Jinger Duggar Vuolo, who rose to fame in 2008 when her family became the subject of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, is describing how she became disillusioned with the strict faith of her youth and turned to the Bible to find the true meaning of God’s word in Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear (W, Jan. 31).
Until it was canceled in 2015, 19 Kids and Counting chronicled the Duggar family’s ultra-conservative Christian lifestyle. As followers of Bill Gothard, founder of the controversial Christian organization the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP), the Duggars were seen living in line with his teachings — they wore modest clothing, homeschooled their children, and were only allowed to date through supervised courtship.
Vuolo along with her sisters Jill, Jana, and Jessa previously wrote about their strict religious life in the public eye in Growing Up Duggar (Howard, 2014). Now, in her first solo title, Duggar details how she discovered the faith of youth to be harmful—a cover for abuse, in some cases. The book also describes her newfound religious practice that aligns with God, rather than anyone who claims to speak for him.
When 19 Kids first aired, Vuolo was a devoted believer in the IBLP. “I was probably one of the most devout in my family,” she tells PW. She felt passionately about showing others a lifestyle she believed was honoring God, and from what she wore to the music she listened to, she aimed to embody Gothard’s principles. “I really loved those teachings and thought everybody needed to know it.”
Vuolo describes her former faith as based in a fear of a vengeful God. “I was waiting for God to punish me or condemn me for things that the Bible said nothing about,” she says. “It almost made me feel superstitious.”
As she got older, she began to notice inconsistencies in her faith. Gothard promised financial success and familial bliss to those who strictly adhered to his word, but as time went on, that never happened for many of his followers. Vuolo noticed even children were confused by Gothard’s interpretation of the Bible. “Kids saw that we could never measure up to a perfect standard of success,” she says.
Then, in 2012, Gothard’s own commitment to chastity and piety was called into question when former members of the IBLP began posting stories of sexual assault involving Gothard on a website called Recovering Grace. By 2014, there were more than 30 women with allegations against him, and after an internal investigation by the IBLP, he resigned as president. In 2016, 10 of his accusers filed a lawsuit against him. The lawsuit was dropped in 2018.
Around the same time, Vuolo was introduced to a new way to worship via her sister Jessa’s husband, Ben Seewald. After attending services with Seewald, “I noticed his church read the Bible in its entirety and preached scripture that way,” Vuolo says.
Within a year, Vuolo started to shift away from the IBLP, and 19 Kids had come to an end amid her own family’s controversy. The show was canceled after Vuolo’s oldest brother, Josh, was accused of sexual abuse of a minor. A spin-off series, Counting On, continued to follow the parents, Jinger, and her 17 other siblings, but it was canceled in 2021 after Josh was arrested on child pornography charges. He has since been sentenced to 12.5 years in prison.
Vuolo compares her brother Josh to Gothard in Becoming Free Indeed, describing how the revelations impacted her and further bolstered a belief in an internal religious commitment, rather than the performance of one. Today, she is a mother of two and is living in Los Angeles with her husband, former American soccer player Jeremy Vuolo, far away from her childhood Arkansas home. Vuolo’s hope for the new book is to reach those she may have influenced as a follower of Gothard’s. “I realized that some of what I had been taught was hurtful and untrue,” she says. “I knew I needed to speak publicly about this because I promoted teachings that I now believe are damaging.”
Though she had to spend the past six years “disentangling truth from error” in her understanding of the Bible, Vuolo feels it was more than worth it. “I feel like now I'm in a much better place. I see God as amazing.”
Stephanie Newton, associate publisher at W Publishing, was drawn to Becoming Free Indeed because of its uplifting message for others who have been hurt by religion. “After wounds in childhood, many people chose to just walk away from their faith, but Vuolo put in the work to find her own path forward,” Newton says. “I hope this story encourages readers to put in the work to make their faith their own.”
Vuolo agrees, saying her story is for "those who have wrestled with their faith” as a reminder “to not give up on God.”