‘Saved’ as a toddler, ‘escaped’ in bible college by Brandon Frederick

This is an edited version of Brandon Frederick’s “deconversion story” posted in April 2014 on the website of Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics @ UW-Madison.

By Brandon Frederick

I came into this world in Wisconsin as the child of evangelicals and then became an atheist after almost four years of bible college. My father, among other side occupations such as church directory photography, is a pastor and my mother a worship leader.
They worry about hellfire and want to save me from such a fate, perceiving the best way to do this is to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Growing up, I was kept apart from non-Christians and surrounded with bibles, religious conversation, prayers, worship songs, morning devotions and bible-based storybooks and videos. I accepted Jesus as Lord when I was 3 or 4 at the prompting of my mother at bedtime one night.

I was home-schooled for almost my entire K-12 years. My mom taught most of my classes, but my dad usually taught bible and gym. I learned to read very well since I had so much time to devote to it, but my science, writing and math education was dismal and self-taught after middle school.

When I was 12, my mom found porn links on the family computer’s Internet history and discovered my growing interest in female anatomy. The shame I felt was crippling. Dad took me out for a smoothie and a “man-to-man” talk on how sex and lust were sinful until after marriage. (I didn’t discover masturbation till I was 16. This started a cycle of repression, guilt and self-hatred for having sexual desires.)

Another event that brought more religious zeal was our move to Kansas City, Mo., not long after my Internet porn was found. I joined the quasi-cult International House of Prayer. If you have ever seen the documentaries “Jesus Camp” or “God Loves Uganda,” that’s IHOP. I responded at age 13 in 2001 to [homophobic pastor] Lou Engle’s altar call to be a gospel messenger during the End Times.

I was very involved in IHOP before and after school. I studied my barebones curriculum rigorously, even in the summer, and wound up getting a high school diploma from my parents when I was 16 so I could enter the Forerunner School of Ministry [now IHOP University, in Grandview, Mo.] to major in “apostolic preaching.”

We picketed an adult film store with blue purity blindfolds over our eyes and protested at Planned Parenthood with red “Life” tape over our mouths. I evangelized at Haunted Houses with a clipboard of fake survey questions and rocked back and forth while speaking in “tongues” for hours at a time.

When I felt like some recreation and watched a movie or played a game at a friend’s house, I would feel enormously guilty. But the guilt for gaming paled next to the shame I felt whenever I had a sexual thought. Every time I “fell” I would weep miserably into my pillow and beg for God’s forgiveness.

To “fix” myself, I confessed to my dad or bible college friends and prayed for strength to overcome temptation. None of it helped but I stayed committed to improving myself and becoming more like Jesus. I planned to become an electrician after graduation rather than a full-time minister. I would donate large amounts of my income to IHOP and to charity.

Then came broadband Internet. Its superior speed and constant connection gave me access to atheists, Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims in my house. I began to devour everything from nutrition to history to bible to philosophy.

Bible college dropout

Over winter break in January 2008, I stumbled on some quotes by Mark Twain and found myself curious as to why this popular fiction author that I read as a child was a religious skeptic. I soon discovered that many heroes and intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson had serious reservations about Christianity. I discovered all the major criticisms of Christianity (problem of evil, bible contradictions, age of the Earth, evolution, tyranny of hell, inadequacy of faith healing,) and the secular support for a naturalistic worldview. I want to thank Richard Carrier, John Loftus, Dan Barker, Ken Daniels and countless other secular authors who helped me on my journey.

I decided to read Christian apologists like William Lane Craig and C.S. Lewis 50% of the time and secular authors 50% of the time. I also prayed fervently that God would give me some amazing supernatural encounter so that I would not doubt, but all I heard was silence and my own thoughts.

I decided to drop out of bible college in my final semester and was aggressively interrogated about why I was leaving. One leader seemed convinced that I was having sex with older men (as if doubts about my faith and homosexuality were linked), despite always being very straight. Another hammered me with accusations that I was just being arrogant and needed to be humble and accept their higher knowledge without proof.

As I read more, I started to realize that I’d been part of a quasi-cult of a few thousand people, with influences on tens of thousands more worldwide. Coming out was hardest with my family. My mom wept profusely and my dad was angry and shocked. My brother yelled that he couldn’t understand how I could be so blind. I wanted to reply that I was not the closed-minded one, since I was reading Christian and secular authors equally, while he had read little but the bible his whole life. But I bit my tongue.

A Sterling friend

The one bright spot was my best friend Sterling. It turned out that he had deconverted from Christianity nine months earlier but was too frightened of my religious zeal to tell me. We started to have coffee daily and poured out our hearts about the frustration with family who didn’t understand, the humorous things we used to believe, unanswered questions in science and philosophy and where we were going with our lives now that we seemed to be done with IHOP and Christendom.

He gave me strength when no one else would.

I later found other intellectual nontheistic friends, but almost everyone in my life caused me pain. Rather than understand me, they tried to reconvert me or accuse me of arrogance or homosexuality or being blind to the truth.

I encourage anyone reading this to be supportive and available to those who question their faith. Also, do not count anyone out. Plenty of pastors like Dan Barker and Jerry DeWitt have deconverted later in life, so almost no one is too far gone to have an intelligent conversation with.


I moved to Wisconsin to get away from the religious zeal of my family and church members. I joined the National Guard because I had no idea how I was going to pay for college and went on to get a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am now far happier and whole, intellectually and emotionally, than ever before (rather than empty as most Christians suppose godless heathens are).

We are often told that atheists have this huge void in our hearts that can only be filled with God. I am often asked if I am afraid of being wrong and going to hell. I reply that I am not any more afraid of Christian hell than they are of the hells of other religions.

Freedom From Religion Foundation