James Knight, a dentist in Ft. Dodge, IA (take a right and drive about 150 miles east of my house), has won a court case in the Iowa Supreme Court. That body is not known for it conservatism (they mandated gay marriage in Iowa by judicial fiat) and most were surprised not only at the outcome of the case, but the fact it was a 7-0 decision.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
Dr. Knight hired an assistant named Melissa Nelson – evidently an attractive young lady. The dentist found himself interested in more than the welfare of his patient’s teeth. He found himself “getting too personally attached to her” and “feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road.” (Read the Christianity Today article here.) There is no indication that she returned his interest nor that she did anything inappropriate in any way. He was attracted to her and feared what he might do. So, in consultation with his wife, he fired Ms. Nelson. Not surprisingly, she sued. Surprisingly, she lost.
On the one hand, Dr. Knight is to be commended. He saw a problem coming and he acted. Too many men tell themselves they can handle it. Lust seems to cost us our reasoning ability (not gonna speculate about that one!) and men often only regret their decisions after it is too late, rather than seeing the problem and facing it. Well done, sir.
But, is it right that Melissa Nelson lost her job because Dr. Knight could not control his lustful thoughts? There is something fundamentally unfair about that.
- Perhaps he could have given her time to find another place of employment, with a solid recommendation.
- Perhaps he could have set up some policies and procedures around the office that would have protected his marriage without punishing Ms. Nelson.
Were there not other solutions than simply firing his assistant?
Is it right that he deals with his problem by punishing her?
The Unconsidered Solution
There is an assumption in this story that pervades our thinking today. Dr. Knight had a desire for Ms. Nelson. He was helpless to resist, right? At some point he would have acted on his desires and initiated an affair with her. As are all people, it is assumed, he was helpless against his desires.
Nonsense. Now, I’m not sure that Dr. Knight is a believer. The articles I read do not mention that, but it is the impression that I get. If that is the case, then Dr. has the power, through the Spirit who dwells within, to control himself.
I am not above temptation – probably won’t be as long as I am breathing. But in Christ, I am not a slave to my lusts and desires. I do not have to give in, no matter how strong the desire. It is foolish to allow myself into places or situations of temptations simply because I have the spiritual fruit of self-control. But when temptation comes my way, I must remember that I have the power, through Christ’s spirit, to say no!
Christianity Today has culled some quotes on the subject which I find interesting. Some commend the dentist. Others question the justice of his actions. The quotes start with those in support and move along the spectrum to those that disagree. It does not surprise me that my view is best stated by Dr. Russell Moore.
“Owners should not have to choose between keeping their business or marriage, and laws should not make it difficult for men to remove temptations that threaten their marriage. Employees do have some discretion over whether they find themselves in this situation.”
Brad Dacus, president, Pacific Justice Institute
“We have to walk away from temptation; we just cannot court it, which would be happening if she had remained. The best thing to do would be to show compassion and help the woman find another job so she’s not hurt by the firing.”
Michael McManus, president, Marriage Savers
“The dentist made the right choice in fighting to save his marriage. But we should take this as a cautionary tale. By establishing boundaries at work early on, the situation would not have gotten as far, and that assistant would not have lost her job.”
Gary Smalley, executive director of marriage and family formation, Focus on the Family
“If someone has many risk factors, then it’s important to adjust behavior to protect the marriage relationship. But the employer would have many other options if he feels that his self-control is going to be stretched beyond his ability to stop himself.”
Jennifer Ripley, doctoral psychology program director, Regent University (Virginia)
“Jesus said ‘If your eye offend you, gouge it out,’ not ‘If you find your neighbor’s eyes to be too sexy, gouge them out.’ Every person will face temptations. Unless the assistant were pressing for a relationship, he should have found other means to keep his integrity intact.”
Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“I value marriage. But too often in our Christian culture, women are still punished for the indiscretions of men. Perhaps if the dentist had honored his marriage early on, a more gracious and just outcome would have been possible for all.”
Jaime Goff, chair of marriage and family therapy, Abilene Christian University
Where are you on the spectrum? Frankly, I agree with parts of each of these statements!
My view: the dentist was wise to act to protect his marriage. He just took the wrong action. What he should have done was:
- Install some protocols at the office to make sure nothing untoward happened. All of us should have those kinds of protective policies in place.
- If necessary, he should have (with his wife present) confessed his lack of self-control to Ms. Nelson and asked her help. Give her a recommendation and assistance in finding another job. Compensate her.
- Look for options other than termination. Dr. Moore is right. It is wrong to punish her for his sin.
Or, best yet, walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and the self-control he provides! Say no to sin and yes to God!
1) What should the dentist have done?
2) What steps do you have in place to protect yourself from inordinate involvement with other women in the church?
3) If you were in the hiring process for a receptionist/secretary/administrative assistant at church, would you hire a young and very attractive woman? Would your wife put you on the couch if you did? Is it fair for us to discriminate in hiring just because a woman is beautiful?
4) Let’s play pretend for a moment, pastors. You find yourself attracted to your secretary, your choir leader, or another employee of the church. You do not want to give up your ministry, but you feel like you are fighting a losing battle with your desires. What do you do? Is it fair that in this situation, the woman is likely to pay for your failings?
It’s easy to condemn a Ft. Dodge dentist. But I’m guessing stuff like this happens in churches often.
What to do?