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.

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.

The Power of Stillness

I continue to receive comments on this blog from those who still believe the false doctrine and lies of Tim Williams.

These messages are so hateful and profanity-filled that I would be remiss to allow them to defile my readers. Instead, I choose to join with Jesus in the power of stillness.

From Streams in the Desert

March 18
He answered nothing. (Mark 15:3 KJV)

There is no scene in all the Bible more majestic than our Savior remaining silent before the men who were reviling Him. With one quick burst of divine power, or one fiery word of rebuke, He could have caused His accusers to be laid prostrate at His feet. Yet He answered not one word, allowing them to say and do their very worst. He stood in THE POWER OF STILLNESS—God’s holy silent Lamb.

There is a place of stillness that allows God the opportunity to work for us and gives us peace. It is a stillness that ceases our scheming, self-vindication, and the search for a temporary means to an end through our own wisdom and judgment. Instead, it lets God provide an answer, through His unfailing and faithful love, to the cruel blow we have suffered.

Oh, how often we thwart God’s intervention on our behalf by taking up our own cause or by striking a blow in our own defense! May God grant each of us this silent power and submissive spirit. Then once our earthly battles and strife are over, others will remember us as we now remember the morning dew, the soft light of sunrise, a peaceful evening breeze, the Lamb of Calvary, and the gentle and holy heavenly Dove. A. B. Simpson

The day when Jesus stood alone
And felt the hearts of men like stone,
And knew He came but to atone—
That day “He held His peace.”
They witnessed falsely to His word,
They bound Him with a cruel cord,
And mockingly proclaimed Him Lord;
“But Jesus held His peace.”
They spat upon Him in the face,
They dragged Him on from place to place,
They heaped upon Him all disgrace;
“But Jesus held His peace.”
My friend, have you for far much less,
With rage, which you called righteousness,
Resented slights with great distress?
Your Savior “held His peace.” L. S. P.

I remember hearing Bishop Whipple of Minnesota, who was well known as “The Apostle of the Indians,” voice these beautiful words: “For the last thirty years, I have looked for the face of Christ in the people with whom I have disagreed.” When this spirit drives us, we will be immediately protected from a feeble tolerance of others, narrow-mindedness, harsh vindictiveness, and everything else that would damage  our testimony for Him who came not to destroy lives but to save them.  W. H. Griffith-Thomas

Discovering More About the Enemy’s Strategies

On the anniversary of my fourth year out of the cult of Sound Doctrine, I am praising God to be able to connect even more dots as to the why’s and how’s of my 12 year detour into deception.

As I taught this last weekend at a ladies’ retreat, I covered areas of vulnerability that can leave anyone open to deception. I used some quotes from a book we developed for ministry back in the late 90s and as I read this one section to the ladies, it took my breath away how precisely the enemy of my soul used these tactics through the leadership of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Tim Williams.

This is the section of the book, Behind Enemy Lines, where the guerrilla warfare tactics are compared to the way Satan operates, and any comments I add will be italicized:

The following list of ways the enemy fought is by no means compete, but it will serve to show you some of the tactics used by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese soldiers to kill, maim, harass, and disrupt our war strategies. You will see how these methods match Satan’s ways in fighting us in the spirit realm.

  • The VC attempted to look as much like the civilian population as possible. (Satan disguises himself and can even look like a friend – an angel of light.)

Tim Williams used his wife, Carla, to draw people into his initiative. She found her way into positions of credibility so that she would be seen as friend, not foe. That was a very effective strategy…it sucked me in, and in the end, gained him a publishing company to further his agenda and doctrine.

  • The VC did not fight for physical territory…they fought to win the hearts and minds of people. (If Satan can shift our attention, our zeal, our time, our hearts and our minds onto something other than Jesus and the Great Commission, he has won. We have fallen into idolatry without even knowing it. He has captured our heart and mind leaving us unfruitful and ineffective in the Kingdom of God.)

The enemy used Tim Williams to shift our attention off winning souls and onto promoting his agenda, his doctrine, his message that ultimately divided families and destroyed lives. His twisting of scripture rendered the hearts and minds of his followers ineffective to discern the truth from a lie.

