Should Iowa dentist have fired his female employee to protect his marriage?

English: Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines

English: Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In late December of 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court (seven men) upheld the ruling that dentist James Knight acted within his rights by firing Melissa Nelson, who had worked at his practice for ten years, because she is attractive.  Her firing was the idea of Knight’s wife who also works there.  There has been no extramarital affair.  There had only been texts, mostly to do with updates on their families schedules (Nelson is also married), and a couple of rude comments from Knight that were ignored by Nelson.  The firing came as a surprise to Nelson because she had no idea there were feelings of a sexual nature from her boss whom she viewed as a father figure.

The situation is complex.  It may be legal in Iowa to fire someone because of your own vices, but what about as a Christian?  The Knights went ahead with the firing at the suggestion of their senior pastor. Once again, in the eyes of the world, Christianity is represented by a few.

Taking drastic measures to protect their marriage is honorable.  But in the end it wasn’t James Knight who paid the price. It just doesn’t sound like a biblical approach to make other people pay for our struggle with sin. That’s Jesus’ job.  Yes, we aren’t to flirt with temptation (so to speak), but that doesn’t mean that we avoid the struggle of transformation while negatively affecting the lives of others.

All of the employees in the office are women.  Does a sea of red flags pop up in your mind too?  I can only imagine what they are thinking, “Oh, I’m safe because I’m not attractive,” or “I won’t bother buying that new outfit or getting my hair done. I might get fired because this Christian man can’t control himself.”

Here’s what I think it all comes down to: being a Christian is difficult, but we must work at it.  This issue came about only because Knight’s wife found out about the texts and made him fire Nelson.  If she hadn’t, Knight wouldn’t have dealt with.  And he’s not really dealing with it now.  Why couldn’t he stop texting Nelson or move their offices around or something?  If her attire was a problem he could have given the job of monitoring that to another woman in the office.

Besides, Knight’s wife works there too!  Can you begin to imagine that her presence and knowledge of the situation wouldn’t have been a deterrent to the hormonally challenged dentist?

This is a step in the wrong direction for their marriage and for Christianity’s image to the world.

However, this is a complex situation, and, as always, I’d love to hear your take on this.


5 thoughts on “Should Iowa dentist have fired his female employee to protect his marriage?

  1. Perhaps the question isn’t should he have fired her, but should he have hired her in the first place. Surely he knew his own struggles as well as his wife’s and they we likely both part of the interviewing/hiring process. Some might say it’s discrimination not to hire someone because of how they look, but let’s face it, when we are serving the Lord we must take every precaution necessary to avoid willingly placing ourselves in that situation. I know that might seem drastic and the world would think it wrong but I speak as someone who has been injured on both sides of this coin. I know how it feels to be excluded because of older women’s jealousy and insecurity. I also know how it feels to be jealous and insecure over my husband’s struggles. And, I was, after all, once a young dental hygienist in need of a job myself!

    Anyway, back to the question at hand…should he have fired her? No. He should have never hired her. Because he did hire d her and he knew there was tension, he shoul d have taken steops to make over his wife, made sure she felt loved and appreciated, made sure not to give any reason for her to doubt or suspect his infidelity, and made clear to the woman he hired that he was uninterested, unavaliable, and avoided extra contact at all costs. If she violated his requests, then perhaps he would have a case against her for insubordination. Sounds to me like he didn’t mind the extra attention much, though.

    Idk. I have often felt extremely avoided by both men and women in the church. I cannot help but think that being a young, attractive woman is almost the equivalent of having bubonic plague. Add deep knowlege of theology and you begin to wonder if someone is out in front of you yelling “unclean” before you enter. It really is that bad. The bottom line is that we have to learn how to put fear aside when we are called to love someone whom God has placed in our sphere, but we also must be very careful not to invite temptation into our sphere if God is not calling us to that particular person or if someone to whom we are much more responsible (AKA our spouse) is extremely uncomfortable with it. It’s difficult. But you’re right, our striving against sin shouldn’t harm others. It should only kill us daily while offering grace to those whom we are called to serve.

    • That was my first thought, Lori. From what I’ve read it seems that Nelson had been working there for 10 years. Knight’s obsession with her didn’t happen until recently. I don’t know if he had the inkling of an attraction to her a decade ago. And, it has become clear that Nelson doesn’t have the same attraction to him.

      I certainly see your point, though. Navigating our Christian experience is difficult when we’re thrown off course by our desires. Hmmm, that though might fit nicely into my book.

      Being killed daily by your striving . . . nice. Thanks, Lori.

  2. Thanks for the follow. You’ve got a great blog here.
    This story makes me sad. Women can’t help who they are–and men often blame everything on them and get to act in whatever way they want (She’s attractive, I’m going to fire her!!). However, if there were issues going on, I guess it’s better to cut the ties than linger on in it. I just feel sorry for the woman (who it seems didn’t encourage the attraction or anything, and is powerless in this circumstance b/c a male is attracted to her).
    I’m considered an attractive woman, but I don’t flaunt it or anything (I believe in modesty). However, I’ve seen men in the church just judge me simply because of who I am because I’m an attractive woman. It’s caused me to feel horrible about myself and who God made me. It’s only recently I have come to begin to heal in this area. God made me to be who I am, and I shouldn’t be ashamed. Men’s judgment and weirdness is more about their issues than mine (at least in my case, as I am trying to live a godly life). Still, I will live with the fact that men will judge me (and women will judge me) simply based on my appearance and oftentimes exclude me or condemn me b/c of their own sin and insecurities. Yet it’s more their issue than mine. I just need to follow God, as I try to do wholeheartedly.
    I know women can be immodest and help cause the issues. But let’s face it, women can be wearing bags covering their entire bodies, and men will still lust and blame it on all the women. Just look at Islam.

    • Ouch. You’re right on. Men will lust and women will envy. Even in the church. It’s tough to take a stand either way because, as you’ve noted, there are women in the church who don’t consider the effect that their appearance can have on the Christian men in their community. I’ve seen the whole don’t-cause-your-brother-to-stumble scene play out in a legitimate way. And, lust is a powerful thing and is one of Satan’s favorite tools. It’s a tricky topic. I’m sorry that you’ve gotten caught up in this. It sounds like you’ve got a great perspective on it now. I worry for my daughters who are approaching high school age. If you address this topic, I’ll have to read your blog for therapy if nothing else. My girls can read it too.

      Thanks for the comment and the follow, Teryn. I’ll be reading your blog often.

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