Irresistible Attraction: Some Christian Thoughts Regarding James Knight Firing Melissa Nelson

Melissa Nelson

Four Christian responses to the myth of “irresistible attraction.”

I have some introductory rambling thoughts on the evangelical sub-culture and irresistible attraction. I don’t pretend to know the law but last Friday, an all-male Supreme Court in Iowa ruled in favor of a Fort Dodge dentist, James Knight, who fired his dental assistant of 10 years, Melissa Nelson, because she became an “irresistible attraction.”

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the headlines:

In Iowa You Can Be Fired if You Are Too Pretty.”

‘Irresistible’ Woman Fired For Being Too Sexy

Iowa Woman Fired for Being an ‘Irresistible Attraction’

Bosses Can Fire Hot Workers For Being ‘Irresistible’: All-Male Court

Knight is a Christian.

He sought out the counsel of his local senior pastor who directed Knight to fire Nelson. When Knight told Nelson the news he had another staff pastor present in his office when he told Nelson she was getting fired.

I haven’t been able to find any articles identifying Knight as an evangelical, but this scenario smacks of the evangelical sub-culture, including the pastor’s counsel. If Knight is not an evangelical, it reveals the sexism still present in some Christian communities.

Irresistible attraction is a story embedded with a cluster of beliefs held by some contemporary Christians (men and women). It is born out of centuries-old, male-dominated patriarchy. The story sexualizes women and then blames and oppresses women.

In 2012, this story is a Christianized form of sexism. The story is alive and well in some communities, and we know it is real in the state of Iowa.

James Knight dentist

Dentist James Knight and his wife

That’s why we need bold boundaries!

1. “Irresistible attraction” is to be distinguished from all other forms of attraction: sexual, physical, mutual, intellectual, or spiritual attraction.

Irresistible attraction is one of the root stories of the old order of sexism, patriarchy, and sexism. It nurtures all sorts of sexism — hostile, ambivalent, and benevolent.

It is distinct from all other forms of healthy human attraction. It has a myth all on its own. According to some, the origin is biological. It overpowers the will. It directs the will. For others, the origin is in the cosmic forces of darkness.

Men in particular, are not responsible for this kind of attraction — hence the term “irresistible.” It usually centers upon a particular masculine behavior which, according to this story, men are not responsible for. Women are held to be responsible for men’s unrestrained, unrepressed, unchecked, unbridled, promiscuous desires.

Pay attention to what James Knight tells Steve Nelson (Melissa’s husband) in a meeting with Knight’s pastor present:

“Dr. Knight said he was worried he was getting too personally attached to her.  Dr. Knight told Steve Nelson that nothing was going on but that he feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.”

2. Some pastors spiritualize this irresistible attraction story as an inescapable outcome between men and women who get near or attached to each other.

Knight’s pastor does not object to Knight’s predicting a self-fulfilling lustful prophecy. If you read some of the responses of non-Christian commenters to these various articles they are confused. By endorsing the doctrine of irresistible attraction, Knight’s pastors send a loud and clear message: sexual temptation cannot be resisted.

It’s one thing to say sexual attraction is powerful and should be respected and navigated carefully. It’s quite another thing to say it is irresistible.

There are plenty of good, upright, moral, healthy non-Christians who have resisted sexual temptation — even in the midst of experiencing sexual attraction. Even Hollywood from time to time affirms that men of integrity are not cosmically predetermined robots in the midst of sexual temptation.

It’s stuff like this that tells the world some Christians believe we can rise no higher than adolescent sexuality with even unbridled sexual impulses.

One commenter in the Huffington Post article responded:

“I’m pissed at his Pastor for not saying something like, ‘In this life we face many temptations. You have to be strong enough to withstand them. Now grow up, vow to keep it in your pants, keep your religious marriage vows to your wife, and stop acting like you’re 17.”‘

Knight’s pastors couldn’t reframe the doctrine of irresistible attraction for Knight. They supported his firing of Nelson in front of Steve and Melissa the next night. In essence, they espoused that Knight’s future irresponsibility as somehow cosmically predestined with no help/intervention coming from God (or anyone else) for James Knight or Melissa Nelson.