  • The VC deployed booby-traps along trails to destroy our confidence. By blowing off the arms and legs of our buddies along the march, our purpose and confidence was weakened. We were taking casualties, but never saw the enemy because after the explosives were detonated the enemy could watch the destruction from afar—out of harm’s way (Satan knows he cannot win the war, but if he can set enough traps along our walk to make us hurt and be unsure of our faith then he can keep us from being effective witnesses for Christ. He usually wreaks enough misery from a distance that we sometimes forget who the real foe is. Many times we target each other as the enemy because he (the devil) is not an obvious player in the scenario).

Tim was a master manipulator and using shame based theology he set traps to beat us down and make us question our ability to hear God and discern His will.

  • The VC used innocent civilians, even to the point of destroying them, as decoys to undermine our security and confidence. It was a common practice to strap explosive charges on small children and send them into groups of G.I.s to make friends and win their affection. When the child would get close enough, the communist soldier would detonate the charge with a remote switch—taking out the G.I.s and the child. (Often Satan will use even good things to win our affections. Once he has accomplished this, he ambushes us and attempts to destroy us.)

Tim effectively used children as pawns in his game of deception. He and his wife openly shamed the parents, telling them they were unfit to lead their children in the Lord, and then turned the children against their parents, building into them complete loyalty to their new “granny and grandpappy.” That inevitably made the parents more dedicated to the wolf’s doctrine and agenda because they didn’t want to lose their kids or grandkids.

  • The VC tried to get us to mistakenly kill our fellow warriors. One particular tactic he used was what we called “cutting the pie.” At night, when we would stop daylight operations in the jungle, we would dig into night-defensive positions. The entire unit formed into a large circle (pie) for protection. Normally, there were two men to a hole, and one slept while the other kept watch for enemy activity. The VC would probe a point in the perimeter circle, making a lot of noise to attract attention, and would try to take a slick out of the “pie.” After making the noise, they would pull back into the jungle and hope we would fire our weapons in the direction of the noise—which would be at our own men on the other side of the circle. (Satan deploys the same strategy against us. He creeps into our midst and causes disruptive “noise,” and then pulls back into his jungle and waits for us to kill each other. He tries his best to cause fights, quarrels, dissatisfaction and dissention in our midst. All the while he has distanced himself and remains the undetected source of trouble. This tactic is evident in almost every church or fellowship in Christendom. Most pastors can attest to this.)

This was common in the cult. No one was safe, people were used against each other in order to further the wolf’s agenda and provide information to be used against them in the future to his advantage.

  • The VC attempted to stay close to U.S. military units. They knew that the closer they could be to us—especially in a firefight—the less likely it was that we would call in artillery or air support, in fear of directing the incoming fire on ourselves. (Satan sends his forces against us in the same manner. He gets as close to us as possible so that we cannot determine which direction to call in “air support” to take him out. Many times he is so close that we completely overlook him when he is in our midst.)

There was always lots of talk and preaching of Satan and his strategies, when the reality was he was in the midst of this group and calling all the shots, in the Name of Jesus.

WOW. Reading this book again after all these years, with 20/20 hindsight, it’s amazing to see how the enemy worked to steal, kill and destroy our family, business, and faith.

Today is, however, a victory day. Four years ago I escaped the mind-control and evil deception of Sound Doctrine and Tim Williams, and am connecting new dots as I review the schemes of the evil one and more clearly see how he worked in my life and the life of my family.

Let me be clear. I am not one who sees a demon behind every doorknob. But I have to say, the church had better wake up and realize how the enemy works. There is just too much at stake and there are too many opportunities for him to come in and deceive. I am living proof of that, and I praise God He rescued me from that deception. There continue to be too many others caught in the enemy’s grip through Tim Williams and Sound Doctrine, and other spiritually abusive leaders out there. Oh God, please open their eyes, in Jesus’ Name!

God Can Even Redeem a Cruise!

One thing I’ve come to learn. God is in the business of redeeming the life and losses of Athena Dean Holtz. In fact, He is in the business of redeeming the losses in all our lives!

I simply thought I was being a good wife, deciding to take my pastor husband away on a cruise so that he could get a full week of total relaxation. After all, spending time on our 30 year old sailboat isn’t the most relaxing thing to do… something is always breaking!

We’d also just spent a month in the middle of a family storm that caused some major emotional stress and the thought of going on a cruise to decompress and allow the Lord some space to do His thing in our hearts felt like the right thing to do.

