#ThanksForTyping and our church work culture

March 30th, 2017

Over the weekend, a hashtag started popping up in my social media feeds: #ThanksForTyping. It had started with a few tweets by Bruce Holsinger, a literary scholar at the University of Virginia, noting that the acknowledgments in older academic work often included the author’s wife for her work in typing the manuscript. In some acknowledgments, the unnamed wife did much more — transcriptions, edits, even Chinese calligraphy — in addition to caring for children and pursuing her own profession. 

In one capacity, #ThanksForTyping illustrates the collective knowledge that goes into producing a book, study, or journal article. It takes a village of colleagues, mentors, editors, assistants, etc. contributing to the work whose names might not appear on the byline. At the same time, it is noteworthy that those people are usually named in these acknowledgements, while the typist is simply referred to as “my wife.”

From another angle, #ThanksForTyping shows the erasure of women’s contributions towards scholarship. Some of these anonymous wives’ labor would probably be enough in this day and age to earn them a co-author title, and it is evident that they were highly educated along with their husbands. Throughout history, women’s accomplishments have been under-credited, made anonymous, or even stolen by men. The hit movie Hidden Figures exposes some of this dynamic, further complicated by racism.

Where the church finds parallels with academia, in my view, is that much of the unspoken expectations of both clergy and professors rely on someone else at home providing most of the unpaid labor. Of course a professor can prolifically produce article after article if his wife is studiously typing up his research. Of course a pastor can attend the Men’s Breakfast and stay at church late for a meeting if his wife is taking care of the children and getting them to and from school.

Obviously, part of being in a marriage is supporting one another’s vocations. I, too, have helped edit and re-write some of my husband’s work, just as he has let me bounce sermon illustrations or tricky interpersonal problems off of him. But more often than not, he is answering work e-mails while I cook dinner for the two of us.

These systemic issues are more obvious for friends of mine who are single or have a spouse who is also clergy, not to mention the difficulties of call and deployment for clergy whose spouse cannot easily move. Unfortunately, the church (for the most part) has not yet adjusted to the reality of dual-vocation households, no matter the gender make-up, and still functions ideally on a clergy spouse’s unpaid labor.

Instead of illustrating a better way, the church ends up perpetuating capitalist values of worth being tied to productivity. Clergy are urged to work more and harder, as if we can stave off the slow decline of institutional Christianity by ourselves. Rather than safeguarding time for our families and spiritual lives, like our for-profit counterparts, we are urged to be available 24/7. Such demands leave little room for the grace of Christ or even a healthy family life. It is no wonder that every few years, articles pop up about how stressed out and unhealthy clergy are.

With fewer clergy spouses able to undertake the majority of the unpaid labor that keeps a household running due to the financial need for two incomes or their own professional callings, the church must change the underlying expectations for its clergy. Ideally, clergy could model a better way for a culture caught in a rat race — a life marked by prayer and worship, meaningful time with family and friends, and the joyful parts of pastoring a church. If we truly believe that our value comes from being made in the image of the divine and that we are saved by grace and not by our own work, then why do so many clergy work ourselves to death or find our worth in the attendance or budget of our congregations? The church might not be dying, but if the cultural norms around work keep infiltrating the church, its clergy surely will.

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