Just a few days ago we celebrated our independence, our freedom from tyranny. It was so good to stop and reflect on just how good we have it here in these United States.
And we do have it good, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things in need of improvement.
When we run into situations needing change, one of our freedoms is the right to protest. Unlike many around the world, our society is built on freedom of expression, including the right to voice our opposition to people, policies, laws, and directives we believe are unjust.
Our forefathers protested taxation without representation, and we’ve carried on that tradition in a robust manner. Today, we can protest in all sorts of ways, and social media only increases our opportunity to voice our thoughts and opinions.
But the very nature of protest has changed recently. I remember when protests were filled with songs and clever slogans as crowds marched through the streets attempting to demonstrate a better way of thinking and living.
But that has changed. Now we see firebombs, broken windows, cars tipped over and rock-throwing.
Those who protest on social media have also taken on a hostile tone. Videos and crass pronouncements cascade from keyboards cloaked in anonymity as hidden protesters spew vile invective.
On a different front, what used to be political satire has morphed into personal attack of the most egregious kind. One Broadway play, re-enacting the execution of Caesar, replaced the Roman ruler’s severed head with that of President Trump.
Attempting to carry on the tradition, comedian Kathy Griffin shot a short video holding a bleeding, severed head of the president, for which she was later relieved of her position with CNN.
I could add examples of other celebrities who have boasted of wanting to kill the president, have created and acted out scenes on various comedy shows depicting the president in crass ways, and even gone so far as to demean the president’s physical appearance and those of his wife and family.
Of course, there is enough disgusting protest to go around on both sides of the aisle. It is clear the president himself has no filter when it comes to demeaning his opponents, and worse, he seems not to know what an apology is.
I believe it is time to re-establish the purpose of protest, and to suggest a single principle for engaging in dialogue with those with whom we are in opposition.
First, protest must focus on changing someone’s mind about an issue, an edict, an activity, a principle, or a law. Protests must never be used to demonstrate hatred for someone simply because personal animosity will inevitably get in the way of the logical thought required if two opposing groups are to find common ground.
Protest is a means of bringing opposing ideals, opinions, philosophies, and experiences together for mutual benefit. But when the means of protest is ugly, mean-spirited, uncivil and insulting, it only fosters further hostility, separation, and disdain.
For protest to be a useful tool in the evolution of our society, it must be done in a way that it engenders respect. Today, more than ever, we see life through the lens of relationship. If we believe your actions are disrespectful, we’ll be much less ready to respect your ideas, no matter how cogent they may be.
When Rosa Parks steadfastly refused to give up her seat, her protest furthered a civil rights movement because she fought in a way people of every color could respect. We respected the person, and it changed a nation’s perspective.
America is in decay. The evidence is glaring. Poverty, crime, division, racial prejudice, incivility, and a host of other societal monsters are tearing us apart, chewing up a once great nation with the teeth of selfishness and hatred.
It’s time to stop letting Broadway, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C., tell us how we have to feel, think and act. It’s time we got up, spoke up, and stood up for right being right, and wrong being wrong, no matter what party or special interest group was acting poorly.
Last time I looked, we were still a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The time has come to be the people who demand our leaders show some respect for their positions, their opponents, for us, and especially for the integrity and honorable history of this nation.
When Aretha spelled out “Respect” she hit on the right word. Unless and until we see civility, and the respect that undergirds it, restored to a primary position in public discourse, I greatly fear the rate at which our society’s seams are being torn apart will continue at a horrible pace.
So who’s with me? If we can start a revolution of respect, we just might find we have more in common than we thought.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.