Former reality star Jinger Duggar Vuolo, made famous on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” is speaking out about the religious beliefs her family followed, describing them as “harmful” and having “cult-like tendencies.”
Vuolo, the sixth child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, previously adhered to and zealously promoted the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a nondenominational Christian organization founded in 1961 by disgraced minister Bill Gothard. But she left the fundamentalist organization in 2017 and is now opening up about it in her new memoir, “Becoming Free Indeed.”
“Fear was a huge part of my childhood,” the 29-year-old told People. “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.”
The mother of two said she felt “terrified” she was defying the will of God even when the family would play broomball, a sport similar to hockey: “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 said.
Chronicling her experience in her third book, “Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith From Fear,” Duggar writes about how she was expected to fastidiously obey modesty guidelines, always obey her parents and authority figures, promote relationship standards of courtship, and avoid any music with a worldly beat. The memoir details “how she began to question the unhealthy ideology of her youth and learned to embrace true freedom in Christ,” and what it was like living under Gothard’s tenets, according to Christian content publisher Thomas Nelson.
“[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,’” she told People. “The fear kept me crippled with anxiety. I was terrified of the outside world.”
“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,” she said. “There are a lot of cult-like tendencies.”
Duggar moved from Arkansas to Texas, then to Los Angeles, after marrying pastor and former professional soccer player Jeremy Vuolo in 2016. During that time, she has distanced herself from the practices of her ultra-religious family, who starred in TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” which was canceled in 2015 after allegations that her brother Josh Duggar molested four of his younger sisters as a teen. The family’s follow-up show, “Counting On,” was canceled in 2021, months after Josh Duggar was arrested on child pornography charges. (He was convicted and sentenced to 12½ years in prison last May.)
Gothard, who led the church until 2014, stepped down after being accused of sexually harassing dozens of women. He has denied the claims. When the allegations re-surfaced in February 2022, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar issued a joint statement calling Gothard a “fallible human man” and failed messenger. They also said that they don’t agree with everything he or IBLP teaches but obtained some “life-changing Biblical principles” through IBLP that “helped us deepen our personal walks with God.”
Jinger Duggar told People she wants to share her story for other people “who are still stuck” and in hopes that she could help “even just one person to be freed.”