Time for Victims to be Heard and Not Silenced

Last weekend Ross and I flew home from Birmingham, AL and watched two movies on the flight. The Post and The Help. Both portrayed heroic courage in the shadow of intimidation, corruption and racism, and illustrated the power in speaking up, telling the truth, and exposing evil.

Scripture tells us in Ephesians 5:11:

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Too often we’ve seen the victims of sexual predators in the church dismissed, not believed, silenced, minimized and shamed. Some have spoken up time and time again and seen no change. Some have just plain given up.

The time has come for those who have been victimized in the church or in church related circles to tell their stories. To be seen. To be heard. To be believed, no matter how well respected the abuser is.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household.
1 Peter 4:17a

I have not been the victim of sexual abuse within the church, but I have watched up close and personal the fallout of a respected “pastor” within a religious community (cult) turning out to be a sexual predator and pedophile. And I have watched those who were his “shills” (those loyal to him), defend the abuser and shame the victim.

I have experienced toxic spiritual leaders who used their power and authority to manipulate, silence, and abuse their flock. Using scripture out of context (no discipline seems pleasant at the time, don’t touch God’s anointed, ad nauseum) to justify the abuse.

Well people, this kind of behavior doesn’t just happen in legalistic and twisted Christian cults, it happens in plain sight at Christian writers’ conferences, in children’s church, in places God intended to be safe. Instead, those with evil intent have found it easy to blend in. Say the right words, quote the right scriptures, smile, serve, be caring, earn a position of leadership and power.

Calculating, cunning, and demonic, they take advantage of unsuspecting women and children.

I’m not trying to fear monger or turn us into cynical and suspicious followers of Christ. I’m saying wake up and learn to hear the warnings of the Holy Spirit. Beg God for His discernment. If someone makes you uncomfortable, stay away from them. If you see that creeper acting a little too chummy with someone, begin to dialogue with the possible victim. Ask if anyone asked them to do something they are not comfortable with and suggested they keep quiet about it. Watch their body language. Be a safe person for them to confide in. It just may be the conversation that leads to that predator being exposed.

Do not be shamed into silence if you’ve been the victim of a sexual predator, lest they continue in their shameless and destructive behavior and go on to harm others. Even if it happened a long time ago, it’s never too late to speak up and allow yourself the space to process the pain and humiliation.

I know the pain of being betrayed by those who was supposed to be trustworthy men and women of God. I’ve experienced the way they turned it back on me when I tried to confront the abuse and made me feel like I was the one in sin.

Just remember, the devil quoted scripture out of context to try to get what he wanted. And evil men (and yes, sometimes women) continue to do the same to this day.

Lord, Jesus, I ask that You continue to shine Your light on the deeds of darkness that have been going on for decades within Christian circles across this country. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear TRUTH and give us the courage to stand up and do what is right. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And to the guilty ones, those predators who might be reading this, mark my words:

What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light. What you have said in a low voice in a closed room will be spoken with a loud voice from the top of houses. (Luke 12:3 NLV)

How Could I Have Missed It?

I have finally been connecting the dots on an issue that has caused me great distress since I first heard of it. Early this year I was on faculty at a Christian writer’s conference where they had faculty sign a document that outlined appropriate behavior. Some of the requirements were so extreme that I was shocked we had to be told not to do them.

Come to find out the reason the document was created was because each of the unacceptable behaviors had been displayed and conferees had been victimized at Christian writers’ conferences across the country.

What saddens me is that some of the sexual predators exposed have been those I’ve respected and even spoken highly of. How can that be? How could I be so blind to the true characters of some of these peers?

Chatting with another faculty member this morning who’s experienced some of this abusive behavior, she asked if I’d seen the similarity in the predatory behavior that’s coming to light with my own spiritual abuse and betrayal. I’m so glad she suggested the connection as it provided me an opportunity to see the parallel and begin to process.

The trait in these abusers is one that dates to my time in the cult with evil leaders who were cunningly adept at quoting scripture out of context to make sure you never questioned or challenged them. At the same time, they surrounded themselves with those who never saw their dark side. These “shills” were Christians who loved God and endeavored to walk out the Word of God. They gave the abusers credibility. And they defended them when they were exposed.

The definition of “shill” from Dictionary.com is:
A person who publicizes or praises something or someone for reasons of self-interest, personal profit, or friendship or loyalty.

Being manipulated in this way by someone with evil intent is the height of betrayal. To realize that I praised some of these abusers has been a real trigger for me and I’m still dealing with the emotions.

Lord, how can we protect ourselves against sexual predators who would hide within Christian circles, surround themselves with credible people, and take advantage of vulnerable women?

What red flags are there that we should watch out for?

Judgment Coming to the House of God

5 years ago, I saw God shut down a pedophile who used his position as an associate “pastor” to serve his own sick ends with young girls whose parents were part of the Sound Doctrine cult. Even though many cult members declared his innocence, the testimony of one victim put him away for 18 years. That final verdict began to restore my faith in our justice system.

