To clique or not to clique? (@UnShaunSheep)

That is the question… 

I have always suffered from a general fear of cliques in churches. I know I’m not alone – that sense that there are whispering groups who control stuff, who know more than me and don’t want me to be privy to their secrets… groups who seem exclusive, confident and oblivious to people outside the group. It’s a common problem and one which St Paul found it necessary to warn the church in Corinth about in 1 Corinthians 4 (see especially verse 6) – where some had started to build cliques around particular personalities, Paul among them. The problem Paul identifies is that, in a community of believers, a clique focused on charismatic, gifted leaders or preachers should get a grip of itself and focus instead on Christ. This isn’t the only cause of cliques though, and so long as cliques look outward too, they are not always negative things. Of which more below…

Keeping ourselves in check online

How we 'police' each others' Tweets reflects on us as the people of God

How we ‘police’ each others’ Tweets reflects on us as the people of God

However, I’ve been thinking about how we keep ourselves in check in online expressions of our faith. How do we check that we’re doing the right thing, sending on only truthful links and information, and preaching faithfully? Sometimes this is forced upon us when someone unceremoniously calls us out when we get it wrong. Having thought about what I often see on Twitter, I am starting to believe that a better model can be found by good, public discussions among what are, to be honest, Christian cliques. I’ve made up the term positive clique-moderation. It works to some extent in the realm of comments on blogs as well, but the place where it becomes really effective is social media where conversations are more overtly public.

Positive clique-moderation

Now, this might not sound like a good idea at first glance. The word ‘clique’ generally has negative overtones. However, the Wikipedia entry (don’t do this for your GCSE homework, kids!) has this definition:

In the social sciences, a clique (CanEUK /ˈkliːk/ or US /ˈklɪk/) is a group of “persons who interact with each other more regularly and intensely than others in the same setting.”

Which brings me to what I see happening as good practice on Twitter among some Christians. These are groups who don’t argue, so much as engage and correct or challenge each other by suggesting things that may have been wrong, been missed, or could be improved by clarification.  This can come in the form of a link to a piece with a different slant, a link to a primary source of data which gainsays the information given in an article,  or a challenge on the lines of “are you sure that’s really the case?”.  It’s done not to prove one Tweeter is cleverer than the other, but rather as an addition or challenge to the issue, opinion or theological point presented in a constructive and encouraging way.

Now, anyone who’s spent any time on Twitter will have seen less positive examples of correction – terse arguments conducted in 140 characters aren’t generally very edifying.  However, over time I’ve become increasingly aware of the other model, in which a smallish group seem to end up interacting more regularly and intensely than others in the setting of Twitter, and often approaching an issue from very different directions.  The beauty of Twitter though is that this is not a closed clique – it is quite fluid in terms of participation and, since it is a discussion conducted in public, it takes the form of moving an issue on, clarifying and giving the opportunity of engaging more deeply with it to all who are following the unfolding discussion. I think that, at its best, this model is rather good and follows another of St Paul’s bits of advice to the early church, in this case in 2 Timothy 4 in which he tells Timothy to ‘correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.’ At their best, this is what clique-moderated posting can achieve.

And, if we’re aware of this form of moderation as part of the social media environment, perhaps it will help prompt us to check the facts behind a link before we share it, or take that little bit extra care about how we express ourselves – not as a form of censorship, but as a prompt to weigh the truthfulness of

Some suggestions for thinking / comments:

  • is this model of positive clique-moderation really as positive as I make it sound, or just the same old exclusive cliques I said I had a general fear of in churches back at the top of this post?
  • do you respond to Tweets in a way which is consistent with this kind of positive clique-moderation?
  • can anyone think of a better term than positive clique-moderation for this phenomenon?

Image Credit: Nick Morgan: image purchased/edited

About Nick Morgan

Nick Morgan, Church of England ordinand based at a welcoming, bijou-sized northern Cathedral. Writer and composer. Tweets as @Unshaunsheep