Jinger Duggar Vuolo is getting candid about her faith journey and family life in her new book, Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear.
Co-written with Corey Williams, Jinger’s book makes it clear from the outset that it is not meant to be a tell-all about her reality TV-famous family, but rather an exploration of how she set about “disentangling” herself from her ultra-conservative upbringing under the teachings of disgraced pastor Bill Gothard.
Gothard is the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, an organization which espouses a conservative Christian lifestyle, including modest dress, female subservience, homeschooling and large families. Jinger’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, raised their children under Gothard’s teachings and she writes of revering the minister in her younger years.
However, Gothard resigned from the IBLP in 2014, following over 30 claims of sexual harassment from former employees. Despite the pastor’s denial of any wrongdoing, the revelation further tainted his reputation for Jinger as she grew away from the teachings of the organization and started to forge her own spiritual path.
In fact, Becoming Free Indeed makes its mission clear from the first page, with a dedication to “those who have been hurt by the teachings of Bill Gothard or any religious leader who claimed to speak for God but didn’t.”
“When you grow up in a tight-knit community where everyone believes the same things about everything—not just who God is, but also how men and women are supposed to dress and speak—it’s hard to even consider the possibility that what you were taught was wrong,” Jinger writes in one chapter, adding that her childhood under the teachings of the IBLP produced “exhaustion and fear in my life.”
Read on for more of Jinger’s most candid passages from Becoming Free Indeed:
On the book not being a tell-all about her famous family…
“I want you to know at the start that this book is not a tell-all, Jinger writes. “It is not a critique of my childhood. I had a wonderful childhood. My parents loved me and sacrificed so much for me. For all of us. 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. I love my mom, dad, and entire family,” she continues. “This is a book about me and my spiritual journey. It is the story of my faith and how I’ve had to figure out what I believe and why I believe it. This is my personal theological memoir. Thanks for coming along for the journey.”
On the sibling she’s closest with…
“Though I get along with all my sisters, Jessa has a special place in my heart,” Jinger shares. “She is my closest sibling in age, only 13 months older than me. She is fifth and I am sixth of nineteen Duggar kids. Growing up, Jessa and I were together all the time. Though all the Duggar girls shared the same room, I often felt like I was roommates with only Jessa. Our beds were next to each other for my entire childhood. In the middle of the day, we did everything together. After finishing our schoolwork, we played yard games or went shopping. When our massive family went on trips, Jessa and I always stuck together.”
“I think we get along well because we compliment each other,” she notes. “We aren’t carbon copies. Jessa has a stronger personality than I do. I often hesitate to speak my mind and share my opinion. Jessa is the opposite. If she doesn’t understand something, or doesn’t agree with what she’s hearing, she’s not afraid to ask questions or disagree. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t imagine speaking my mind with as much boldness as Jessa. She also has an outgoing spunk. She doesn’t get nervous when she meets new people. I love Jessa for who she is. I’ve learned so much from her as we’ve navigated life together.”
On having her diary stolen from their home when she was 14…
“For most teenage girls, seeing their private diary for sale on eBay would be their worst possible nightmare,” the now-mother of two shares in one early chapter. “Secret thoughts about boys, parents, and siblings all available for the world to see. Honestly, what could be worse for a girl trying to figure out who she is, what she is passionate about, and what she believes?”
“Thankfully, when I faced that exact scenario at the tender age of 14, there was hardly anything shocking for the thief to turn into a profit. Perhaps that’s why the person who stole my journal during a visit to our home returned it a few weeks later.”
On how Gothard and the IBLP’s belief about dressing modestly affected her…
“If someone struggled with impure thoughts because of something I wore, then I bore some responsibility for that person’s sin. I needed to make sure no one stumbled because of my outfit choices,” Jinger remembers thinking at the time. “Now that I have walked away from the Gothard teachings, I find this idea deeply problematic. Though the Bible warns against causing others to sin (Luke 17:1–2), it doesn’t say that if someone has impure thoughts about me, I am at fault. That logic shifts blame away from the individual committing the sin. In extreme circumstances, it can put blame on the victims of assault instead of the abusers. This is exactly what Gothard taught.”
On developing an eating disorder in her teenage years…
“Convinced my body was an embarrassment, I ate very little. I’d go days hardly consuming any calories,” Jinger recalls. “My weight dropped, but my body image didn’t improve. It almost never does in those situations, because the weight isn’t the problem. No matter how thin I was, I wasn’t satisfied with the way I looked. This obsession with body image was terrible for my physical health and it certainly wasn’t good for me spiritually. It was a downward spiral that could have gotten worse and worse.”
“Thankfully, my eating struggles were short lived, in large part due to my mom’s help,” she continues. “She listened to me. She asked me to text her what I was eating and how often. She also monitored my work- out schedule and even turned this into an opportunity to keep her accountable with working out. It was a great way for us to be partners in taking care of our health.”
