Most of us who mix in Christian circles could, if pressed, named a Christian clique (if you can’t you’re in one!). In fact there’s a whole stereotype built up around them, the Holy Huddle, the Gospel Grouping, the Kingdom Kollective…ok, I jest, but there is more than a large element of truth in what I say. Christians seem to have a gift for being ‘cliquey’.
Before I begin I should add that I’m not saying it’s wrong to have a group of close friends. But it is wrong for them to be your only friends. This will hopefully make more sense as I go on.
And I’m not just speaking about a Christian/non Christian divide. No, Christian cliques will often exclude other Christians as well which is particularly damning – we are, after all, brothers and sisters in Christ, citizens of heaven, co-heirs in Christ, members of God’s household, one in Christ.
The Bible Bit
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
James 2 v 1 - 4
James talks about the sin of showing favouritism. He uses the example of rich and poor. I think it’s fair to say that Christian cliques are not in modern times based on this. Instead they show a different kind of social favouritism that can be hard to define as it rather nebulous.
Cliques can form around year groups, church groups, ‘cool’ groups, sports groups, theological groups and even just friend groups. Every clique shares the common feature of being exclusive – some people are part of it; some are not. In other words every clique breaks the clear Biblical teaching not to show favouritism.
Let’s get this out: at the heart of every clique is selfishness. Cliques are self centred, they do not care about those outside them, they do not think about others outside them. It is not that cliques ‘deliberately’ seek to be exclusive it is that they do not seek to be otherwise.
Why are Christians so good at cliques?
On a basic level it doesn’t and shouldn’t make sense. We have the example of Jesus who talked to all people in love and never turned anyone away. We have the command of the Bible to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – to love everyone, unconditionally. We know that fellow Christians are our family. How then, by any stretch of the imagination, do we think that being in a clique is fine?
I think the main reason is that we do not think. Because of our inherent selfishness we rarely pause to consider anyone outside of our immediate friend group. The next reason is the ‘someone else’s problem’ mindset. We see a person sitting on their own and decide that someone should speak to them, just not us, because, well, just because! Then there’s a kind of institutional laziness where as a clique we just can’t be bothered to be outward looking and non clique centred. And finally if we’re in a clique then it is rare for anyone to challenge us because the only people we talk with are in the exact same boat as us.
Cliques can often be a friend group’s default setting. We like the security they offer, the consistence and by sheer apathy we allow ourselves to fall into inward, clique centred, selfish thinking.
Cliques are wrong
These are pathetic excuses when viewed under the light of God’s word.
“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
James 2 v 8 – 9
James packs the punches here: favouritism is a sin. Cliques then are sinful. Too often I’ve heard of people being put off churches and CUs because of unfriendliness, because of self centeredness, because of cliques. We’re to love everyone. Everyone. No, not just your immediate friends, for as Jesus says even the ‘tax collectors’ do that. For a modern version of tax collectors think Islamic terrorists.
Are you in a clique?
As I write this I find myself asking this question: Am I in a clique? I hope not. Maybe I am, maybe I’m shutting myself up to non-Christian friendships, maybe there are other Christians I should be speaking to, maybe there are people out there who I could argue theology with and as of yet haven’t. These are dark thoughts.
So, how can you tell if you’re in a clique? Well, you can count the number of new friends you’ve made in the last few weeks. If you can’t then…Or you could honestly ask yourself if you’re open to new friendships, meeting new people, maybe people you might not normally consider friend material…Search your heart, examine your friendships, don’t just let this slide. I hope that you’ll pray about it, ask God to show you if you’ve in a clique and then be prepared for a hard answer.
On a cynical note if you find yourself suffering from an irrational objection to what I’ve discussed, a guilty feeling, a strong adverse reaction or if you’re going into denial then you’re in one.
It might not be a question you can answer easily. I know that I’m still pondering it over. Deciding the balance between having close friends I regularly speak to (which is highly recommended) and having an exclusive friend group I rarely break out of.
How can we break the clique?
Let’s say you think about it, you pray about it and you realise that you are, without previously being aware of it, in a clique. What can you do? If this happens to me what can I do?
Well, as with all things, the first and most important action we take is to pray. We need to ask God to shake us out of our selfishness, our self centeredness and to raise up new friends for us. We need to ask for a heart overflowing with love to everyone, an inclusive rather than exclusive attitude.
And we need to make a sustained effort to think of others before ourselves. This is hard; it will be impossible without prayer and the grace of God. We need to stop focusing on ourselves and look beyond. We need to stop viewing it as someone else’s problem and see it as our fault, our sin that we need to put to death. We need to take seriously the command to love one another, love everyone, love our enemies, love, love, love.
Cliques thrive on apathy and lack of action. They spring up so easily unless we take great care. To think that we’re free of cliquey tendencies is to lie to ourselves. We need to work against the temptation, we need to pray about it constantly and above all we need to follow the commands of the Bible to love everyone and not to show favouritism.
What is embarrassing is that I know non Christians who are less cliquey than Christians. As a community we need to think and pray long and hard about this searching our lives and reaching out to others.
I think it’s time to break this stereotype, it’s gone on too long and has been far too damaging. It’s time to awaken from our selfishness, take a long hard look at ourselves and earnestly seek to love all without favouritism. It is time, in other words, to live up to the example our Saviour Jesus Christ set for us. It is time to seek God and ask for the grace to be given us to break stereotype and become true examples of the love that Christ has shown us.