This is at the heart of so-called “Christian” rules between men and women like missiologists Ed Stetzer who supports avoidance between men and women. Some Christians like Matt Schmucker believe men and women who are not married to each other cannot share a meal alone together, a cup of coffee, or even having a meaningful conversation between each other.

Embedded in this story of irresistible attraction is that any form of sexual attraction is irresistible. In the Christian tradition, some have held sexual attraction as irresistible. It is so powerful, it overwhelms the will. “Sorry, I just couldn’t control myself. You are so attractive, I had to act on my impulses.”

But Christian feminist and ethicist Christine Gudorf says, “It is the root of what makes women fear men as dangerous.”

3. The story of irresistible attraction tends to view women and their bodies as the sources of temptation.

Christians who embrace this story of irresistible attraction rarely see sexual objectification as an expression of male pride, arrogance, and power at the center of relationships between men and women.

Male pastors as such do not have to name their church as institutionalized expressions of oppression toward women like Melissa Nelson. In communities like Knight’s writes Pam Hogeweide, “Christian women are conditioned that our sexuality hovers at the edge of lasciviousness. We can’t be trusted around men. Our curves get in the way” (Unladlylike).

As she notes, “When women are repeatedly given a list of do’s and don’ts aimed at our feminine nature, it teaches women not to trust our bodies. Women then equate visible curves as visible sexuality, as if admitting one has boobs is admitting one has sex” (my insertion of italics).

In this story, the visible sexuality of Nelson meant whatever “tight” clothing she wore, she was not only leading Knight on, she would also be willing to have sex with him when he was ready to act on his lustful fantasies. According to his own admission, he was afraid that Nelson’s tight clothing might lead him to act out on urges that he knew were appropriate for the marital bed only.

When pastors support stories like James Knight, they contribute to sexualizing women within the church and that is far worse than what is out there in the real world.

One commenter observed:

He needs to get his own act together and decide to love his wife and stop blaming other people. Next month it will just be the girl at the coffee shop, or the friend’s wife … the problem is inside him. To fire an employee of 10 years just shows his religion is skin deep and he lacks empathy.”

Another commenter:

“From what I can see, this dentist created a sexually charged work place, and he has the nerve to blame her for it!?”

My friend Amy Martin commented on what it feels like as a woman to be in churches like this on Ed Stetzer’s blog:

“In the outside-church-world, I’m treated less as a latent temptress siren, waiting to lead men astray given mere minutes of a closed, window-free office door. This has been a great relief, and allows for a different level of respect and cooperation between co-workers, regardless of gender. Safe environments, like you say. I found I had to leave the church to find them, unfortunately.”

Notice that Melissa Nelson has stated she was not interested in any sexual relationship. This was a one-sided sexual attraction. It was Knight who believed (and the pastors) that if the relationship continued he would act out on his attraction — predicting Nelson would not resist any advances.

This is unhealthy communal imagination.

J. Harold Ellens observes, “We are always at risk of projecting on the other human we need him or her to be, rather than accepting and being truly present to the real person he or she is.”

Indeed, Knight’s wife projects her anxieties upon Nelson when she can’t imagine why “[Nelson] liked to hang around after work when it would be just her and [Dr. Knight] there.  I thought it was strange that after being at work all day and away from her kids and husband that she would not be anxious to get home like the other [women] in the office.”

4. The pastors offered no narrative of hope or new life (redemption) for either James Knight or Melissa Nelson.

In the CNN article, Knight’s lawyer, Stuart Cochrane is quoted as saying, “”He and his wife really agonized about it,” Cochrane said about Knight. “He didn’t want to terminate her.”

