I suppose I should probably preface what follows by saying that I have never watched as much as a moment of any show by or about the Duggar family. I once had a very cordial chat with Jinger Vuolo (formerly Duggar) at a conference without knowing she was a reality TV personality and probably the best-known person at the whole event. Such is my knowledge of television! And so when I chose to buy and read her new memoir Becoming Free Indeed it was not because I am a fan of her family or heavily invested in her story, but because from the bit I had heard of it, it would powerfully contrast some other recent memoirs. I’ll explain that as I go.
But first, for those who are as ignorant as I am, Jinger Vuolo is one of the 19 children born to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. For many years the lives of the Duggar family were broadcast on the TLC shows 19 Kids and Counting and Counting On. This put Jinger and her family squarely in the public eye and gave them a forum to showcase their Christian faith and values. Yet these values were closely tied to the troubling ministry of Bill Gothard.
For many years Gothard had a near cult-like following and exercised tremendous power over many of those who relied on his interpretation of the Bible—including the Duggars. Yet what he taught was only ever loosely drawn from Scripture and always extremely legalistic. As suggested by the book’s subtitle, he kept people in a state of spiritual fear and uncertainty. His ministry exploded a few years ago when a whole series of women credibly accused him of sexual harassment and assault.
Vuolo’s book is essentially the story of her coming to terms with the form of Christianity she experienced in her childhood and her growing awareness of its many shortcomings. But it is also her account of discovering a form of Christianity that is much more consistent with the Bible and much more satisfying. And what I described in the last sentence is precisely why I read her memoir.
We can turn to any number of books to find stories of people who were raised in Christian contexts that were either marked by theological error or moral scandal. Many of these books tell of the author ultimately abandoning her faith. Such tales of deconstruction are all the rage and often sell in vast quantities. And a good number of them are written by people who were raised in contexts much more innocuous than Gothardism. It wouldn’t have been shocking if Vuolo’s memoir had been of that kind.
But thankfully it is not. Rather than describing someone abandoning her faith, Becoming Free Indeed describes someone persistently searching the Scriptures to refine her faith. Rather than describing someone walking away from God, it describes someone drawing closer to him. It provides a powerful contrast to those who chose to revoke their faith by telling of someone who chose to not only remain a Christian, but to grow in her confidence in the Lord and to follow him with even greater passion and commitment.
It tells all of this in the form of a memoir that is interesting on a human-interest level and encouraging on a spiritual level. It tells all of this while protecting confidentiality and respecting parents and family. It tells all of this in a book that I rather enjoyed and gladly commend.