- Jinger Duggar Vuolo no longer believes in the IBLP teachings on which she was raised.
- The “19 Kids and Counting” star discussed her journey to a different kind of Christianity.
- She also talked about her relationship with her parents and commented on Josh Duggar’s conviction.
Jinger Duggar Vuolo’s home was silent.
Her husband, Jeremy, had taken their young daughters — Felicity and Evangeline Jo — to a nearby art gallery that January morning, most likely singing a song from Disney’s “Frozen,” their favorite soundtrack, along the way. She wore a gray sleeveless top that exposed her shoulders, behind which sat a bookshelf home to several Funko Pop figurines. A mounted gray-and-white sneaker graced the wall.
These may seem like mundane details. But hanging many types of art on the walls, exposing one’s shoulders (as a woman), and watching mainstream movies are forbidden in the controversial Christian organization known as Institute in Basic Life Principles.
The IBLP was founded in 1961 by Bill Gothard, an American minister who promised to get his followers into heaven and based the organization on his beliefs, with requirements for women to wear only dresses and skirts and to bear children until they’re physically unable to do so. As a child, Duggar and her family introduced millions of television viewers to the organization in the 2004 Discovery special “14 Children and Pregnant Again!” and the later spin-off TLC reality “19 Kids and Counting” and “Counting On.”
For nearly two decades, Vuolo had been labeled a “rebel Duggar” on the internet because of choices she’s made that go against the norm in her family, like leaving Arkansas and opting for fashions that go against IBLP teachings. Now 29, she’s speaking with me about her journey to redefine what Christianity meant to her, as detailed in her new memoir, “Becoming Free Indeed.”
She’s hoping people who are still in the IBLP community or similarly restrictive religions will understand that sometimes the teachings of men, including the IBLP founder, Gothard, aren’t the teachings of God. She’s not seeking the spotlight again to not to feed the rumor mill surrounding her family but instead to publicly explain how she unlearned fear-based beliefs in hopes that her story helps others.
On the way to free, Vuolo had to untangle her personal beliefs about faith from the ones she learned growing up. She said she realized, “Oh, wow, the Bible is silent in so many places where I thought it was speaking to me, but it was actually just a man telling me how I should live my life.”
Below, we talk about what her personal and family life looks like today, how she copes with social anxiety, and her feelings about her brother Josh’s recent child-pornography conviction.
Vuolo says she felt a ‘responsibility’ to speak her truth
What inspired you to write “Becoming Free Indeed”?
While I was at an IBLP conference, I met a lot of families who told me stories of kids who had just totally left Christianity or the faith altogether because they were so harmed by those teachings. I thought, “Should I write about this?” Because it’s something that’s also so deeply personal and hard to speak about publicly. My entire life was wrapped up in this teaching.
But I felt like I had a responsibility to say something because I had not only grown up in this teaching, but I also promoted it with my sisters in our 2012 book, “Growing up Duggar.” I now strongly disagree with those teachings, so it was an opportunity for me to come back and say, “Hey, I don’t believe that anymore.”
How has your life changed now that you’re more open to experiencing modern culture?
Oh, goodness, I didn’t know any normal references from movies or culture and all of that. I’ve been playing catch-up. I remember watching “The Truman Show” with Jeremy, and I was struck by that movie, like: “Huh, interesting. That feels like my life.”
How did your parents react when you told them you were writing the book?
I love my parents, and even though we have differences I’ve sought to share those with them along the way. So with this book, I for sure told them about it and said, “Hey, I’m writing this book.” I know that since they still follow these teachings they may disagree on things, but I know that they just want what’s best for me.
I have talked with my parents about a lot of different differences we’ve had, and I’ve sought to just be up front with them and tell them, “Hey, this is where I lean towards in my understanding now.” I’m also gracious because they gave me the best life possible. As parents, you make what you think at that time are the best decisions for your children.
