What Serena Williams Has Said About Being a Jehovah's Witness

Here’s what the tennis star has said about the church and why she doesn't celebrate her daughter's birthdays

Serena Williams and Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Campaign Launch, New York, USA - 20 Jun 2018
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Ahead of the U.S. Open in 2018, Serena Williams surprised fans when she said she wouldn't celebrate daughter Alexis Olympia's first birthday — or any, for that matter.

The reason? Willams is a Jehovah's Witness.

"We're Jehovah's Witnesses, so we don't do that," the tennis superstar told reporters at the U.S. Open press conference.

According to the official website for Jehovah's Witnesses, followers of the church don't believe in celebrating birthdays "because we believe that such celebrations displease God."

"Although the Bible does not explicitly forbid celebrating birthdays, it does help us to reason on key features of these events and understand God's view of them," the website said. One of the reasons for Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid birthdays is they believe the celebrations have pagan roots.

Serena Williams/Instagram

Though Williams doesn't often speak about her faith, she has opened up about it on rare occasions.

According to the Jehovah's Witnesses website, the religion is a form of Christianity that follows both the Old and New Testament of the Bible. Jehovah's Witnesses see Jesus as the son of God and savior, but they do not believe he's the "Almighty God."

Further, members of the faith do not believe that a soul survives death and subsequently do not adhere to the Christian idea of Hell, as mentioned on the site.

Other practices include not voting and remaining politically neutral. Additionally, Jehovah's Witnesses believe blood is sacred and thus do not get blood transfusions.

Much like birthdays, it's also advised that Jehovah's Witnesses refrain from religious holidays and U.S. holiday celebrations — including Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day and Halloween.

It is also recommended that Jehovah's Witnesses do not attend the weddings of those of other religions (though Williams and husband Alexis Ohanian were present at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials at St. George's Chapel in Windsor in May 2018).

Williams and her siblings — including fellow tennis star Venus Williams — converted in the early '80s, according to The Washington Post, after their mother Oracene Price.

In 2015, the outlet reported that Williams previously said she attends church and has participated in the required evangelizing door-to-door as part of her faith.

As The Washington Post noted, Williams has often thanked the Jehovah God after her matches.

There have been times, though, where her faith has both faltered and bolstered her.

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According to The New York Times, after a profanity-laden outburst against a U.S. Open line judge in 2009 — during which the woman claimed the athlete threatened her — Williams had to face elder witnesses.

"They had to have a talk with me," Williams told the outlet in 2012. "And I knew it was coming. I just felt really bad, though, because it's like, that's not who I am."

US Open Tennis Championships, Day 3, USTA National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows, New York, USA - 29 Aug 2018
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She continued, "They just talk to you. They show you Scriptures. Not ministers; they call them elders. It's almost like a reprimand, but it's not bad because in the Bible it says God loves you, and if someone reprimands you, they love you."

Years prior — when her sister Yetunde Price was murdered in 2003 — Williams also leaned on scripture, attending three Jehovah's Witnesses meetings a week, she told the Times in 2007. "I tried to develop a better relationship with God," she said.

As her career ramped up over the years — and she married Alexis Ohanian and welcomed their daughter in 2017 — Williams alluded to taking a step back and returning to her faith.

"Being a Jehovah's Witness is important to me, but I've never really practiced it and have been wanting to get into it," she told Vogue in 2017.

Of her husband, she added, "Alexis didn't grow up going to any church, but he's really receptive and even takes the lead. He puts my needs first."

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