One word that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the word loyalty. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines loyalty as the quality of being “unswerving in allegiance.” There are many things that one can be loyal to. One can be loyal to a sports team, cheering them on through thick and thin. One can be loyal to a country, doing all in one’s ability to be a good citizen. One can be loyal to one’s family, seeking to help the people one cares about deeply to grow and prosper.
Loyalty is often described as a virtue. And, certainly, there are many examples of loyalty which are praiseworthy. The Scriptures remind us that Christians are to show unswerving loyalty to Jesus Christ. It’s great, too, on July 1, to see the amount of patriotic fervour around Moncton as we celebrate our country’s birthday. And our kids need to know that we will support them through all the pains and challenges of growing up.
There is, however, a dark side to loyalty. Loyalty can often become a destructive force when it is given unconditionally and unquestioningly. For example, when I lived in the United States, I would sometimes hear people shout, “My country, right or wrong.” Now, as I indicated, patriotism is good—loyalty to one’s country is good—but if the loyalty is given irrespective of the country’s policies and actions, it can quickly become an oppressive force, whereby a person ends up supporting immoral activities.
Similarly, loyalty to one’s family can have dark undertones to it as well. Certainly, we want to do everything we can to support and encourage the members of our family. When, however, we support family members who are engaged in negative or destructive patterns of behaviour simply because we are related to them, we become enablers to their dysfunction and codependent to their behavior. Such loyalty honours neither God nor ourselves nor our family members.
Let me suggest a better (and, I might add, a more biblical) word—the word faithfulness. I want to suggest to you that in all our relationships God calls us not so much to loyalty as to faithfulness. So, what’s the difference? Certainly, the loyal person and the faithful person are both “unswerving in allegiance.” The difference lies, however, in how we express that allegiance. As we’ve seen, the loyal person may at times support behaviours not deserving of loyalty. Faithfulness, on the other hand, seeks the highest good of a person (or country or organization) even if it means standing up to and challenging the ideals and behaviours being demonstrated.
Let me offer an example. Suppose you have a friend who is going through serious marital difficulties. Now, a loyal friend might side with a friend against a spouse out of a sense of loyalty. A faithful friend, however, will support those behaviours that are just and right while challenging those that are dysfunctional or destructive. The faithful friend moves beyond simple loyalty to seeking the highest good of all parties. So, tell me, which kind of friend would you prefer to have? What kind of friend do you want to be?
As Christians, we are not called to be loyal but we are called to be faithful—to friends and enemies alike. We are not called to support anyone unconditionally but to seek the highest good of all those whom we have an opportunity to influence. Let’s move beyond loyalty to becoming truly faithful people.