Jan. 6 hearing: Mike Pence and the lions' den
Much of the hearings held by the January 6th Committee have been difficult to watch. Videos have displayed a horde uttering obscenities, battling police, breaking and entering the Capitol Building, threatening to hang then Vice President Mike Pence, and kill Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress. Expert witnesses have testified, regularly dropping abbreviated f-bombs. Others have hidden behind the shield of the Fifth Amendment.
In what seemed an incongruous moment, at the end of its third hearing, the committee asked Greg Jacob, Pence’s top White House lawyer, how his faith guided him as he waited with the vice president in a secure location after being pursued by a mob who had erected a gallows on the Capitol grounds.
Jacob responded by recounting how the staff had begun the day with prayer. As they hunkered down with the vice president who had refused to leave the Capitol, Jacob turned to Daniel 6 for inspiration. In this passage, Daniel (a high-ranking official to a godless dictator) mustered the courage to resist the king’s order to worship him and him alone and survived the punishment of being cast into the lions’ den. Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, further said that he texted Pence with the words of 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” after Pence reconvened Congress in order to record the electoral votes as they had been cast rather than as President Donald Trump wished they had been.
Although Trump once walked across the street to the parish house at St. John’s Church for a photo op of himself holding up a Bible at a time of civil disorder, he has handled scripture rather awkwardly. He notoriously referred to Two Corinthians, rather than Second Corinthians, at an early appearance at Liberty University; once suggested that his favorite verse was Exodus 21:24, calling for an “eye for an eye”; and noted in an interview that instead of asking God for forgiveness, he just tried to make it right. Recognizing that his personal behavior has hardly risen to biblical standards, supporters have sometimes likened him to the pagan King Cyrus who helped restore the Israelites to their homeland.
At a time when others refused, in part because of what they believed to be his ungodly lifestyle and biblically questionable policies, to consider running with Trump, Pence accepted the vice presidency and faithfully (even sycophantly) supported the president’s policies. As a former Roman Catholic who had an evangelical conversion experience, Pence has always seemed comfortable with Scripture. At a national prayer breakfast, he affirmed the promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He also quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14, to which his Bible was opened when he took his oath of office, affirming that God will heal the land of those who turn to him.
The Gospel accounts of the temptation of Jesus’s caution that even Satan can misquote Scripture, but on January 6, it appears that Pence did not simply employ Scripture for window dressing but that he used it (and the Constitution) to steel his resolve and guide his conduct. For some, his actions came painfully late, but the congressional hearings reveal that, amid considerable pressure, including threats of physical violence, he upheld his oath of office and refused unconstitutionally to re-anoint Trump and himself to another term.
On this occasion, we can be grateful that Pence followed the injunction of James 1:22 to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
John R. Vile is a U.S. Constitutional scholar and dean at Middle Tennessee State University's Honors College. He is the author of A Companion to the U.S. Constitution and Its Amendments, Essential Supreme Court Decisions, and The Bible in American Law and Politics: A Reference Guide.