Then not long ago, the #MeToo movement began to make waves across America as women stood up and broke their silence about the sexual harassment and abuse they’d experienced.

Seeing justice served with a sexual predator like Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar proved that high profile abusers will, sooner or later, be found out, exposed and sentenced. It may be here on earth, and if not, it will be before the judgment seat of God, but it also began to raise awareness of the criminal attitudes towards victims of abuse by those who turned a blind eye and even covered up for the abuser.

To then see the #MeToo movement give courage to those who would stand up against Dr. Paige Patterson’s involvement in sending battered wives back to their abusers and silencing rape victims on his college campus, at the risk of losing their jobs … I began to thank God for exposing the fruit of the twisted mentality. An attitude that one in a position of leadership like Dr. Patterson could use to intimidate those in his employ to keep silent and not question or criticize blatant sinful behavior, with the threat of job loss.

That’s the mentality and culture that offers a breeding ground for predators. I saw it first hand in the cult, where you couldn’t question leadership or point out anything unbiblical for fear of being humiliated and disciplined for having a bitter root and gossiping. There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to people who want to use others for their own personal benefit and use intimidation and scripture to get away with it.

Some have said judgement has come to the house of God, and rightly so. As one friend said, too bad it took the world championing the #MeToo movement in order for the church to start addressing what’s been happening for decades in her midst. Sad.

However, I’m hopeful that those courageous souls who’ve endured shaming, shunning, and ridicule for speaking up will not weary of doing good. Their courage gives other victims the strength and permission to speak up. A good day for righteousness, but a bad day for all those abusers out there who thought their intimidation could keep their sinful behavior swept under the carpet for good.

Not gonna happen. More to come, I’m sure of that.

Cult Survivor’s Faith Journey Brings Her Full Circle

Press Release from Icon Media Group – Media Contact: Katie Powell Bell

Athena Dean Holtz shares the deception that wrecked her life and how she found her way back into the arms of Jesus in new book.

NASHVILLE, Tenn., February 2017— From a young age, Athena Dean Holtz chased affirmation and attention from all the wrong sources, leaving her empty and alone. A victim of physical abuse and spiritual deception, she was deceived by Scientology, forays into mysticism and 12 years in a restrictive and legalistic cult, she lost everything—her marriage, relationships, home, business, money and reputation. In her forthcoming book Full Circle: Coming Home to the Faithfulness of God (Redemption Press, Feb. 27, 2017), Holtz candidly tells her story of self-discovery, redemption and freedom as she surrendered to Jesus.

“This is the story of how God brought me full circle,” writes Holtz. “How he brought me home . . . to a place I had always longed for, but never knew how to find.”

In Full Circle, Holtz vulnerably shares her journey and gives readers a front-row seat to her story of a shattered life restored. An important story for anyone who has questioned his or her worth or direction; Holtz proves that anyone who believes God and invites Him to join in their trials welcomes the result of His triumph. Full Circle offers not only her life story but biblical answers to the raw questions she asked during the peaks and valleys of her life.

“Knowing how much God loves me, I am finding my significance in Him rather than in what I do or with whom I am associated.”

Holtz is available for interviews. Potential interview topics include:

  • Good grief: how to embrace life’s most painful moments to find true peace
  • If God is good, why does he allow bad things to happen?
  • Five ways to fight the thorns of insecurity
  • From hurt to happiness: three steps that healed me
  • Seven common pursuits that rob us of true joy
  • How I escaped life in a cult
  • Bless this mess: God’s perfect love for your imperfect life

About the Author

Athena Dean Holtz has been at the forefront of Christian custom publishing for the last 30 years. The co-founder of WinePress Publishing, she now leads Redemption Press. Author of three previous books and a highly-rated personal blog, she serves as president of the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association, is a president’s club member of the Christian Women in Media Association, and a member of the Advanced Writer & Speaker Association. She serves as host and interviewer on “Always Faithful Radio,” KCIS, Seattle. Married to Ross Holtz, pastor of The Summit, Athena enjoys her grandchildren and time spent sailing. The couple makes their home in Enumclaw, Wash.

Autographed copies available at www.redemption-press.com/shop/product/102606

Ebook available now:

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Five Year Anniversary Out of Captivity

Five years ago today, the scales fell from my eyes and I could finally see the truth. I had believed a lie was the truth, and gave up everything for it, thinking I was doing it for God. But He is a Romans 8:28 God! He works ALL things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

I am rejoicing today in the way He has renewed family ties, redeemed my life, and restored what the enemy has stolen. He is ALWAYS FAITHFUL!

God’s Faithfulness – Out of Captivity & Into His Redemption from Redemption Press on Vimeo.

