Jinger Duggar Vuolo, one of the eponymous 19 kids of “19 Kids and Counting”, says that fear played a defining role in her childhood years.
“Fear was a huge part of my childhood,” Vuolo, 29, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “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.”
Even when her family went to play a sport called broomball, Vuolo says she felt “terrified” she might be defying God’s will. “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.”
Both of Duggar Vuolo’s parents — Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar — were involved enough with Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles to be speakers at its seminars. People writes that the IBLP, “…teaches that women should be subservient to their husbands and that followers should shun dancing, dating and much of modern popular culture.” Duggar Vuolo said the teachings she was raised under were fear-based and superstitious, leaving followers unable to know what God expected of them. Ultimately, she said, she was crippled with anxiety. People continues:
In 2017, her perspective began to shift. “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 says. “There are a lot of cult-like tendencies.” She ultimately walked away from IBLP altogether. While Vuolo stresses that she’s still a strong Christian, her understanding of how to live her faith has changed.
USA Today reports about how Duggar Vuolo’s husband helped her process that walking away.
Vuolo talks about the role her husband, former pro soccer player Jeremy Vuolo, played in reexamining her faith in her new book. She said Jeremy encouraged her “to examine Scripture, think for myself and come to my own conclusions.”
“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,” Vuolo wrote. “Some may not appreciate that I’m speaking out on this topic. 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.”
In her book, she also addresses her brother Josh Duggar’s 12-year prison sentence for possession of child pornography. USA TODAY continues:
At the time of his conviction in December 2021, Vuolo said in an Instagram post that she was “thankful to God for exposing Josh’s actions and to a legal system committed to protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty in this case.”
“The backlash against his actions has been, correctly, severe. Even if he wasn’t a public figure, he would still be in prison for his actions,” Vuolo wrote. “But because millions know who Josh is, his sin gives Christ a bad name. Those who oppose Christianity can point to Josh as evidence that anyone who claims to walk with Jesus is a phony.”
Vuolo told People she hopes she can share the liberation she’s found in her own healing process with others.
“That’s the beauty of this journey,” Vuolo said. “The teaching I grew up under was harmful, it was damaging and there are lasting effects. But I know other people are struggling and people who are still stuck. I want to share my story, and maybe it will help even just one person to be freed.”
Gothard was forced out of the IBLP in 2014 after a number of women alleged he had molested or otherwise harassed them when they worked for IBLP. NBC News reports:
“My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong,” Gothard said in 2014 in a now-deleted statement on his website that is still linked on his Twitter profile.
The IBLP said an internal investigation it had found no criminal activity but concluded Gothard “had acted in an inappropriate manner” and would no longer have any role in the organization.
Twelve women alleged in a civil suit that they had been sexually, physically or psychologically abused by Gothard as minors and that the IBLP had covered it up. The case was dropped in 2018, but the women’s attorney, Jonathan Mincieli, would not give a reason, citing attorney-client privilege
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar said in their statement to NBC News: “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.”
They said they never received any form of payment in exchange for their involvement with the IBLP.
Duggar Vuolo’s book, Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear, will be available Jan. 31.