(I posted another version of this earlier today and decided I didn’t like the tone and specificity of it. This is a revised version.)
My sister coined the term ‘Latter-day Snitches’ after a ward member informed my mother that my sister had been seen canoodling with a boy. (I called them ‘concerned citizens,’ like when Boss Hogg made anonymous calls snitching out the Duke Boys to the state police.) Indeed, there were enough snitchy ward members around our SoCal suburb that I couldn’t be sure any misdeed would go unnoticed. (Which is why we started hitchhiking over the hill to anonymity.)
Later, when I was YM president, a small group of members would call me at home or stop me in the hall and tell me what they had seen (or what they thought they had seen) the boys doing around town, everything from Word of Wisdom violations, riding bikes on Sundays, wearing earrings, hanging out with tough-looking kids or girls who didn’t meet some standard of ‘modesty,’ and on and on. Again, it was only a few members, but in the beginning I was getting about a snitch a week. My response was to say that I would talk to the boy in question, but I would need to tell him how I knew what he was doing, and I would need to give the name of the informant. They didn’t take me up on the offer, and the informants faded away in a cloud of disgruntle.
Now, as a member of the bishopric, I’m aware that members occasionally want to let ward leaders know that they have seen another member doing something they don’t think is right. And when these reports are made to protect a direct victim of sin, I totally agree that they should be reported, to the police when applicable. But the few mormon snitches I’ve encountered seem more concerned about the purity of the church then they are with the salvation of the sinner.
I don’t think snitchiness is uniquely mormon by any stretch — any small group with specific rules of conduct will have a few people who want to report what they see a violations of the group’s standards. (Heck, I work with junior high students, the snitchiest snitchers of all.) I also want to stress that, in my experience, 1% of the people are doing 99% of the snitching.
Here’s my advice to the few potential snitchers that might be out there: if you see someone doing something that looks dodgy, give them the benefit of a doubt. Even if you’re sure, consider how you’d feel if someone saw you doing the worst thing you do. If you feel the person would benefit from discussing their behavior, and I think we can all agree that would be a rare occurrence, talk to them about it face-to-face. We all struggle with sin of one kind or another, and the idea that people are watching doesn’t really lighten our load.
Any ideas how we can discourage snitchiness in our own wards? How do leaders deal with it?