Loyalty or fidelity?

Is there a difference between loyalty and fidelity?

Both involve binding. When we are loyal, we bind ourselves to a person, a group, a leader, a nation. When we practice fidelity, we bind ourselves not so much to persons but to ideals. Fidelity is faithfulness to vows and duties. While loyalty asks for our allegiance to people, fidelity asks us to keep our promise.

Which does Christ ask of us? Ultimately, it must be fidelity: to God, to The Way. When Jesus asks us to drop everything (career, family, money), it is to follow a call that is far higher than any human allegiances.

Yet in practicing fidelity to Christ, the path will inevitably take our human relationships to deeper places. This is because unlike loyalty, fidelity does not require us to choose. Though loyalty demands us to choose either ‘us’ or ‘them’, or to be ‘in’ or ‘out’, practicing fidelity to Christ is accepting an invitation to come in. And so, we cannot help but extend that same invitation to the people around us: not just to the people in our family, or our ethnic group, or our nation, but to the very people that are excluded from the loyalty systems of humanity. Fidelity to Christ is also fidelity to the way of Christ, and as such it is a commitment to long, difficult, deep and beautiful relationships of love, to people who are often hard to love.

For the heart of fidelity is love, while the centre of loyalty is fear. And while a breach in loyalty results in excommunication, a breach of fidelity must be healed with forgiveness. Because, as Henri Nouwen says, so truthfully, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly”.

It a world that demands our loyalty, and excommunicates us when we fail to provide it, let us always remember that it is not loyalty that Christ asks of us: it is fidelity.