Nfld. & Labrador

She used to promote gay conversion therapy. Now this former minister is atoning for the past

For decades, Katherine Roberts preached an interpretation of the Bible full of intolerance toward those in the LGBTQ community. Now, she's making amends.

Katherine Roberts is now offering free marriage services for LGBTQ couples

Katherine Roberts, a former Christian minister, is trying to do some good for the LGBTQ community after years of preaching a harmful message. (Submitted by Katherine Roberts)

For decades, Katherine Roberts preached an interpretation of the Bible full of intolerance toward people in the LGBTQ community.

Roberts said she grew up with an open mind and maintained that she was a "love the sinner, hate the sin" kind of Christian, but that changed in her 20s.

In becoming a born-again Christian and pursuing a ministerial life, Roberts said her view of the Bible made no room for tolerance toward people — including two of her three children — whose very life the church considers a sin. 

She has since recanted those views, and taken action to atone for them, but a recent statement from the Catholic Church prompted her to further action. Last week, a statement signed off on by Pope Francis reiterated the church's long-standing position that members of the clergy, and the church itself, cannot bless same-sex marriages.

That prompted Roberts, as a marriage commissioner based in Cottrell's Cove in central Newfoundland, to offer her services for free for any LGBTQ weddings for the rest of 2021.

Speaking recently with Ramraajh Sharvendiran on CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, Roberts shared her perspective as a former minister, and the work she is doing now to try to make amends.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the Vatican's decision not to bless same-sex marriages?

I wasn't surprised, but I was still disappointed. I should point out that I'm not Catholic; I was a Christian minister. I also am a mom of two kids, and I just felt like it didn't sit well with me.

On March 15, a statement approved by Pope Francis said the Catholic Church could not bless same-sex unions, since God 'cannot bless sin.' (Tiziana Fabi/The Associated Press)

Q: You have your own complicated history with organized religion: as a former ordained minister and born-again Christian, how did that time in your life influence your views on LGBTQ2+ rights?

When I was younger I was very open-minded, I had no problems with gay people or homosexuality.

It wasn't until after I became a Christian [that changed]. When you believe that the Bible is absolutely true — every word of it — that's what your standard of morality is. I believed it hook, line and sinker about what the Bible says about homosexuality. It is a very troublesome topic. The best we can say about it [in the Bible] is that it's confusing; it's definitely not clear, and a lot of people interpret it in very negative ways.

I had someone online yesterday telling me that they would kill their child if they were gay, because it was the only way to keep them from sin.

For 24 years, I was against gay rights and gay marriage. My daughter got married, and she got married by someone other than me, even though I was a pastor at the time and could have married her; but she married a woman and so I wasn't allowed.

It wasn't until I started looking at things rationally that I began to examine the Bible and what it says, and I eventually deconstructed from my toxic religious beliefs. I'm now an atheist.

We're all just humans on this earth, and we're all the same. Everyone deserves the same kind of life. I've been married for over 30 years — who are we to deny anybody love, commitment, devotion, and relationships? Everybody deserves the same thing in life.

Same-sex marriage has been supported in jurisdictions around the world, like here in Australia, where people celebrated a 'yes' vote that legalized it in that country in 2017. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Q: What triggered that shift from a negative outlook on the LGBTQ2+ community to what your perspective is today?

My negative view of it was strictly from the Bible. For a lot of religious people, the Bible is considered to be the absolute authority on life.

I loved gay people. I was one of those 'love the sinner, hate the sin' types of Christians, so I thought I was being lenient. But to tell someone that their very life and existence is a sin is harmful in itself.

Coupled with that is the fact that I also — as a minister — did gay conversion therapy, which is something I'm horribly ashamed of. I believed I was doing people a service.

I'm ashamed of those things now that I see the way that life actually is, the way that the world actually is.

Q: Prior to changing your perspective, your relationship with the LGBTQ2+ community impacted your relationship with your children, two of whom are queer. Has that relationship changed at all?

I have three of the most wonderful kids. I don't know if I'd be able to talk about it without crying. My kids are amazing, and resilient, and loving and forgiving, and they are three of the best humans that anybody could raise. I may be a little bit biased [laughs].

My kids and I are rebuilding. We have a lot of water under the bridge with the way that they were raised, [in] a very fundamental, very strict religious environment. They both went through a lot when they came out — at my hands — and my attitude was not good. I'm thankful that they are the people they are now, because we are moving forward.

Q: Despite breaking ties with the church, you've continued to officiate weddings. What motivated you to become a marriage commissioner?

I wanted to perform non-religious weddings. There are a lot of churches here in Newfoundland; I'm in a teeny-tiny little community and there are churches here. If church folk want to get married, they have a lot of options.

But for people who are not religious, or who can't get married in a church, they need this kind of service, and I absolutely love it. I get to meet great people and make a difference in people's lives, and do something that I wasn't allowed to do when I was a pastor.

Marchers in a St. John's pride parade. The province, along with the rest of Canada, has had same-sex marriage since 2004. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Q: Getting married can be a costly business, but what exactly are you offering people when you say you're waiving your fees?

My fees normally would vary, depending on if somebody wants a short and simple ceremony, or a more elaborate one. Fees usually range between $300 [and up], and some people charge up to $700 to do a wedding ceremony. Priests, ministers, and mayors, those kinds of people also charge the same amount of money. I'm willing to waive that fee.

I'll do any wedding, though I would prefer not to be out of pocket. I'm in central [Newfoundland], so if I had to travel I'd love to get compensated for my gas to get there. But other than that, I don't do it for the money. I do this because it's a passion of mine, and I really enjoy it.

I think it's a very, very small way for me to return something to the community that I harmed for decades.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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