In my book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, I note the strong currents of two dominant stories in the evangelical world: the marital/romantic story and the danger story.  Both stories of course, involve an introduction, a plot and climax toward the same thing: sex.

The story of irresistible attraction neatly and conveniently is dominant in both stories.

Where do evangelicals present an alternative story of men and women?

Clearly, these pastors in Iowa did not have an alternative story of hope for Knight or Nelson. There was no hope for justice coming from them for Nelson. She was given her walking papers while the pastors hoped she would not apply for work for anymore dentists in their congregation.

There was no path of transformation and responsibility for Knight.

Surely, the Christian tradition has something to offer more than what these pastors offered.

Surely a Christian ethic of embodiment, desire, delight, and goodness offers a path of transformation and hope in this life. The pastors offer no such ethic for Knight to learn to love his neighbor (Melissa Nelson) and take responsibility for his lusts.

Consider for example what a Christian ethic of spiritual attraction might contribute toward a narrative of hope. Spiritual attraction wouldn’t deny physical attraction. But it wouldn’t shame Knight (or other Christians) for experiencing a physical attraction.

Admiration or delight in another’s physical presence is not the same as imagining or desiring sex with them.

Too many Christians (pastors) conflate the two as one meaning: lust.

Then men experience shame when they are attracted to women.

Nor it would shame Nelson for her attractive body. Norman Wirzba observes, “To take delight is finally to relish the goodness and beauty of God’s work and to see in each other the trace of God” (Living the Sabbath). Although Wirzba doesn’t directly address delight between men and women I suggest his book offers rich insights into a healthy ethic of delight between men and women.

I think Wirzba’s insights ring true: close proximity with another enables us to experience sacred delight toward them without using them for our own gratifying ends. Wirzba writes: “If we are to see others with this depth, we must be prepared to get close to them and learn to see them for what they are, rather than what we want them to be or in terms of how ‘useful’ or pleasing they are to us.” This is a healthy response to beautiful men and women with whom we share a close proximity.

An ethic of delight for example, would see that women as God’s creatures are to be included in the beauty of God’s creation for his glory — not merely for distorted male lust or the “male gaze.”

Eastern Orthodox David Bentley Hart shows us the rich possibilities of delight and beauty: “In learning to see the world as beauty (Dan inserts: and women not just as sexual or romantic objects), one learns the measure of a love that receives all things not to hold onto, not ‘for me’ (and the James Knights of the world), but as beautiful in their own splendor” (The Beauty of the Infinite).

Now pay attention to this profound insight from Hart:

This also means that the things of the senses cannot of themselves distract from God.

Did you catch it?

In those two quotes we have 1) responsibility to beauty, 2) a commitment to a sacred response to beauty, and 3) an admiration of beauty, without the need to possess for our own gratification or use.

Beauty never distracts us from God; it leads us to God.

There is, in the words of Hart, “a moral education of desire.”

A Christian ethic of delight does not minimize the risks or dangers but it also does not close the door on the range of moral possibilities and imagination. Cultivating a deeper attraction for the good and beautiful in the midst of tempting circumstances is saying “yes” to something greater than hedonistic impulses. Experiencing the pleasure of another’s beauty would not be inherently wrong or threatening to a marriage

An ethic of delight would give both men and women grace and deep meaning to the sexual energy and beauty men experience in the presence of another woman as not something inherently lustful. Conservative evangelical William Struthers of Wheaton College suggests this is as a rich possibility in his book, Wired for Intimacy.

An ethic of delight does not immediately entail for men hedonistic voyeurism or self-indulgence in the presence of attractive women. Some Christians immediately link pleasure especially the pleasure experiencing an attractive woman’s presence as voyeuristic or self-indulgent lust.

Responses like James Knight and his pastors leave Christians with no alternatives.

But there are.

Transformation for someone like James Knight would not happen overnight. But a Christian ethic of embodiment and delight would offer a path for Knight to love his neighbor, Melissa Nelson, keep his marital vows, honor his wife, and take responsibility for his lusts.

