By Tony Hunter … Loyalty is evil.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh and exaggerated. Anyone who thinks about that statement for 2.7 seconds will be able to cite at least one example of loyalty that isn’t evil. So, let me try again.

Loyalty without honesty is a recipe for abuse to happen unchecked. In that context, loyalty can allow evil to thrive because there is an absence of integrity. Is that still too strong a statement? Maybe you haven’t experienced that reality. But if you want the proof for it, just ask anyone who was abused by a parent, or a teacher, or an employer, or a pastor, or [insert abusive person or group here].

Ask the wife who was regularly beaten and raped by her husband, but never told anyone because she was taught to uphold the sanctity of marital loyalty above all things until death do they part. She was forced by upbringing, culture, and religion that doing the right thing was to be loyal to her husband. This meant never sharing what was happening and keeping private things private, not sullying her husband’s reputation and the bounds of their marriage. It meant she needed to do what was right and be strong for the sake of the perception of the relationship and the greater good.

What greater good would that be? The perception that good Christians don’t leave each other because in Christ all wounds are healed and all relationships restored. That good was to preserve the sanctity of Christian rule. Don’t get divorced. Don’t betray your spouse. Except—except in order to do that, both spouses had to do one important thing.


In order to uphold what the church needed, in order to maintain loyalty to the marriage and to church rule, they had to be completely dishonest.

Some of you may not believe me. You may think that I am distorting the facts to fit a point. But I assure you, I’m not. I’ve been in ministry almost my entire adult life. I’ve pastored churches that had members with horrifying views on marriage and abuse. Abuse was wrong, they said, but to be disloyal to the marriage by allowing the abused party to leave would be worse because it would taint the institution designed by God, and break the promise made to God. Of course, they ignored the fact that the abuse did that the very first time it took place. Who could say, they argued, how the husband might change if she stayed and continued to show love and patience? Eventually God would reward her with dedication and loyalty. God would prevail.

I can’t begin to tell you all the things wrong with that logic. We have all lived long enough to know that God doesn’t stop every evil just because we are dedicated and loyal to something. That’s just one of the problems. But this isn’t the point.

You may be thinking that just because some church members thought that way doesn’t mean they were taught that by the church and its leaders. I used to believe that as well. They would tell me that some pastor, when they were young, told them it was the greater sin to dissolve the marriage because of abuse than it was to allow abuse to continue. Why? Because abuse was never spoken of in the Bible in relationship to divorce, but that divorce was spoken of as bad. It’s an insane argument, the details of which are for a different article. I never believed it.

Until I met one. Then two. And more. All of whom were convinced it was better to hide these things for the sake of the marriage so that they would not sin with divorce. That’s almost a direct quote.

But let’s pull this back into context because this article isn’t about divorce and marriage. It’s not even about abuse specifically. It’s about something more foundational.

It’s about who we are as children of a Divine and Holy God of Love and Truth. The God who said, “Thou shalt not lie.” The God who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The God who said in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV).

What is it to be like Jesus? Did Jesus act dishonestly just so He could be in line with any given group? What does it even mean to be honest as a child of God? Be honest with each other? To be honest with ourselves about who we are and what we believe as an individual? And how that relates to us within a group? Does honesty and the goal of a Christ inspired character allow us to live and support a belief we don’t actually believe or agree with?

But what if the organization we believe in teaches a thing we aren’t convinced is correct? What do we do? Do we assume them infallible and just agree? If we do that, we make two mistakes. First, we assume the organization is infallible. Second, we hand over our free will and intention and remove it from our journey. We then start to rely on someone else to make our spiritual and religious decisions for us. We become puppets for some other human’s ideals.

We either become victims or victimizers in their name.

A number of years back I worked in a conference where a black female colleague was being regularly abused by a conference official. The abuse was racial and gender based, but not physical. It was verbal abuse levied with the power of his authority to end her career. Every week he would summon her and make her stand in his office and repeat phrases and sayings that he wanted her to say and believe. And when she didn’t say it right, he would tell her to “say it in that black girl voice” while making sassy gestures.

I found out about it when I stopped by her office after my weekly meetings and she was weeping behind her desk. She talked and I listened. I held her hand and we prayed together. But here is the point that relates to our topic. She refused to tell anyone. I begged her to. But she wouldn’t. I asked her why and she said this: “If I report what is going on, it will get out, and I don’t want my selfish need to ruin the reputation of the Adventist church.” I was stunned because she is insanely intelligent, and yet there were so many things wrong with that sentence. I asked her what her husband had said about it when she told him. She hadn’t told her husband because she knew he would act. Eventually, she did tell. And to be clear, I reported it immediately to the Union. Also, to be clear, they did nothing, and for largely the same reasons as she stated. “Tony, we really can’t do anything, but these things will work out in the end when one day God brings justice to us all.” I had never been so ashamed to represent Adventism as I was in that moment.

I tell you that story so I can make two points.

Point one. We do not exist to serve Adventism as an organization. It exists to serve us and the community around us. The church is not the point. It is a vehicle to greater community. A resource we use, not one that uses us. When we forget that, we lose all power and agency in our spiritual journey and work.

Point two. Truth isn’t about information and facts. These things change as we grow and learn. Truth is always about character. It’s about being honest with ourselves and about who we are, whose children we are and what that means.

Loyalty isn’t about people or groups. They will lie, cheat, and steal, or worse. Be loyal to something greater. Be loyal to honesty and integrity. Be loyal to love. Loyalty to these ideals is to be loyal to the ingredients of righteous character as exemplified by Christ.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is an organization that provides resources for people to more effectively do the work of mercy, justice, and love, but it is humanity we serve in Christ’s name and His character we represent. To flip flop that dynamic is to live a disloyal lie, and no one wants to live a lie.

So, my advice? Don’t.

–Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Email him at [email protected]