Last year, something momentous happened to our country. For the first time in history, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an agency who reviews and rates countries based on their democratic values, dropped our ranking from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy.” For those who need a translation, that takes America from its rarified position alongside Norway and Canada and plunges it down into the ilk of countries like Chile, Italy and Botswana. This year, the EIU confirmed its earlier analysis: Americans don’t live in a genuine democracy anymore. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

It has been suggested of late that people who complain about our government — or, worse, protest against it — are somehow “un-American.” They don’t respect our flag! They don’t respect our military! That’s a load of hooey. Protest is as American as apple pie. It’s our origin story: Rebels leaving their homes to come to the New World so they could rebel against England, against each other, against religious tyranny, government control, racism, sexism — you name it. We’re the agitated, red jacket-wearing James Dean of countries.

Rebels are patriots. They understand that the only way to keep the system honest is to challenge it, constantly. They love their country not despite its flaws, but including them — but they know their country can do better. They should be commended for that.

So should people who speak up about the flaws in other institutions, like the Catholic Church. If the Church can’t fix itself (and God knows it needs fixing), it becomes irrelevant. And it dies. Think of protesters as people who care enough to demand not just what is but what could be — if we were all at our best.

A person who loves blindly doesn’t really love at all. It’s the person who sees all the blemishes and scars and ugliness of something and still chooses to love it who really understands what love is.

It’s the way God loves us: Warts and all. And our loving response should be to fix our warts as we are able. Otherwise, love is just a one-way street, and God deserves better. So do we.