Do you, my readers, mull over the concepts of integrity and loyalty as much as I do—which is almost on a daily basis? I was reminded again the other day by a newspaper story. A single mother was enduring the pain of seeing both her son and her daughter convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murder. In the case of her daughter, it was a purse-snatching incident that went wrong and an elderly woman was knocked down and hit her head and died. The mother testified how much she loved her children, but she said that she could not deny the fact of their guilt and she knew they had to pay the consequences.

I often read the very opposite—that of parents or other close relatives giving false alibis to protect their loved ones when they know they’re guilty.

I was a single mom for many years and had many sleepless nights in the process of raising an adolescent son. I remember talking to him one night after we had watched a TV documentary together. The parents featured on the program had lied to protect their son who was in trouble with the law. I told my son I would never do that. I told him that integrity rated higher than love and loyalty. I meant it, but would I back down in the end and allow loyalty to prevail? My own track record has not always been consistent. Honesty has on occasion taken a back seat to loyalty.

What does a wife do when she learns her husband has twice molested a foster child before the child was reassigned to another family? Does she report him to authorities and seek justice—justice that may lead to a long prison sentence? I know of just such a case. A minister (with a degree in counseling) later told the wife she had done the right thing to remain silent because her first priority was to her husband—her loyalty to him. Was the counselor right?

In recent months and years I have witnessed time and again the situation of colleagues and acquaintances putting loyalty above integrity as My Calvin Seminary Story unfolded. Without regard for the facts of the case, many people automatically sided with the seminary—people who would claim that integrity is of the highest priority.

But isn’t loyalty also a quality of good character? When a company CEO cites loyalty to his workers in his decision to keep manufacturing in Michigan, we praise him. When the President is described as loyal to his staff, that’s seen as a good character trait. When big sister defends little brother on the school playground, we extol her.

I suspect that any debate over integrity vs. loyalty would be a slam-dunk for integrity. The problem is that most of us aren’t even aware that in everyday life, loyalty often wins out.

What does the Bible say on this? Is there anyone out there who can offer some biblical principles that would guide us? Are there any biblical examples of these two character traits clashing?

From a very practical standpoint, how can we make people sensitive to this matter in their own lives and challenge them to be prepared to make God-honoring decisions when loyalty and integrity butt heads?

    8 replies to "Loyalty vs. Integrity"

    • Chad Winters

      I would think that the times when Jesus said we should leave our father and mother to follow him and that anyone who does not hate his wife, son, father, mother in comparison to love for him is not a believer would mean that integrity would beat loyalty to family.

      Luke 14:26 (New International Version)
      New International Version (NIV)
      Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

      26″If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.

      I’m not sure it really applies, but it came to mind

      • interoyal

        i believe the best way to distinguish how to be loyal or show integrity is to show those qualities to the only person who is able to demonstrate those qualities perfectly to us. Be loyal to God…. then you are loyal to all who’s in his grace…. show integrity to his values then you show integrity to all who are in his grace…. ALL of us can be in his grace if we keep ourselves there

    • tiz

      What a great question! I think its a deep one, a toughie.

      It seems to make sense to say that you ought to maintain loyalty as long as it doesn’t compromise your integrity. But wouldn’t the exception to that be loyalty to God over integrity? Why the exception? Because integrity itself is an adherence to a moral law, but what law is that? It’s God’s moral law; by having integrity you are really trying to adhere to God’s moral law. So, is loyalty, when directed at God, the same as integrity? Well, maybe, though that kind of feels like reducing a relationship with the living God to the reading of a code book.

      So, what about Abraham? Didn’t he demonstrate loyalty to God over integrity by obeying God’s command to kill his son (even though he was stopped)? Should Abraham have trusted his own understanding of morality and integrity and told God, “No way, pyscho, I’m not killing an innocent!”? Certainly Abraham’s loyalty to God overrode his loyalty to his son, but didn’t it also override his integrity?