On how it took five months for her parents to approve of her now-husband, Jeremy…
“Jeremy and I weren’t set up by my mom and dad. We decided for ourselves that we wanted to be in a relationship and consider marriage,” Jinger notes. “But it took more than five months for our relationship to begin because we didn’t initially have my parents’ approval. They wanted to get to know Jeremy. His background and theology were different from ours, and that gave my parents pause.”
“When they did approve and we began courting, we followed specific guidelines. We didn’t go on one-on-one dates. Our time together took place at one of our family’s homes, or we had a sibling tag along with us if we went shopping, to a restaurant, or went for a walk. We also didn’t hold hands until we were engaged or kiss until marriage. My parents encouraged us to follow these guidelines.”
On questioning the IBLP’s rules about courting and having children…
“When my dad gave Jeremy and me permission to court, I wasn’t yet convinced I wanted to marry him,” Jinger admits. “I loved being around him, I respected him, but I didn’t know him well enough to say whether or not I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. After all, we hadn’t had a lot of in-depth conversations. Our courtship sometimes made it tough to have those necessary conversations in an informal setting. When we were with each other in person, we had a chaperone, which a lot of times was one of my younger siblings. We obviously didn’t want to have those important, needful discussions that every couple needs to have if a brother or sister was in earshot.”
The courting process, Jinger explains, forces the big questions to the forefront as the couple tries to plan for their lives together while still getting to know each other: “At one point, he asked me, ‘Jinger, how many children do you want to have?’ Up until that point in my life, if someone had asked me that question, I would have said ‘as many as the Lord allows.’ But I was talking to the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, so I couldn’t give him a vague, cliché answer.”
“I had to be honest. And I truthfully didn’t know how many children I wanted to have,” she notes. “In fact, I was trying to figure out what the Bible actually said about how many children I was supposed to have. So that’s what I told Jeremy. I appreciated his response. He didn’t give me his opinion. He said he was thankful for my answer and we could figure that out later. So that’s what we did.”
On keeping her daughters out of the spotlight…
“I love my children with my whole heart and soul,” Jinger writes of daughters Felicity, 4, and Evangeline, 2. “But my current perspective on parenthood and what that looks like for me is very different than the perspective of the culture in which I was raised.”
“It was impossible to predict how popular the show would become and everything that would go along with it, including how being on television can turn life into a performance,” she adds. “I think it’s good for me to be away from that mindset.”
On how brother Josh’s conviction on child pornography charges paralleled the allegations against Gothard…
“One of the hardest realities in my life is that my brother Josh very publicly displayed some of the same hypocrisy as Gothard,” Jinger shared in ET’s exclusive excerpt from Becoming Free Indeed. “He used his platform, and even his job at the Family Research Council, to promote some of the same ideas Gothard taught. But while he looked the part in so many ways, the true Josh appears to be much different. He was living a lie. Even though he claimed to follow Jesus, his actions gave no evidence of a true love for the Lord, a heart changed by the gospel.”
“Watching all the pain Josh’s sin has caused not only shows me the danger of hypocrisy but also reveals that external religion, a life of performance, has nothing to do with following Jesus,” she notes. “Though I haven’t seen or spoken to Josh in nearly two years, I still pray for him. I ask God to show Josh his desperate need for repentance. I want my brother to be genuine and honest about his sin and reject the hypocrisy that has been part of his life for so long. Only Jesus can save him. False religion and man-made rules never will.”
“Gothard’s rules can’t transform anyone. They couldn’t even transform him. Only Jesus can do that. What Gothard and my brother Josh need is a new heart that only Jesus can give. That’s what I need. That’s what we all need. Without a new heart, all the outward religious behavior isn’t going to please God.”
On the potential backlash from speaking out against Gothard and the IBLP…
“I’m not at risk of arrest because I’ve spoken out against Bill Gothard, his principles, and the IBLP ministry,” Jinger writes toward the end of the book. “I also don’t think I will lose relationships with my family. I’m thankful for them and pray we will grow even closer in the coming years.”
“Still, I know that by rejecting the teaching of the community that raised me, I may lose influence. I may not be invited to events and into homes. Some may not appreciate that I’m speaking out on this topic,” she notes. “Others could assume the worst of my motives, or they will say that my husband, Jeremy, is to blame. They’ll say I should never have married an outsider, a man who, though a Christian and a pastor, didn’t believe all the same things I grew up believing. They will assume he convinced me to change my beliefs.”
“While Jeremy walked with me through this journey, he always pointed me back to God’s Word. And those words changed my heart,” she concludes. “All Jeremy did was encourage me to examine Scripture, think for myself, and come to my own conclusions. Yet no matter how much I insist that this is my own journey, some won’t be convinced that these are my convictions.”
Becoming Free Indeed is out now.
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