Gathering together this coming April are pastors, authors, worship leaders, and others who see the healthy need for justice, equality, shalom, and life-giving beauty.  You’re welcome to join us for these two days of important conversation.

Bold Boundaries: Expanding Friendship Between Men and Women. 

What are your thoughts on this case of irresistible attraction? Have you experienced anything close to what Melissa Nelson has experienced?

About Dan Brennan

I have been married to Sheila for 31 years. I have a 27-year-old son named Jonathan. I am the author of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    The Catholic prayer, Act of Contrition, prays, among other things, for help to avoid “the occasion of sin”. IOW, stay away from temptation. I understand some Jews talk about putting a fence around the law, which is something of the same.
    Dumbest thing in the world is to put a person tempted by something in that thing’s presence. Even if the person resists, it’s an issue, a spiritual or emotional struggle that could be crippling.
    You wouldn’t wave a bottle of Jack in front of an alcoholic.
    In this case, the temptation was another human being, which doesn’t change the foregoing. Best thing was to avoid the temptation, not fight a possible losing battle. Which the dentist was already on the way to losing.
    The problem is that the temptation is another human being, which gives a whole other set of considerations, including employment. But it does not change the fact that it’s easy for others to claim this guy ought to have temptation in front of him every day and fight it.

    • Kell Brigan says:

      It is impossible in a free, sane society to avoid being around “attractive” people. The person with the mental illness, i.e. the man who can’t control himself, has the duty to remove himself from society. Research the story of the murderer of St. Maria Goretti, who was able to keep himself from further crime by becoming a cloistered gardener in a monestery. Or, watch the movie “Crumb,” and see how Charles Crumb isolated himself (this is revealed in writings not shown in the film) in part to keep himself from acting on what felt to him to be overwhelming compulsions toward raping children. His life was sad and limited, but at least he was able to keep himself from doing grievious harm to anyone else. If Knight’s sexual obsessions are beyond his control, he needs to remove himself from society, not expect society to put on burkas and give him the high road. He needs to commit himself to a mental hospital, and soon. And, lets pray that, if he has any other victims than Nelson (especially children), that they come forward now so that his predatory destructiveness can be stopped.

  2. Gosh, who’d have thought religion would ever play a part in justifying bad behaviour? The Bible is a wonderful thing, packed full of useful one liners to justify any behaviour you may care for.

  3. D.R. Bartlette says:

    This is messed up for many reasons, but I’ll just tackle the two discussed in the article.
    1. The theology: This whole “irresistible attraction” thing is the guiding ideology behind the whole “modesty” movement, which is a (only slightly) milder form of what is practiced among many Muslim societies – everything from wearing a simple headscarf to being covered from head to toe and forbidden to leave the house without a male escort. It all stems from the same doctrine: that men can’t really control themselves around “tempting” women. It’s a slippery slope, and one that I don’t think a free society should start down. (And all those of you gearing up to rant about “appropriate dress,” calm down. Remember, she was wearing *scrubs,* probably the most *unsexy* clothes ever invented; they are cut totally square, so those of us with curves end up with bagginess in some places and tightness others, and it’s not about the size, it’s the cut.)
    2. The legality: This is the part that upsets me the most. This woman did *nothing* wrong, and now she’s out of a job. Especially now, when it’s so hard to find a job, this is downright cruel. Does she have a family to feed and support?
    I’ve heard some grumblings about “why didn’t she file for sexual harassment?” Well, she worked in a “right-to-starve” state (as we who live in them call them), and in those states workers have little to no rights. Winning a sexual harassment claim is notoriously hard to do, with most people (at least in my experience) ending up unsuccessful and out of a job – and now no-one else will hire you because you’re a “troublemaker.” I don’t know if this was what kept her from doing so, but it’s definitely a possibility.
    But the ever-righteous Dr. Knight gets to keep his practice, his income, his marriage…all for being a sexist creep.

