once in a retail business where the most common name was Tom. There were nine of us. And all but one was over 40! So we started a campaign to persuade younger workers that, in the event of their one day producing children so as to preserve the species, they give serious consideration to the name Tom. Even if the child was a girl. Any psychological problems resulting from pinning that name on a girl might reasonably be expected to clear out by age 16 or so, with counseling.

Nate:

Thanks for the letter from Diognetus. Yes, there are some similarities.

I don't follow tennis closely enough to know much about the sisters, but I have heard before your observation of Serena's dress. Ah, dear. It's good not to dress skanky. Is that how you would describe it? You get your photo on the internet or the tabloids, then people start drawing conclusions you'd rather not have them draw.

Education coming right up. If all goes well, the next post.

vargas

'tis true. We live in a soundbite culture. Explanations that take longer than a NY second taxes the attention spans of many folks. Yet, such explanations are sometimes key to getting people to understand where you're coming from.

It's funny. We go from door to door and give people the chance to question and quiz us on what we actually believe, yet most people would rather hear info filtered through dubious sources and impressions of JWs handed down through dirtied lenses. What to do, what to do about it?

Aislinge

I'm a little confused about this. I know very little about Jehovah's Witnesses, although I do know that blood transfusions are a no-no, holidays are not generally celebratory affairs as well as personal birthdays (is that correct?) and the kids seem to not be in school on those rare occasions when I'm home and they come to my door. What I didn't know is that it is a basic tenet not to vote. Not fighting in a war I am on board with - I understand that. The Amish won't choose sides or fight in wars and I find that admirable.

I honestly don't know how I feel about an entire religious group not voting. Clearly there is no question where your belief-related affiliation lies, but what has that to do with the civic duty to choose someone to lead the country? I know the choices are not terribly palatable, but to not make one at all?

As much as it may not seem ideal, someone needs to run the country. Foruitously, that one person does not do so unilaterally, but even so, there needs to be someone at the helm. (Let's hope the next incumbent is a better choice than the last...)

I'm not necessarily the best person to vote. I am as politically stupid as anyone can be. I'm known for being a very straight shooter and it is my job to discpline and fire people (among many, many other things, but one reason that people respect me at work is that they'll get a straight, no-BS, no-holds-barred answer to any question. So I don't understand the world of politics and the constant and consistent prevarication that goes on in their world. But since I feel strongly that I lose my right to complain vociferously without having first expressed my voice, my opinion. I didn't vote for the present moron, and I never run out of negative things to say about that mental midget. Howeer, if I have no voice, how can I effect any change? Change begins with one, but spreads.

So I find that mystifying. I'd no idea that Jehovah's Witnesses did not vote.

I have religious convictions, too. But I still live on earth for the time being and can't not be a part of it because of those convictions. My convictions remain strong no matter what weirdness the world has to offer. But then, that variety and weirdness is what makes the world worthwhile. I think all the differnt religions contribute something to the world.

tom sheepandgoats

If I were to vanish, or even all of Jehovah’s Witnesses, someone would still lead the country. Moreover, most people who don’t vote do so from apathy or laziness or whatever; at least we have a philosophical reason for our position. We don’t advocate that people in general not vote, just as the ambassador in the illustration would not.

Joel Engardio described Jehovah’s Witnesses as “socially progressive yet morally conservative.” Since no political party holds a monopoly in this regard, were we to vote, we would probably split across the board. In other words, there would be no JW block of votes to court, as there is with many groups.

If I vote for someone and he sends missiles somewhere and innocent people die, am I not partly accountable? The “party” I belong to may not be up for re-election every four years, but its principles sway my life far more than that of any national leader. That is where I choose to focus my interests.

In spite of not voting, Jehovah’s Witnesses must still rate as good citizens. They are honest. They are hard-working. They pay proportionately the same for police and social services as other groups, yet draw on them less.

I understand your point that one loses the “right to complain vociferously” if one neglects to make a choice of leadership when given the chance. Consequently, we don’t complain vociferously. I mean, we do, but only as regards human rulership in general, not the specific policies of this or that candidate. We just put our trust in a different source, that’s all, and we’re serious about it. If need be, we roll with the punches should some especially bad clunker come into power.


Moristotle

So, all of the "Toms" surrounding you, Tom, is sort of concidental! No, you haven't told me about Sowmire (unless you did and I don't remember, which of course is possible).

Awake In Rochester

Well I learned two things. That Venus and Serena are Jehovah’s Witnesses. And that Jehovah’s Witnesses don't tend to believe in voting.

Bill in Detroit

On voting?

"That's private."

End of discussion. At least, that's the end of the short & sweet version.

(Although I'm certainly willing to hold forth for an additional 30 minutes to an hour if the interrogator has the temerity to press the issue and is willing to let me in out of the cold.)

;-)

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