So, what was the end result of the conversation? You disagreed, but they supported you?
Well, this has been my story from the start. I told them this is not about my family — it’s just about me. I just told them I want to share my story, and I’m not sharing anybody else’s story, so I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Vuolo hopes her brother Josh feels ‘truly broken’ about his crimes
I realize that it’s your story, but you do mention your brother Josh and note that he’s in prison for his crimes. I know you haven’t spoken to him in two years, so I’m just wondering what you would want to say if you did speak to him?
Well, I will say it’s difficult for me to talk about that for sure because it’s just tough. And my heart, it really just breaks for the victims and their families and all that they’ve gone through. And I’m so thankful that justice has been served with my brother, and ultimately I just would pray that he would be truly broken about what he’s done. And so that’s about all I want to say on it. My heart just breaks, and it’s so hard to talk about.
Is there anything you would want him to get from your book if he did read it?
Well, I think the most important thing for any one of us is that we would come to know that we will each stand before God. And so I know that Josh will give an account for his crimes before God. I would pray that he would just cry out in repentance, ask forgiveness from God, and realize how wrong he has been. God can forgive even the worst of sinners. So that’s just where my heart would be for him. But as of now, I think I’m really grateful that the justice system is set up for these situations and that justice is being served.
Freeing herself from IBLP teachings has taught Vuolo to care less about what others think of her
One of the most vulnerable aspects of the book was when you talked about your social anxiety. Can you give me an example of what goes through your mind?
A lot of it was based on what I thought I was supposed to say. And so a lot of that has been me just trying to get outside of myself and not worry about what people think. Because I know people have strong opinions about my family, my life, and my upbringing.
I still feel that fear at times, and then I realize, “Oh, that’s all it is, is fear.” I don’t need to think about that. Because the more you think about it, then the bigger it feels and becomes. But getting outside of myself and trying to engage with others has been so helpful for me. Even just thinking, “OK, I know who I am and I don’t need to change. I don’t need to be anybody else but Jinger in this moment.”
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about you that you’d like to correct?
I want them to see that we are real people too, with feelings, with lives that you may or may not understand. And it’s just a beautiful thing to be able to share that with the public. And hopefully, other people can see, this is who Jinger is. I love my kids. I probably won’t have 19 kids, but I love them all. I want to be the best mom, be the best wife. Jeremy’s a joy. He’s so much fun. He makes me laugh more than anybody in the world. So just them seeing that side of my life, that even though I’ve walked through all of these challenges, I came out on the other side stronger because of what I’ve walked through.
Speaking of kids, I was compelled by the section where you talk about family planning. Have you had any more conversations with your parents about your choice to have a smaller family?
I hope that they can just see my heart. At the end of the day, I think they can see that I want to live my life to glorify God. To be convicted by the word of God, not by a man’s tradition or somebody who claims to speak for God but doesn’t. That’s how I live my life every day, and I want my girls to see that. I want everyone to see that, that I’m not going to be tossed about by all these different opinions.
My life may look different than theirs, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t still love each other and be gracious towards one another, which I’m so thankful for. So we’ll have differences. And I think that’s the beauty of life.
What situation has your new life found you in that you think your younger self might have found to be the most extreme? And what would you tell her now?
I would say my younger self probably would’ve been crippled by fear because Bill Gothard taught her that life is a very delicate cause-and-effect sequence. If you go live your life by these principles, you’ll be blessed. If you don’t, your life will be one disaster after another. That’s what I grew up believing. “If I wear pants, I’m going to be punished by God. If I listen to music with drums in it, I’m going to be punished by God.” I’d tell my younger self, that’s not true. God doesn’t operate like that. God has given us those things to enjoy, art, beauty, music, food, all the things to enjoy as beautiful gifts from his hand.
What does your future look like?
I’m just so thankful for this past year and looking forward to the new year. I don’t know what it has in store, but I’m excited for it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
“Becoming Free Indeed” is available now.