      So, it would seem loyalty to God should trump all other loyalties, plus our possibly imperfect integrity since God is the true source of perfect integrity. We should trust that God knows His moral law better that we do. But would that really fly? Wouldn’t an Abraham situation get you 100 years in the electric chair? Should another person believe you when you say that God told you, so therefore it’s the right thing? Would you believe your own ears if you heard God tell you to kill your own son? I suppose you’d have to first trust that you can hear God, and then trust that if God told you to do something you identify as compromising your integrity He’d stop you if it was really wrong.

      Anyway, I suppose this could continue to spiral down a path of questions, but it’s interesting to think about! Loyalty or integrity? 🙂

      Great post, Ruth!

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    • Luis

      Integrity and Loyalty did clash in the example of king David and Uriah the Hittite.

      King David’s adulterous sin with the wife of Uriah is well-known. He not only committed adultery with her but also launched an elaborate cover-up when she became pregnant. The king gave Uriah a leave of absence from the war, expecting him to go to his house and have intercourse with his wife. But, out of respect for his fellow soldiers at the battlefront, Uriah declined. David then invited him to eat and got him drunk, but Uriah still did not go in to his wife. David then sent a message to his general to put Uriah in the thick of the fighting in order to get Uriah killed, which is what happened.—2 Samuel 11:2-25.

      This man’s integrity did not allow him to go and be with his wife, even though his loyalty to the King should have moved him to do so.

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    • Lee Mowat

      There is a story which is used to describe the Gospel of Christ in a supposed simpler sense, however though I will briefly write it, my intention is to lay forth an opinion from it that answers your question.
      In a land far away there was a King.
      The King was unlike most Kings, for this King loved justice.
      One day the son of this King was brought before him in chains, the son had stole a great sum of money.
      Now although the King was a judge-he was also a loving Father, yet the King ordered the Son to pay back the amount the son had stolen, plus as punishment 6 times more the amount.
      The King knew his son could not pay such a sum, and the King continued to say if the son did not pay the amount within 7 days, that the son would be imprisoned for life.

      Justice having been delt, the King removed his crown and robe, and as a loving Father went and payed the price for his son.
      Obviously the son had the choice wether to accept the payment or not.

      What I would like to point out from this story is that the King did not compromise Justice or love.
      He fullfilled both.
      The King though being a Father at some point could not be a Father, and at the same time though being a Father- didn’t compromise being Just.
      There is a time for everything and for everything there is a time.
      If we are “just” then we must be “just” 100%
      If we are loving parents then we must be 100%
      If we are loyal to God then we will be loyal to the children he has given us.
      If we are loyal to God we must put our loyality to him above them to teach them loyality to God.
      Time is the key here, sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to be merciful or kind or loving, you may be called in a moment to be a just judge or a restrainer.

    • Melaleuca

      Thank you very much for this post. This is a question I have been thinking alot about the past 2 years.

      When I was much shorter, before a career, before college, before the army, I remember having a friend whose mother would lie for him without hesitation. For example, once we were skipping school together without (of course) telling parents. The school called both of our mothers. My friend escaped any consequences because his mother said that my friend was sick that day and that she just forgot to call in. My mother on the other hand said the truth – that this was a surprise to her. I got in trouble and my friend didn’t.

      At the time, I was angry with my mother for not “being on my side” as my friend’s mother appeared to be. I now know that my mother’s approach was the right way to go in this case. I’ve lost touch with that friend since then, but I do know that he had a much bigger challenge telling the truth than I ever did and it caused him legal troubles later in life.

      When we say “loyalty” it often implies loyalty to something or someone else. but what about loyalty to the truth? What about loyalty to yourself? Isn’t integrity just a different kind of loyalty? And if under absolutely no circumstances would ever be willing to lie for your spouse (to a point) for any reason, then I suspect the marriage won’t last long term. Whether someone abuses the loyalty of another is another issue worth discussing .

      You see, this is why I’m still interested in this topic: because while we can believe that integrity trumps all, I doubt there are many people who would not feel touched to have someone who is blindly loyal to us-wrong or right, for better or for worse, they are in our corner, and they would choose to say nothing before saying something that caused us trouble. Who among us would attack someone who is that loyal to us? Who among us at their funeral, wouldn’t be praising them with gratitude for this trait of theirs?

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