Loyalty. Allegiance. Fidelity. Unwavering support.
We pledge it as children. We salute, sing and honor it with our anthems. We drape ourselves in it with our patriotic attire. We adorn our homes paying homage with patriotic decor.
Our loyalty comes in many forms. Loyalty to our families. Loyalty to our cultures. Loyalty to our companies, our teams, or our regions. Many of us are raised with a deep sense of fidelity to our religions, denominations, synagogues, mosques, temples or churches. We wear our rabid allegiance to our schools, colleges or universities in colors and logos.
Loyalty, by its very nature, is tested. It is easy to be loyal to a team that never loses. It doesn’t strain our sensibilities to support a school that consistently demonstrates academic integrity and excellence. It isn’t difficult to proudly wear a family name that has a legacy of leadership, service, and character.
But what about when our side goes astray? How do we remain loyal to a company that has mistreated people, a team that cheats, or an institution that has proven to be corrupt? Do we feel pressured to remain a “team player”? Would we want an abused spouse or child to remain in their situation purely out of a sense of loyalty?
The bigger question is where is our loyalty tethered? Is it to religions, political parties, institutions or organizations, or is it to the principles and values we believe they stand for?
In our highly polarized society, our loyalty is being pushed to the limit. We are being cajoled and coerced to take sides. To choose red or blue. Black or white. Conservative or liberal. And whatever side we choose, we are expected to be “team players”. To be loyal. To wear the colors. To chant the tag lines. To rile the opposition. To support our team.
Many of our leaders and opinion-driven media outlets try to divide us, using fear, hate, and falsehoods to demonize segments of our society, and to strengthen our loyalty. They are drawing lines and asking you to choose. Us vs. them. Good vs. evil. Dark vs. light.
But if we pledge our loyalty within these frameworks, we often have to give up our loyalty to greater principles. We forsake unity, in the name of uniformity. And there is a lot of darkness in uniformity.
If the church I’m apart of begins to consistently treat people in a way that is inconsistent with the gospel, I face a dilemma. Is my loyalty really to the church, or the principles it was built on? If leaders within my political party (thankfully I don’t subscribe to one) begin to treat citizens in a way that opposes our core American values, do I continue to support those leaders? Or is my allegiance to the core values that the party was supposed to adhere to?
We’re a nation built on loyalty, but that loyalty is girded by the principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all our citizens. That loyalty is founded on the right to question our leaders, and to work for a more perfect union, acknowledging that this grand experiment is still a work in progress. When leaders call for the silencing of citizens who question them, they are stealing the rights of us all. When leaders try to paint those who disagree with them as disloyal, or those who have different opinions as “hating” our country, they are not operating within a democracy, but forging an autocracy.
E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one” is the creed of our nation. Unity from diversity. Diverse voices, ideas, cultures and beliefs work laboriously together to make America greater. To make America One. It is a difficult process, with strife, disagreement and compromise, but it is what makes us great. Uniformity drowns out creativity. Uniformity silences debate. Uniformity stifles the ideas that are forged from multiple perspectives coming together.
Our national heritage is one of many stars, and many stripes. It is a kaleidoscope of colors, cultures, beliefs, and perspectives. Our loyalty must be to the principles that all of these are equal. As citizens, we should wear the flag proudly, but also call out injustice whenever and wherever it rises, whether on our soil or abroad. We need to stand against injustice whether in our political party or the other. Uniformity comes from a small-minded loyalty, to parties, churches, schools, or institutions. Unity, that beautiful expression of “out of many, one” comes from a greater loyalty, one that rises to our core principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all.