Becoming Free Indeed [Book]
Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear is a 2023 memoir by Jinger Duggar Vuolo, one of the stars of 19 Kids and Counting and Counting On, reality television shows focused upon the daily lives of the Duggar family. She was assisted in writing by Corey Williams. Published by W Publishing Group, an imprint of Christian publishing company Thomas Nelson, the book constituted the first memoir by a Duggar family member following brother Josh Duggar’s arrest on charges of possessing child pornography, but it deals with this scandal only in passing. The book was followed in 2023 by the release of the Amazon Studios documentary series Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets and the publication of Counting the Cost, a memoir by Jinger’s sister Jill Duggar.
The book takes its title from an online movement dubbed “Free Jinger,” which had expressed support, during the run of the various television shows, in freeing Jinger from her fundamentalist family and its culture. Jinger speculates that this movement arose in response to certain media appearances in which she expressed a love of visiting cities. However, the freedom she writes of finding was not “total freedom from rules and biblical morals,” but, instead, a realization that the teachings of Bill Gothard (founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles), under which she was raised, were not only harmful for her own mental health but also un-biblical. She admits that Gothard’s teachings provided her and others with confidence by reducing life to a series of clear instructions, but the downside of this was a crippling anxiety and nearly constant introspection about the state of one’s soul, in addition to a great deal of self-blame for the spiritual state of others. For example, as she writes about Gothard’s insistence upon strict modesty for women, “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.”
The process of “disentangling” herself from Gothard’s teachings began when she was a teenager but was accelerated by her courtship with Jeremy Vuolo, a former soccer player turned evangelical minister, who challenged her with a different perspective on Gothard and the Bible. Too, although Jinger writes that she did not find the experience of growing up a reality star too onerous, and in fact became friends with some members of the crew, she does note how this situation helped to foster her own social anxiety, making her a person who is always performing, seeking primarily to please others. (Her first chapter is titled, “Growing Up in a Fishbowl.”) As she writes, “It’s taken years for me to learn that it’s okay to tell Jeremy I don’t like green walls or I prefer he wear certain colognes and not others. Or that it’s okay for me to get upset and discouraged. To have bad days. To not always be bubbly and cheery when Jeremy comes home.”
As Ruth Graham wrote in the New York Times, “The book is notably generous to Mrs. Vuolo’s parents, who brought their family into the Gothard way of life and, she said, still adhere to it, along with many of her siblings.” The book lacked any major revelations or behind-the-scenes secrets about life in the Duggar family (aside, perhaps, from the fact that the first ever movie Jinger saw was the 1998 film The Truman Show, which she watched on her honeymoon in 2016 and found shockingly similar to her own life). Many Christian reviewers praised the memoir for its honesty in approaching matters of spiritual crisis.
For additional information:
Ettinger, Zoe.” Disentangling Truth from Error: Jinger Duggar Vuolo.” Publishers Weekly, December 13, 2022. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/religion/article/91027-disentangling-truth-from-error-jinger-duggar-vuolo.html (accessed November 9, 2023).
Graham, Ruth. “A Reality Star Revisits Her Religious Upbringing.” New York Times, February 13, 2023, p. A11. Online at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/10/us/jinger-duggar-vuolo-evangelical-christians.html (accessed November 9, 2023).
Lancaster, Guy. “Newly Released Sisters’ Memoirs Reveal the Costs of Growing up Duggar.” Arkansas Times, October 8, 2023. https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2023/10/08/newly-released-sisters-memoirs-reveal-the-costs-of-growing-up-duggar (accessed November 9, 2023).
Vuolo, Jinger Duggar. Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear. Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2023.
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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