I think this is an especially relative question… should devout Christians belong to a group, in an exclusive nature, and decline interaction with “lesser” or non-believers? This question is raised constantly in Christian circles, especially among teens and young adults, and on college campuses. Should we ignore those who could lead us to sin or who aren’t as holy as we… or should we invite all manner of sinners into our midst in an attempt for conversion? What’s more Charitable? Most would say that exclusiveness is not loving, and that would should welcome every type of person into our groups to best love them. Let’s examine the question further.
For the purpose of this post, the definition of clique will be, an exclusive group of people with shared interests who spend time together.
Now let me say this first, group-forming and cliques are part of the psyche from the human condition. Because we have an innate need to belong, we naturally form groups to fulfill that need, and thus we form “out-groups” to distinguish what we “are not”. However, just because we have a disposition to something does not mean its automatically alright.
Now for the issue at hand–as Christians, can we form exclusive groups and still be charitable? Well first, lets look at what Charity is.
Another word for Charity is love, we know that God is love, and that Jesus told us to not only love God with all our being, but also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Aquinas states that love is “benevolence“, or willing the good of the other person. Basically this means that to love another person we must want them to be with God, to love ourselves we must wish to get to heaven, and to love God we must want to do his will.
Now we know we must love God with all our being, so it is him that we should love first and foremost. We then must love ourselves, and then others, for we cannot give what we do not have, and so to be charitable to others we must abide in charity to ourselves. This, above all, means avoiding sin, for it is in sin that we are separated from God and reject His Charity. In avoiding sin, we must also be careful not to allow others to lead us to sin, but also must not condone or support the sinful lives of others. If we are to love our neighbor, we must be his keeper.
Further, each person as a varying degree of strength in God, some are strong and others are week, and each person has particular areas of sin that we fall into habitually. If we are expected to help others we must be strong and not fall into sin ourselves, and thus if a person is going to lead you to sin, how can you help them? Yes, Jesus ate with sinners, but in his perfection he need not worry about falling into the sinful acts of those he fell around, nor did he partake in sinful acts as a means for their conversion.
So here it is… it is from this knowledge that I conclude that certain Christian Cliques are not actually (inherently) contrary to Christian Charity, but rather may help to guard it. Sadly there are some people who, for our own well being, we just shouldn’t associate with. If someone will lead you to sin, away from God and His charity, you will no be able love them fully while living in that sin, and so to preserve the love for yourself and the love of God, you can “love them from a distance” ie, pray for their conversion and happiness. But the will of God and your purity must come first.
Now, some people are strong in faith or have a particular resistance to certain vices. If this is the case than you should prudently discern if you are called to evangelize to a group or person in that they may be converted. You should only do this if you are strong enough to resist this sin.
Finally, Cliques can be misused. When used as a means of judgment or self-edification they not only hinder charity on all three accounts, but damage the charity of others as they grow contempt for the Church. If an individual is in need of guidance and fellowship, and your “clique” is solid enough to encourage them in that way without falling itself, the charitable thing to do is to invite them into your group.
Consider the groups you are part of, why you are part of them, and if they are exclusive to the detriment or support of Christian Charity.