To protest is an American privilege. Yet to protest with a bitter spirit defiles many.— Lou Engle (@LouEngle) February 9, 2017
If people would pray for their leaders instead of complaining about them the kingdom would more speedily advance— Lou Engle (@LouEngle) February 9, 2017
New Apostolic Reformation preacher Lou Engle took to Twitter to comment on the recent surge in protesting and political dissent. In a February 9th tweet, Engle wrote that "To protest is an American privilege. Yet to protest with a bitter spirit defiles many." In another Tweet that day, Engle claimed that "If people would pray for their leaders instead of complaining about them the kingdom would more speedily advance." Engle's tweets are problematic for several reasons.
First, protest is an American right, not a privilege. The rights of citizens to exercise freedom of speech, to assemble in a peaceful manner, and to petition the government for redress of grievances are protected by the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, democracy thrives when citizens hold leaders accountable and communicate their will to all levels of government. It is not only the right but the duty of Americans to offer dissent when leaders propose unsound policies. Contrary to what Engle writes, protest is an important American tradition, not a privilege.
For citizens to hold their government accountable, they must speak. They must identify what is wrong with a leader's decisions and make their thoughts known. Engle frowns on this as "complaining", but in reality, it is an expression of free speech that is essential to healthy democracy. Speech and action, not prayer, bring about results in the real world.
Engle's comment about protesting with a "bitter spirit" is revealing. First, it suggests that Engle sees rancor in the protests of the past few weeks, instead of righteous anger, courage, humor, and solidarity with the marginalized. Second, "bitter" is a epithet that some Christian fundamentalists hurl at those who criticize persons in power or demand justice for wrongdoers. Is it easier for Engle to dismiss the anti-Trump protests as outpourings of "bitterness" than to listen to the grievances of the protesters?
With Donald Trump in the White House, unsuitable figures rising to cabinet positions, alarming executive orders flying off the president's desk, and so much at stake, Americans can't afford to be passive. We can't afford to stay silent for fear of appearing "bitter", and we can't wait for a cosmic white knight to fix our problems. Now is the time for constructive action, not passivity.