This is a word that instantly generates feelings of annoyance and disdain. We all knew those girls in high school, that group in college, maybe even some people at your church right now. Few things feel worse than being excluded from those tightly-knit groups who so ably highlight our inadequacies. And that is why we hate them.
I still remember sitting in my Middle School cafeteria the day my best friend moved on to a better group. Even though we’d been inseparable for years, I’d seen the move coming for weeks. She’d been spending more and more time with those “other girls,” and then came the day when she sat down at their table for lunch. I asked her to come sit with me, and she gave me the “please don’t talk to me anymore” look. Brutal.
(Of course I can’t really blame her. She was blossoming into the most gorgeous girl in our school, while I simultaneously spiraled into the depths of what I call me “awkward phase.”)
Because of stories just like mine, we all detest cliques. We’ve all been excluded at one time or another, and many of us still bear the scars from those emotional blows.
But is there more to it than that? Aside from the way cliques make us feel, is there something inherent about their very nature that we should avoid? What does Scripture have to say about this rampant social practice? After all, we may have been hurt by a clique, but we’ve probably been in a clique as well. What might God think about this?
Well to find the answer, we can look at the very first clique in the Bible, and it’s found in Genesis 11. In this chapter, we see the people of Babel growing in number, as well as pride. They have deceived themselves into thinking they can attain equality with God, so they set out to build a tower that will reach to the heavens. God told them to be fruitful and multiply, but they instead hunker down and stick together. They have bigger fish to fry than simply multiplying. They have the rep of the group to protect.
And what is God’s response to this? It goes as follows: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (v. 6) So He confuses their language and scatters them all over the earth.
What exactly did God mean by that statement? Nothing will be impossible for them? Did He really mean that nothing at all would be impossible? That they could really become like God Himself if they merely stuck together? I don’t think so.
What God meant by those words was that no evil would be impossible for them. Already they were seeking to replace God, and they were only just beginning. Clearly, no act of disobedience was out of bounds, so what would be next??
This is the danger of the in-group mentality. It is a mentality in which the self-preservation of the group is put first and foremost ahead of every other concern. And when this happens, all other people, interests, or causes are subordinated to the well-being of the group. We have seen the in-group at its worst during the Holocaust and the practice of slavery. We even see it in Christian cliques when pastors and prophetic voices are driven out of their churches for reasons having nothing to do with Christ.
In-groups mentalities are therefore extremely destructive because they use peer pressure to get the whole group to act, at which point their collective actions become all the more powerful. If you don’t go along with the group, you risk being shunned, thereby making it very difficult to change them.
So the larger these in-groups get, the more dangerous they become, which is why God scattered them. As the group gets larger it gains momentum, growing faster and faster. And as this growth transpires, it gains increasing man-power to promote its cause.
God knew all of those things, and foresaw the potential destructiveness of this in-group mentality, which is why He responded so definitively. If left unchecked, there was no end to the evil they could accomplish.
That said, beware of cliques–and by that I don’t mean avoid people who are in them. Rather, don’t be in one yourself. When we are in a clique, we fall prey to the in-group peer pressure, and subsequently hurt others. What’s worse is that these cliques often prevent us from even caring if we trample those around us. We find ways to rationalize why we are so exclusive–”I do hang out with other people…sometimes;” “We tried hanging out with her but she’s just so hard to talk to;” “She’s just at a different stage in life than the rest of us, so she should find someone her own age to hang out with.” All of these are justifications for exclusion, exclusion that wounds and destroys.
How do you know if you’re in a clique? Some of the tell-tale signs include the way you spend your time–do you make an effort to hang out with anyone else, or do you only hang out with one specific group of friends who also happen to be exactly like you? Also, what do other people think about the group? Odds are if you’re in a clique, then people have mentioned it to you before. Listen to them. And finally, has anyone been hurt because of the group dynamic? And by that I mean has anyone felt intentionally excluded. Although friendships are never perfect, which means people will inevitably get hurt from time to time, the group’s willingness or unwillingness to make amends and include them in the future reveals a lot.
If you find yourself in a group that fits any of those qualifications, then you need to do one of two things–talk to the group and make an effort to change, or start making new friends. Cliques can be spiritually toxic, so if your friends are resistant to change then you need to switch social circles.
Instead, resolve to be outwardly focused. God called us to be fruitful and multiply, and this command applies to more than mere procreation. We need to multiply spiritually, we need to be adding to our number daily those who are being saved, as well as making our Christian friendships more fruitful. Reach out to the people in your church, dorm or workplace who need a friend, and reach out to those in the community that the socio-economic in-group has marginalized. This practice will generally take us out of our comfort zones, but if the people of Babel teach us nothing else, it is that we can either take ourselves out of the clique, or God will do it for us.