Image result for church cliqueDoes your ward have cliques?

Just this weekend, a friend I grew up with announced on FB that he will never go back to his current ward because of how his wife was treated during a recent fundraiser. Another friend chimed in that this was the very reason she had ceased to go to church. I also found that a commenter had piped in on a post I did on cliques in 2010 back on Mormon Matters which prompted me to revisit this 7 year old post. She shared a very bad experience she had in her southeastern US ward:

The person new to a ward or having trouble fitting in is not the person that should be the only one responsible for trying harder. Suppose that person is clinging to the very last piece of strength and faith when they enter the ward, only to be rebuffed by their sisters? I am. I’m a widow without family (here) to attend church with me. I’ve sat down in Relief Society next to someone I know and received a “look” so I moved so their clique member could sit in “their” seat. Cliques hurt, exclude and don’t belong in church. I was asked to provide center pieces for a RS dinner. I was so happy to be asked! I communicated regularly with the RS activities sister, letting her know that all was planned and prepared. Two days before the event, she called and told me that one of her clique-sisters had picked up some plants for the tables. Did I mind if they used them? I told her that I did, that my centerpieces were classic and beautiful. I’d spent a lot of time and effort designing them, not to mention all the time shopping for supplies after work. She said the decision was made and hoped I hadn’t been “put out” by this unplanned change. I told her that I was “put out” and had already made beautiful centerpieces – glass cup planters with ribbons contained violets, with glass saucers, set on decorative paper mats and surrounded by decorative accents pieces and candies. I prayed hard about this deliberate exclusion and went to the dinner, head held high. It’s the last ward RS function I’ve attended. The cliques are still there today and they still exclude many, except for a “project” newcomer every once in a while. I am not the problem. I don’t need to try harder, make myself available, choose not to be offended or anything else.

Image result for church cliqueAnother commenter pointed out the problem when wards label the person who left as having been offended, a way to blame them for their reaction to the treatment doled out rather than focusing on how we can be more inclusive and welcoming.

And let’s not forget how the word “offended” gets thrown around. If you are accused of having been “offended” by someone or something in the Church, you are immediately classified as the one in the wrong. By saying someone is offended in our Church, you are (IMO) labeling them as weak, not valiant, not strong in the faith. The comment goes directly to your character and your testimony. While I agree that finding offense is or can be corruptive to your state of mind, do you think those who do the offending get off scott free? Is it OK then to be mean and nasty and exclusionary? No, I think not.

Cliques tend to form within the boundaries of a larger group among individuals most likely to interact based on common interests.  While cliques can occur within any group, the term is pejorative. And yet, to some, “inclusion” is considered pejorative. One Christian site decried the “gospel of inclusion” as a heresy designed to soften the gospel to allow sinners into the ranks of church members. Last I checked, we were all sinners. Well, except Dana Carvey’s Church Lady.

Image result for church cliqueIn my post 7 years ago, I shared the theory behind a psychometric test called the FIRO-B that attempts to gauge one’s interest in being included.  It covers the following personal characteristics:

  • Inclusion.  Those with high inclusion scores want to belong. Those who want to belong feel anxious about being excluded while those who don’t want to belong may be unaware that they don’t belong.
    • High Inclusion:  Am I missing out on something that everyone else is doing?  Am I in the “in” crowd?
    • Low Inclusion:  Maybe if I unplug the phone and don’t answer the door, they will go away!
  • Control.  Control relates to one’s desire to direct the activities of others.  Ask yourself:  How much say do I want to have in what the group is doing?
  • Affection.  This relates to one’s desire for warmth in relationships.  Which do you value more: warmth and intimacy or independence and privacy?
    • High Affection:  I just love people.  I’m a hugger.
    • Low Affection:  Boundaries, people!

The FIRO-B instrument measures two other aspects as well:

  • Expressed behavior.  This relates to one’s own actions in relation to the social group.  Ask yourself:  How much do I take initiative to meet my needs for affection, control, and inclusion?
  • Wanted behavior.  This relates to how you would like others to act in relation to your needs.  Ask yourself:  How much do you want others to initiate actions to meet your needs for affection, control and inclusion?
    • High Wanted Behavior:  If I have to ask you for what I need, then that’s not much of a relationship.  You should know what I  need.
    • Low Wanted Behavior:  When it comes to being included, I could take it or leave it.

Image result for you can't sit with us mean girls memePersonally, I’m pretty low on the inclusion, control and affection scales, and I’d rather initiate contact (or be ignored). I recognize, though, that I’m an outlier. Most people want to be involved. And even I, at some point, am capable of feeling snubbed and marginalized.

So, cliques happen.  That much is a natural byproduct of social groups.  But we want to make church a welcoming place for all, even though it’s not something we seem to be doing very well on the whole. What cliquish behavior occurs in church?

  • Extending callings based on personal friendship.  Or conversely, those called to serve together closely may form a clique that outlasts callings.
  • “Lunch Bunch” or book club groups in Relief Society.
  • Families with same age kids tend to group together. Stay-at-home moms may bond over play groups.
    • Working women may feel excluded when activities are geared toward daytimes when they are unavailable.
    • Single fathers are often excluded from play groups.
    • Singles in general may feel like an afterthought.
  • Priesthood grouping by age can foster cliques.
  • Less active members or converts may find it difficult to break into established groups of people.
  • Ward members whose homes are less fancy may feel embarrassed to host parties or groups the more economically diverse the ward is.

Image result for you can't sit with us mean girls memeThe church also has some clique-busters built in:

  • Rotating visiting & home teaching assignments.
  • Callings that rotate and mix groups of different interests, age groups, and socio-economic status into presidencies and quorums.
  • A spirit of inclusion; activities are to be open access to all ward members and at no cost to participants.
  • Fellowshipping for converts and ward missionary programs.
  • Focus on service activities for all which keeps us on the same “team,” helping our communities.

What do you think?

  • Is your ward cliquish?
  • What types of cliques have you observed?
  • How do you get past cliques?
  • Does this model (FIRO-B) help explain how people relate to groups? Where do you fall on the various scales?


**This post is a re-hash of a post I did in 2010.