    • Kell Brigan says:

      Actually, it looks like his practice is dying out because people are, quite rightly, unwilling to be treated by (or have their children treated by) someone who admits he is sexually out of control and yet doesn’t have a clue how dangerous and socially unacceptable this makes him. His sexual obsessions will wind up costing everyone in that office their jobs…

  4. Irresistible attraction?? Yeah, so what’s the point? As a Christian, God gave me freedom to make decisions and those decisions are based upon what I’ve been taught through my faith. Never ever experienced a situation where I was told that there would be a situation where my inappropriate behavior could in any way be justified. This pastor gives good pastors a bad name. If the doc was struggling with his feelings toward this women, then the pastor should have counseled the doc and advised him and not make excuses for him.

  5. This was purely a cost/benefit analysis exercise. Wife catches man sexting good looking assistant.. Confess to pastor, take required abuse, fire assistant, avoid alimony.

    Pastor gave recommendation based on wife’s desired outcome in order to keep high value church members paying their 10%. Good looking assistant is written off as necessary collateral damage.

    Morality took a back seat to practicality. Outcome sucks for assistant but totally legal.

  6. Just a Thought says:

    First I want to say thank you for writing this article. When I first caught the title and saw ‘The Good Men Project’ and saw that it had a religious twist to it I thought it was going to support what the dentist had done. This thought came from reading too many articles that speak of God or faith with a dark agenda behind words and sound bites that are supposed to support and heal; but instead are use to control, create fear, guilt, or make money.

    I was very happy to read that you addressed many issues that cause me to keep a good distance from any religious affiliation. Women being blamed or sexualized through doctrine is one of the reasons I actually fear men of faith and see ‘Christian’ (and other religions) as another word for ignorant and sexist.

    This article has lessened some of my anxiety about men of faith and that many are standing beside women when it comes to outdated discriminatory views towards women. I thank you once again for speaking up. I am sure that many men of faith get the blows and beatings due to men who use religion to blame rather than grow. This, I feel is an injustice.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. It made my day. Yes, I believe there is a great need for a robust ethic of delight, desire, and goodness in the Christian faith which leads to healing and reconciliation between men and women. There is much fear, shame, control, and guilt are the dynamics in certain faith communities–“outdated discriminatory views towards women” as you say. But the way of Jesus wasn’t (and isn’t) through guilt, shame or inequality.

  7. Irresistible attraction??

    Since they worked together for 10 years and the biggest sexual exchange on record is in the form of texts, it’s pretty clear that the dentist was more than capable of resisting her irresistible attraction.
    I’m not sure what exactly this theological diagnosis of irresistible attraction is supposed to provide in terms of insight. Possibly a theological diagnosis of what to do when your wife discovers sexual texts on your telephone would have helped more.

    • Possibly a theological diagnosis of what to do when your wife discovers sexual texts on your telephone would have helped more.

      indeed why is the dentist being solely blamed, when the wife who works also at the clinic was clearly the driving force behind the unfortunate technician’s sacking, and possibly behind the very mean severance pay of just one month (after working for this couple for 10yrs!!!!)

  8. by way of contrast:
    Rabbi Yehuda in the name of Rav related that once a man lusted after a woman and his heart became seized with such a fervent passion that his life was in danger. They asked the doctors what to do. The doctors said: There is no remedy for him except for sexual intercourse with her. The sages said: Let him die rather than have intercourse with her. The doctors said: Let her stand naked before him. The sages said: Let him die rather than have her stand naked before him. The doctors said: Let her speak to him from behind a partition. The sages said: Let him die rather than have her speak to him from behind a partition. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 75a)

  9. courage the cowardly dog says:

    Ok I really don’t get this at all. Most states are what are known as “employment at will” states which means you can have a good reason for firing someone or you can have no reason at all so long as it is not a discriminatory reason. Had he simply approached the woman and told her that he could no longer keep her on without stating a reason for the discharge he would not be subject to any wrongful termination liability. She may be able to collect unemployment, but in most states that means an increase in his unemployment insurance premium and no more. Now he is facing a potential discrimination suit. Had he kept his mouth shut he would not have any liability exposure, though I take it from the fact that the case was before the Iowa Supreme Court that the dumb ass had to fend off the suit whiich ultimately ended up before the Iowa Supreme Court.

