Tonight marks the beginning of a series of televised public hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. Based on what is already known, the hearings will shine a spotlight on how the United States nearly lost its democracy in a violent coup. If that description sounds hyperbolic, try to remember how you felt as you first saw footage from the U.S. Capitol on that day. I will never forget the anguish and shock when I first saw images of a violent mob breaching barricades and streaming into the Capitol as the nation’s federally elected leaders gathered to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
When the hearings air at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on major broadcast networks and many cable news channels, I will be watching. And I hope you watch too, even if you don’t consider yourself a political wonk. These hearings will be crucial for the future of our nation and our democracy; it’s imperative that Christians tune in and encourage others to do the same.
So why are these hearings important? Despite some incredible work by journalists — like this chilling 10-minute video from the Associated Press that offers chronological footage of what happened on Jan. 6 — the truth about that day remains obscured. This obscurity weakens our democracy and emboldens those who enabled and participated in the worst assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Jesus’ often-quoted words remain relevant: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31). We need to know the truth about who masterminded the insurrection to hold these leaders accountable and protect the integrity of our democracy.
Since last summer, a bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives committee has been trying to find the truth about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. They have conducted more than 1,000 interviews; collected more than 100,000 documents, including emails and texts; and issued at least 99 subpoenas for witness testimony and document production.
According to a committee aide, the hearings will reveal “new details showing that the violence on Jan. 6 was the result of a coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election and stop the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, and indeed that President Donald Trump was at the center of that effort.” Future hearings could show how Trump and his allies have tried to change the electoral process after the 2020 election to stay in power.
Yet, as the committee prepares to hold its first public hearings, the political Right has been diminishing and obfuscating the severity and importance of what happened on Jan. 6 from nearly the moment it happened, creating an environment where many Americans question the facts. Instead of airing tonight’s hearings, Fox News opted to stick with their top rated “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Carlson has already downplayed the insurrection’s significance numerous times, including saying it “barely rates as a footnote,” so there is little doubt he will be doing more of the same as the hearings air. These hearings will show the truth of what happened — and how. This truth will be crucial in releasing our nation from the web of lies that continue to swirl around the 2020 election.
We also need to watch these hearings to reshape our public memory and cement a shared sense of this recent history. I vividly remember watching South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, which were televised while I was studying abroad there in 1996. The broadcasts captivated the nation; while the commission fell far short of the goal of reparations, the truth-telling of perpetrators helped build national consensus around the extent of the atrocities committed under apartheid.
In our own country, we have seen how far too many Republican politicians and conservative pundits have attempted to whitewash Jan. 6 in real time, spinning the insurrectionists as “patriots” and “peaceful people.” In its February 2022 resolution, the Republican National Committee even argued that the Jan. 6 participants engaged in “legitimate political discourse,” a descriptor that epitomizes political distortion. What happened under apartheid is different from Jan. 6; however, just as South Africa needed to get the truth about the atrocities committed under apartheid to foster healing and transformation, our nation must collectively come to terms with what happened on Jan. 6 so we can put in place the safeguards and commitments to protect our democracy moving forward.
Finally, the hearings will be critical in reigniting public pressure to protect our democracy and the right to vote. As I have written before, GOP controlled legislatures are working to sabotage future elections by changing state laws to make it possible to overturn election results, threaten state officials who oversee elections, and pack election administration offices with people who share their views to ensure they can have the final say over election results — even when they lose. The health and fate of democracy is a faith issue that affects every other issue we care about, from poverty and racial justice to women’s rights and climate justice.
Jesus had harsh words for religious leaders who “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). Coming to terms with an attempted coup and putting in place changes to prevent such actions in the future is one of the most important matters I can think of. We must resist the temptation to stay above the fray, dismissing the Jan. 6 hearings as purely partisan politics or too quickly putting the insurrection behind us. What happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 will continue to haunt our democracy and imperil our future as long as we fail to hold those responsible accountable and advocate for the kinds of electoral changes that are needed to protect our democracy, including the urgent need to reform the Electoral Count Act, end gerrymandering, safeguard the right to vote, and more.
Our nation is embroiled in a tug of war between the dangerous push toward racialized totalitarianism and the push to become a more inclusive and just multiracial democracy. Whether we listen and how we decide to respond to the findings of the committee investigating Jan. 6 will play an important role in determining which side gains further momentum. Let’s push together with all our might to ensure that multiracial democracy wins.