The Dentist and His Assistant

Earlier this year an Iowa dentist won the legal backing of the Iowa Supreme Court with regards to an employee firing. What made this case notable for our thinking was the reason that the dentist fired the employee. The dentist, James Knight, terminated his dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, for fear that he might eventually commit adultery with her.

I almost don’t know where to begin. Let me begin by noting that my comments are not intended to deal with the legality of the matter. This blog is about thinking as a Christian. Some actions may be legal without being wise.

While we should flee youthful lusts, this action misses the nature of sin. Read what James writes on this subject,

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:14-15 ESV)

The dentist and his wife came to the conclusion to fire Nelson. It seems a little presumptuous to assume that the good dentist would be irresistible to Ms. Nelson.

According to reports the couple considered her to be attractive. Nothing is said about Ms. Nelson having major surgery to change her looks. So we must assume that she was attractive when she was hired.

It is interesting that the dentist hired another female after firing Ms. Nelson. Did he advertise for an “unattractive assistant”? What must the new employee think?

Since many workplace adulteries involve emotional bonds as much or more than physical ones, what is to prevent the new assistant from becoming too nice?

The affirmation of some fine Christian leaders is discouraging.

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

(From Should an Iowa Dentist Have Fired his Attractive Assistant? in Christianity Today.)

Thankfully, Russell Moore weighs in with a better response,

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

(From the same article quoted above.)

The attorney for Dr. Knight also was amiss with his comments.

(The ruling was) … a victory for family values because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.

Christian Who Fired Attractive Assistant to Prevent Adultery Did Not Discriminate, Court Says in Christianity Today.)

I doubt that this ruling was a victory for the value of Melissa Nelson’s family.

It would seem that any woman who considers herself attractive should avoid using Dr. Knight as her dentist. How could he resist lusting after his patients?

I have a niece who is an attractive dental assistant. I can only imagine how angry our family would be if her boss took the same route as Dr. Knight.

What do you think?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I have changed my mind on this situation. Like you, I am not commenting on the legalities, and perhaps not even on the specifics of this exact case, since it is quite likely that I don’t know things that are very relevant. Just trying to apply some general ideas as well as possible.

    At first my sympathies were very strongly with the dentist. I have failed in my marriage twice (the second time was a re-marriage) and think very well of those who would take strong action in defense of their own.

    But as time has gone on, I realized the party bearing the burden is one whom I am to understand is innocent. At least, I am not aware of allegations of impropriety on the woman’s part. It is not her fault. The fault is inside the head of the dentist. I don’t condemn him for that, many of us men are so afflicted. But he has, in effect, transferred the burden of his problem; it is now no longer HIS problem (of lust), but HER problem (of unemployment). It is a great Christian point to bear one another’s burdens, but we have no right to demand that another bear ours, or pay the penalty for ours.

    Perhaps the defining point for my change is in realizing an inconsistency in my attitudes toward the stricter Islamic societies, who proclaim that proper modest dress for women involve something close to head-to-toe concealment of the body, or even the shape of the body. My disdain for such practice is that it places the burden (and blame) of the problems caused by male lust upon the wrong party. Instead of requiring men to confess their own sin, it simply transfers the burden to women. Somehow, I am suspicious as to how well that works! It also moves any woman who has been harmed by male behavior from the status of victim to that of instigator, and perpetrator –if she had not so inflamed male lust (or his anger and shame at himself), then “X” would not have happened to her.

    At its most extreme, we blame the woman for being a victim of rape.

    This is not the same –not nearly, not by many degrees- but that is my point. The difference is only one of degree, of magnitude. It is not a difference of kind. The transference of burden, and the penalty borne, from the male to the female –from the instigator to the innocent, is identical. The justice issue is identical.

    The dentist is not bad, except in the way we are all fallen, and all bad. Apart from God preserving me from stresses I cannot bear, I would be where he was. And he is to be commended for not falling to his lust, not violating his wife, and not hurting the young woman far worse than by unemployment.
    BUT in looking for the way of escape provided by God so that we CAN resist this temptation common to man, we must not look to ways that place the burden of my brokenness on those who don’t deserve it.

    With one exception. But then, our Lord is a willing and competent substitute. There is no other.

    -Blessings.

    • I really appreciate your comments. You have added much to the discussion. I love your conclusion which applies the gospel to this situation. Thanks.