We had planned to spend 2 more weeks in August on the sail boat, but one day I received a sales call offering me a low cost cruise. I thought, Hey! I’ve been on lots of cruises, but most of them have been work related…this would be a good way for us to really get away and relax!

I didn’t take the offer from the salesperson, but immediately visited the website for “last minute cruises” where you can save up to 80% by booking at the last minute.

I searched and searched…setting my criteria for a few specifics:

  • It had to leave from and return to Seattle (no time to fly to Florida to get on a boat!)
  • The stateroom had to have a balcony
  • It had to be at least 50% off or more
  • Sail date had to be the 2nd or 3rd week of August
  • It had to leave on a Sunday

So search I did and finally nailed down an option with a great price, and all the other aspects were in order. I booked the cruise and went on with my day.

The closer our sail date approached, the more I began thinking about my experiences on cruises.

While I was in the middle of my detour into deception, sparked by a conversation with a fellow conferee at the Write to Publish conference on the Wheaton College campus, I had the idea to do a Writer’s Cruise as a special event for the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association. I think I was probably president at the time, and we were looking for new ideas to add value for our members. So, over the next 6 years, we held 3 NCWA Alaskan Christian Writer’s Cruises, each time bringing in a keynote speaker, editors and other industry professionals. They were wonderful events, but there was always the behind the scenes intimidation, abuse, and shaming by Tim Williams, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Since his wife was also involved on the NCWA board, he came along as some sort of spiritual authority for the group. <big sigh>

After winding down the last cruise for NCWA, the wolf decided (after getting a taste of the good life) to take the staff of WinePress on a cruise to further exert his authority as management and move his agenda forward. The biggest thing I remember on that cruise was his focus on convincing us all (but most importantly me) that raising the rates for WinePress services was doing God’s will, because this was His business, and any of us who had reservations about the new prices he was setting were “in sin.”

Truth be told, I was always complaining about the inflated prices and the diminishing value provided for the services being sold. That was not the way I built the company and it bothered me that it seemed to me like we were taking advantage of people. I was always getting in trouble with the new management, being told I was in rebellion against God’s will. And all along, the wolf was just lining his pockets… and it really had nothing at all to do with God’s will at all.

So here I am remembering all the undertones on these cruises, all the manipulation, all the word games, all the humiliation when I dared to disagree.

I began to wonder…just when was that cruise?

I called the cruise line and told them I’d been on their ships in the past and had an upcoming trip booked. Could they look me up and tell me when I’d been on the boat last?

I was beginning to put the pieces together. As I looked at the pictures of the ship, I realized that the ship we were booked on was the same ship we sailed on with the WinePress cruise. Hmmmmmm… what’s God up to here?

alaska-ship

And then she said it…

“Yes, I found you. Your roommate was Jan Owens, and you sailed on August 24, 2008 on the Norwegian Pearl.”

I almost dropped the phone.

We are sailing from August 16 to August 23, exactly 7 years later. On the same ship. To the same place.

Oh. My.

My head felt light…

I had to steady myself.

How gracious is the love of God. That He would want to redeem even a cruise where He loves to show off His magnificence in nature and provide rest and relaxation for weary souls.

A cruise that was used by the evil one to destroy my soul and condemn me into silent submission. It was used to do the exact opposite of its true purpose. And at the time, it was effective.

But here I am, on the eve of embarkation on that same ship, with the man of my dreams, free from the chains of spiritual abuse, legalism, and deception. To be refreshed and renewed. To have this experience the way a gracious God would have it, not the counterfeit I’ve experienced in the past.

Redemption!

It really does take my breath away.

WOW. He really is faithful. Always.

My Independence Day

Perspectives-personal-independence

It’s been 44 months since I gained my independence from toxic leadership.

As I thought through the characteristics of this type of destructive leadership and what I am no longer dependent on, I could only praise God for opening my eyes, delivering me from deception, and giving me the courage to warn the rest of the body of Christ.

There are many red flags we MUST be aware of that characterize a toxic church. At the same time, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of us as Bereans understanding scripture IN CONTEXT, being willing to respectfully question and search out the truth, not just believing what someone says because they are a persuasive communicator who quotes a lot of scripture.

Here’s the full post that illustrates what to watch for in leadership, and may we be ever thankful for the independence that Jesus has given us by giving up His life for us.