The church is the place we go to strengthen our bond with God, even more so when in moments of need. When spiritual abuse happens, it can be devastating.
We hear from today’s guest, Athena Dean Holtz, on how she got wrapped into a church cult for over 12 years, and how she got out of it. Athena is a speaker, author, publisher, blogger and radio presenter.
She works with people who have been victims of abuse at church, and helps them build their bond with God again.
“Savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock”
Those are the words from Acts 20:29, which teaches us that there will be individuals who will attack others and stray them away from the flock. Abuse comes in many forms – psychological, physical, sexual, financial, etc., and it convinces people to believe and behave in a certain way.
It makes it hard for people to recognize that they are being victims of abuse. It took Athena 12 years to spot that she was being abused into selling her business to the abuser, neglect her family and friends and almost turn her face against God.
Abusers from the church often pull teachings from the Scriptures out of context to “keep you down so they can be elevated”. Through a convincing portrayal of an exclusive circle, cults can be drawn to by our pride.
Often abusers prey on individuals who have a traumatized past that seek to be healed, or people who are very zealous and really want and obey God. Athena has learnt that so many of us are drawn to convincing, toxic people because we’re not fully addressing traumatizing pasts. That said, it can still trick anyone.
It took over a decade for Athena to finally realize that she was a victim of abuse. After having sold her business to her abuser, it was through some legal issues that pointed out fraud.
Athena’s initial reaction was to turn against God. But she decided to deal with the things that made her vulnerable in the first place through counseling: “it’s a very satisfying and healing process to go through”.
She made the decision to own her part in this mess – she had to speak up for all the family they ripped apart. Through blogging on notafraidtotellmystory.com, she stitched together all the bullet points that lead to how she got there.
The church is a powerful institution that is a place of healing. But lone wolves can still sneak in to build a pack, and abuse the church’s powers.
Cases like Athena’s show how debilitating it is to be abused – she lost her business, her family and her faith. We learn how knowledge is power – through a better understanding of cults, exploring our vulnerabilities and owning our part to the story is fundamental to healing and rebuilding trust in God.