“I definitely think it was cult-like in many ways,” she exclusively told Us Weekly ahead of the release of her book Becoming Free Indeed on Tuesday, January 31. “It was built on fear, manipulation, control and superstition, so all those things combined in how hard it is for kids to leave or adults to leave — anyone, really. … Once you hear the teachings, you’re not supposed to depart from those.”
The former TLC star, 29, rose to prominence on 19 Kids and Counting, which featured her devout family and often discussed their lifestyle of purity, modesty and faith. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar raised their 19 children under the teachings of controversial and ultra-conservative Christian minister Bill Gothard.
Since forging her own path with husband Jeremy Vuolo, whom she wed in 2016, the Counting On alum feels more “free” than ever. “I have so much freedom and … peace with God, really,” she told Us. “Because I think I had wrestled with fear for so many years and I wasn’t sure why or what the source of that fear was. And once I was able to figure out, ‘OK, I think this teaching is making me fearful’ … I do feel like there was that ‘A-ha’ moment.”
Jinger remembered being “gripped with fear” as a child. “[I’d be] thinking, ‘OK, am I pleasing to God? I don’t know what God expects of me.’ And so I would be so terrified to, like, even go play sports with my siblings. [I’d think], ‘Maybe I’m supposed to stay home and read my Bible for hours and hours. I’m not sure.’ So that kind of fear did cripple me.”
The Arkansas native credits her husband, 35, for helping her start to distance herself from the pressure she felt. “He had grown up in a different setting totally outside of my world,” she told Us of the former soccer player. “[My] dad told us, ‘OK, before you guys can move forward in your relationship, listen to some of these teachings.’ So Jer was listening to, like, 60-plus hours of Bill Gothard’s teachings … [and] was kinda like, ‘Huh, this is interesting.'”
As the couple continued to discuss the seminars together, Jinger’s perspective began to shift. “He was just challenging me, like, [to] think through this, think for yourself, and if it’s true, it’ll stand up for itself. If it’s not, it’ll just fall apart,” she recalled. “Basically, I started to see that these teachings were not grounded in truth, and that’s really what brought me freedom.”
In Becoming Free Indeed, Jinger looks back on how her upbringing shaped her life — and describes how she’s changed her mindset as she took a step back from the spotlight. (The family’s TLC spinoff, Counting On, was canceled in 2021 after Josh Duggar was arrested on child pornography charges.)
When setting out to write her book, Jinger “sought to be open” with her family members. “I remember initially, like, when I started wearing pants, that was a huge thing. And so … I felt like it was the most loving thing to do, to share [with my family], ‘Hey, this is why I see this in the word of God differently than I used to.’ And so we talked through those things. And [it was] the same with this book,” she told Us.
The Hope We Hold coauthor — who shares daughters Felicity, 4, and Evangeline, 2, with Vuolo — hopes sharing her story helps others on their own journeys of “disentangling” themselves from past beliefs.
“I think this journey is continuing every day,” Jinger told Us. “There are days where fears will come back and try to grip me and I’ll just have to think on what’s true. … I think that I really now have a more balanced view of [what faith is].”
Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear is available now.
With reporting by Christina Garibaldi