Toxic Leader Behavior and Proverbs 6

I’m studying Proverbs in my Sunday School class and was reading Proverbs 6 yesterday. Verses 16-19 resonated in my heart in a new way as I began to understand how the Lord feels about those who use His word to manipulate and control those who are genuinely desiring to follow Him.

As I looked through every line of this section of the text, I was amazed, once again, at how toxic leaders, in my experience it was Tim Williams specifically, preach against the very things they do, and accuse those under their care of doing the very things they are guilty of.

There are six things the Lord hates—
no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil,
feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies,
a person who sows discord in a family.

Haughty eyes and a lying tongue. The foundation of a toxic leader and a common accusation Tim Williams made of anyone who questioned his authority or the way he used scripture. It was always someone else who was haughty, arrogant, and prideful… someone else who was lying, when all along it was (and still is) he who is the liar. Just take a look at the website he created to try to come across as an authority. www.enumclaw.com. When he couldn’t get the City of Enumclaw to acquiesce to his demands, he used it to smear anyone (myself included) who stood up for the truth, making it look like an official publication of our city. What a LIE! And this is only one example, for more on that, read this post.

Hands that kill the innocent. Interesting that Tim and his late wife, Carla, always went after those with disabilities who were developmentally disabled in some way, and of course those who were so broken from childhood abuse, vulnerable souls, who were easily manipulated. I’ve come to find out all con men and wolves target those who are easily controlled for a variety of reasons. They may not physically kill them, but emotionally and spiritually, they accomplish the task well.

I think back to the time when Tim Williams began blogging, out of the blue, about the Innocence Project and how so many people are sent to prison when they are not guilty. He followed those rants with the topic of false memory syndrome, declaring you could never trust a person who says they were sexually abused as a child. He was diabolically building a case he knew would surface in the future, as his timing was telling. He started blogging on these topics shortly after the family whose daughter was pedophile Malcolm Fraser’s sexual abuse victim left the cult. I believe Malcolm confessed his crime to Tim and Tim developed this plot to hide the truth. A heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong. He crafted his plan to brainwash his followers so no one would even ask the question, could Malcolm be guilty? There are still a handful of followers who stand convinced that Malcolm is innocent, even though he was found guilty on all charges. All as a result of a heart that plots evil to cover up a crime.

A false witness who pours out lies. Tim Williams had his followers lie on the witness stand during Malcolm’s child rape trial. I was appalled as I read the testimonies, thinking to myself, how can he justify the lies? Oh, that’s right, Sarah lied and said she was Abraham’s sister, so that must make it OK. More on that here.

The last verse jumped off the page as I pondered the wake of broken families in his path, mine being only one of many. Using scripture out of context, Tim Williams sowed discord in families. Turned wives against husbands, husbands against wives, children against their parents, adult children against their parents, all in an attempt to gain control. He intentionally would keep one or two families together just to be able to point to them to say he wasn’t destroying families. What evil. To use Luke 14:26 to divide families so that those under his care were easier to control for his own benefit. Interesting that this is a common scripture used in cults to keep their prey from staying in touch with those who don’t buy in.

Shame on you, Tim Williams.

Shame on you.

I would not want to stand before God in your shoes.

And to all who remain loyal to this man who, on all 7 counts exhibits behavior that the Lord hates, I pray for the courage you’ll need to finally realize you’ve been led astray. It was hard for me too, but the peace that comes from admitting the truth, no matter how painful, is more than worth it.

More on Toxic Leaders and How to Identify Them

Brad Sargent aka Futuristguy has cheered me on for years now, ever since I started blogging about my spiritual abuse experience at the hands of Timothy Shelby Williams, founder of Sound Doctrine Institute.

What an honor it was to spend time with him yesterday discussing the possible publishing of his life work. The overall series is for both survivors of spiritual abuse (and their support networks) and organizational developers (social activists, church planters, church and non-profit leaders), and is about deconstructing systems that damage and constructing systems that are healthy.

As we discussed the content and I scanned through some of the charts, I was stunned to see such accurate descriptions of the toxic leadership roles common in unhealthy organizations. Yep, there’s nothing new under the sun… evil men who are puppets of the evil one use the same tactics to control and manipulate those under their influence.

I’m sharing 2 charts that were particularly meaningful to me. You can view the articles on these particular topics on Brad’s blog here.

The two that captured my attention were the comparison of organizations run by agents of damage vs. agents of healing and the pyramid of responsibility. So telling. If you’ve ever been involved in a toxic organization, you’ll be able to identify the roles your leaders played pretty easily. I know I did.

agents-of-damage-vs-agents-of-healing-chart

the-pyramid-of-responsibility

My experience may have been the extreme end of the spectrum, but there are so many other examples of this type of abuse in the church today. I hear from people all the time who’ve survived abuse in the church. Sadly, many of them lose their faith and never return. Just what the enemy was hoping for.

As you read these charts, does any of it resonate with you?

I’d love to hear your comments.