Covenant Pastor Recounts Years of Terror at Hands of Ex-Husband

By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (September 11, 2014) — Karen Brewer, pastor of Atonement Covenant Church in Chicago, wants people to better understand why women such as Janay Rice might stay with their abusers.

Brewer stayed with her former husband for more than a decade even though he nearly killed her on several occasions, including twice choking her to near unconsciousness, broke her nose, and held a gun to her head—all in front of her children.

“There is so much to what she is actually experiencing physically, mentally, emotionally, and now legally,” Brewer says. “There is the hope that everything will be better, the belief that he really didn’t mean to hurt me, his expressions of remorse.”

After they were married, Brewer told herself that because the family enjoyed many good times together perhaps the abuse would end. But there also was the fear.

[pull]”Job responsibilities, children’s schooling, childcare—none of this stopped because I was beaten.”[/pull]She remained with her husband for years because all of her options frightened her. “As a battered woman, I was paralyzed by fear. I was scared about everything or every possible alternative, including staying, and I was weak and worn down,” she explains.

But explanations defied her for years. “I asked myself over and over why and how someone who loves me could do this to me,” she says. “The list of things done was so long, I tried to make sense of what was non-sensible.”

Shame and feelings of isolation also kept Brewer in her abusive marriage. “I sensed there was no one I could talk to that could help me. If there was help it wouldn’t cover the whole of my dilemma. I was stuck, wounded, and tired.”

Brewer says that despite the beatings, she had to pull herself together. “I had a job and children. Things were complex. Before one wound could heal, I was wounded again time after time. Job responsibilities, children’s schooling, childcare—none of this stopped because I was beaten. I had to get up and (continue on) as an employee, as a mother, as a wife living in fear of being hurt again.”

The most frightening assault was the night of August 17, 1983, when her husband picked her up from work and said she didn’t need to fill out her time card because he was going to kill her. When they returned home, she realized he had gotten rid of all her personal effects. What followed was a night of horrifying violence in which he tied up, beat, and nearly drowned her. He also sliced her skin with a knife until she passed out and threatened to cut her head off. The violence ended when he fell asleep at 7 a.m. the next morning.

Still, it was another three months before Brewer finally overcame her fears and took her children to a women’s shelter on November 10, 1983. That was when she began to put her life together again with the help of others.

Brewer now helps other women as the regional coordinator for Women Ministries’ Advocacy for Victims of Abuse (AVA) initiative. She says churches can do more to help victims.

One tangible step churches can take is to sponsor a Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday in October, which is the national Domestic Violence Awareness month. Or if schedules prohibit such a Sunday in October, Brewer suggests that congregations find and hold an awareness day at another time. As well, she invites them to consider how they might offer assistance to victims.

Materials for DVA Sundays, as well as other resources, including a tutorial for leaders, are available online.

To read a statement by Yvonne DeVaughn, director of AVA, click here.




  • Karen, I echo the cheers and gratitude of others for your grace and courage in sharing your incredible story. Thanks be to God for the healing you’ve lived in to, yet, we know there are wounds and scars that we survivors carry for life. And thanks be to God for AVA, the Covenant’s effort to raise awareness about abuse. Thank you for your work as a regional coordinator. May we reach all congregations in the ECC so together our churches can be safe sanctuaries and healing communities.

  • Bless you, Karen. How grateful we are for your years of leadership at WellSpring and now at Atonement. Thanks for telling us your story with such courage and forthrightness. You are a dear friend and gift to the Covenant. Warmest greetings. Craig

  • Karen, I had no idea. Thank you for being willing to share your story so people can hear that getting out is possible. You are a miracle. Your life has a purpose. Johnna

  • I am grateful for the courage and truth telling of women in the Covenant like Rev. Brewer. I am grateful for a denomination that is willing to let voices be heard and healing to start.

  • Well said Don. Karen, thank you for sharing part of your story. You are an amazing woman.

  • I am overwhelmed and humbled by your courage to share your story, Karen. Thank you.

    Praise God that you overcame your fear and escaped that nightmarish, horrendous abuse with your children! Praise God that he has redeemed your life from the pit, that he has called and gifted you for pastoral ministry! Praise God that he is using you to equip us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to victims of domestic violence!

    You are a gift from God. May you be blessed as you bless us and many others.

    Grace and peace

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