Mainstream media seemed triumphant to report that Jinger Vuolo, nee Duggar, was renouncing the strict religious sect her parents belonged to and forging her own course.
Headlines about Vuolo’s new book and subsequent interview circuit touted that the former reality star was “free” from the “cult-like” atmosphere of her former church, which was “built on fear.” These journalists seemed delighted that someone from a strict Christian household would figure out that the whole thing was a trick.
Except Vuolo never said that.
Anyone who clicks on these attention-grabbing headlines or picks up a copy of the 29-year-old Arkansas native’s memoir “Becoming Free Indeed” would immediately realize she is still a Christian, and she doesn’t hate her parents.
Vuolo did share strong words of condemnation, however, for disgraced minister Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), the religion she was raised in. But even this bad experience wasn’t enough to sour Vuolo’s strong Christian faith.
Fans will recall the Duggar family from the TV reality show “19 Kids and Counting.” The series followed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as they raised their larger-than-average brood, including Vuolo, who is now married with two children. The show ran from 2008 until 2015.
The former reality star flat out said that she didn’t blame her parents for being part of IBLP or how it affected her upbringing. “My parents loved me and sacrificed so much for me. For all of us,” she wrote in the book.
“They invested their time and energy and souls into raising me and my brothers and sisters. Their patience, kindness, and love are things I want to imitate in raising my girls. They pointed me to Jesus. So, this is not a book about them.”
Vuolo also discussed some of her feelings about writing the memoir during a recent interview with Us Weekly. She said she “sought to be open” with her family members because the book wasn’t meant to sour those relationships.
“I remember initially, like, when I started wearing pants, that was a huge thing. And so … I felt like it was the most loving thing to do, to share [with my family], ‘Hey, this is why I see this in the word of God differently than I used to.’ And so we talked through those things. And [it was] the same with this book,” she told the publication.
“I think this journey is continuing every day,” Vuolo explained. “There are days where fears will come back and try to grip me and I’ll just have to think on what’s true. … I think that I really now have a more balanced view of [what faith is].”
While the former “Counting On” star shared words of love for her parents, she is much harsher in critiquing Gothard and the religious rules he inflicted upon his congregation.
“Fear was a huge part of my childhood,” Vuolo told People during a recent interview. “I thought I had to wear only skirts and dresses to please God. Music with drums, places I went or the wrong friendships could all bring harm.”
She said this anxiety extended even to benign activities, like playing sports. Vuolo grew up believing that she should only spend her time in prayer and worship.
“I thought I could be killed in a car accident on the way because I didn’t know if God wanted me to stay home and read my Bible instead,” she explained of forgoing sports.
“[Gothard’s] teachings, in a nutshell, are based on fear and superstition and leave you in a place where you feel like, ‘I don’t know what God expects of me,’” Vuolo told the publication. “The fear kept me crippled with anxiety. I was terrified of the outside world.”
She also said the IBLP was rife with “cult-like tendencies” which ultimately drove her away from that sect of Christianity. “His teachings were so harmful, and I’m seeing more of the effects of that in the lives of my friends and people who grew up in that community with me,” Vuolo said.
Gothard was forced out of IBLP after allegations he abused young women working at its headquarters came to light. The 87-year-old former pastor founded the religious group in 1961, preaching strict conservative values such as modesty and a strict patriarchal family structure. IBLP had rules against television, modern music, alcohol, dating, and public schools.
While some of his ideas were in line with more mainstream Christian conservatives, IBLP went further to the extreme and propped Gothard up as a celebrity, savior-type figure in the movement.
The Duggars have since stated they don’t agree with many of Gothard’s preaching, but they maintain that his lessons were interspersed with nuggets of truth.
“We do not agree with everything taught by Dr. Bill Gothard or IBLP, but some of the life-changing Biblical principles we learned through IBLP’s ministry have helped us deepen our personal walks with God,” they shared in a February 2022 statement.
“The public accusations against Dr. Gothard in recent years are troubling and grievous. However, our faith in God is not based on following a fallible human man. … Truth is truth, even if the messenger fails,” the couple told NBC News at the time.
Now Vuolo is married to a pastor in training. She said while she and Jeremy didn’t have a modern dating experience due to her family’s strict rules, she knows picking him was the right choice. “Marrying him was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Jinger told Us Weekly.
“Jer came on the scene and I think my hesitation was mainly because of him being outside of my world,” the former reality star told Us Weekly of the couple’s courtship. “And that can be a fearful thing when you’re in that culture.”
In the end, Vuolo said Jeremy’s faith was a huge reason she knew he would make a good husband.
“I remember coming back [from a date] and telling my mom, ‘I feel so safe with him. Like he is everything that I’ve ever wanted,’” she continued. “He wasn’t in our setting, which is just crazy to think about, but he loved God and he was committed to the word of God and lived his life according to it. And that’s where I found, ‘OK, this guy is an awesome guy.’ It’s exactly what I’ve wanted.”