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Untying a legalistic knot

BOOKS | Jinger Duggar Vuolo finds the path out of fear

Jinger Duggar Vuolo Isadora Kosofsky/The New York Times/Redux

Untying a legalistic knot
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From the age of 10 until 27, Jinger Duggar was in the public eye. She shared family meals, shopping trips, vacations, and intimate mother-daughter talks with total strangers tuning in to 19 Kids and Counting. She enjoyed opportunities most American teens can only dream about: traveling the world with her very large family, meeting celebrities, receiving heartfelt letters from fans and would-be suitors. One of those was the great guy she eventually married. None of her faithful viewers would have guessed that the controlling emotion of Jinger’s life was fear.

Readers of Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith From Fear (W Publishing 2023) will be ­disappointed if they’re looking for family secrets. Jinger reveals nothing but appreciation for her loving and supportive parents, and touches only briefly (without detail) on the scandals surrounding her brother Josh. This is a spiritual memoir, and the author trains her critical eye on her family’s spiritual leader, Bill Gothard.

Gothard, who exercised significant influence over Christian homeschoolers in the 1980s and ’90s, was more than a mentor to the Duggars; he was a personal friend. Jinger recalls how thrilled she was when he took her and her ­sister Jana out to dinner. She eagerly accepted Gothard’s idiosyncratic ­interpretations of Bible passages and searched the Scriptures for personal “rhemas” (defined as “a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a certain current situation or need for direction”).

But authoritative direction for every detail of life didn’t bring peace. To Jinger, it became a checklist for how to please God. Were her skirts the right length and her shoulders properly ­covered? Was she always joyful in ­obedience? Was she recognizing all her faults and asking forgiveness for each one? Was she utilizing every “key to success” outlined by Gothard?

Only after meeting her husband-­to-be, Jeremy Vuolo, did she begin to question Gothard’s approach to Scripture and the gospel. The Bible, she realized, was “more interested in telling me who God is than giving me guidance for every small decision I make.” Understanding God and His great love in Christ was true freedom: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Becoming Free Indeed is not chronological, or topical. As the subtitle states, it is a thoughtful “disentangling” from teachings that pointed her to something other than Christ. Jinger Vuolo regrets that so many of her peers have rejected Christ along with their upbringing. We can be grateful she was not one of them.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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