  10. Well…..
    Why would want to be a dentist if not to surround himself with young women enured to a little pain and mess?
    Here’s an even cuter story from earlier in the year about a woman deemed to hot to work at a lingerie company…. But the owners aren’t Christian so maybe we don’t want to go here…

    And let’s not even address whole countries where every woman is too hot to show her ankles.

  11. I’m so sick of this argument. Why SHOULD they dress as they like? Men are not given that privelage! Dressing provocatively is sexual harassment.. I don’t care if it isn’t intended. If women are dressing provocatively to “feel attractive” not to “seduce”.

    I do not want to have to spend any amount of time or effort forcing myself to ignore and suppress my natural biology in an environment where it doesn’t belong in the first place! I don’t want the thought to even come up!

    Why can’t women just leave the short dresses and the low cut tops for the weekend? Why not dress in a less distracting way in the office? Why is it so hard? Why is this such a hot contentious issue for women? Why are men constantly being vilified for the choices of women?

    I can easily unbutton the second from the top button on my shirt and show some chest hair. I feel confident and full of swagger when I do.. yet I DON’T. Because it’s rude, it’s distracting, it’s not the place for it, there is work to do and my level of attractiveness shouldn’t have anything to do with it.. I let my work, my productivity, my abilities determine my job performance, not whether I look good in a dress!

    The office is not a fashion runway show. Just put on non-revealing clothes, do your work, and then go home, like men do. Simple. Easy. When I get home, I put on my sexiest boxers. I don’t think about my boxers while I am at work.

    This is not about Liberty. This is not about free speech. This is not about Women’s right to anything. This is about MUTUAL RESPECT FOR YOUR COLLEAGUES. Why would you put people in uncomfortable situations and yet refuse to acknowledge your own participatory behavior?

    This argument is constantly used to make men look like animals. But what does this really say about women? That they can not put aside their superficial, narcissistic need to impress with their bodies for a few hours a day? They can’t bottle their own self-consciousness and self-esteem long enough to have a non-reactive work environment?

    Double standards. Double standards everywhere I look.

    Again, I ask again. Can we PLEASE have some balance on a site claiming to cater to creating better men?!

    • I got it! A great idea!

      I’m gonna go down to the local bakery and buy a delicious triple layered chocolate cake. Then I’m gonna go to a dietary clinic and walk around. Why not? I like cake. I should be able to eat cake wherever I want. I don’t care that its a dietary clinic, those fattys should grow up and learn to control themselves.

      Am I breaking the law, of course not. But now which one of you thinks doing that wouldn’t be rude? Go on, raise your hands.

    • In this case the woman was wearing scrubs.

    • I tend to agree with you, actually. A couple years ago, we started to have such a problem with young women dressing really inappropriately that we had to adopt a dress code for the first time in the company history. I hate to sound like a prude, but it’s s business, not a porno set. A skimpy cocktail dress and 5-inch heels is not the message you want to send at your job (unless you are a cocktail waitress or a sex worker).

      • She was wearing medical scrubs, not a miniskirt. The fact that you assume she was dressed provocatively is blaming the victim and part of the problem.

        • Ok. So it’s not a mini-skirt.

          How many other women worked there? Was it just this one who was fired? Why? Are all the other women ugly and unattractive to the dentist?

          Provactive can be more than just clothes. Why else would the wife feel so threatened??

          No, wait.. I forgot, it’s all the man’s fault and nothing but. Forgive me, the shackles of modern feminism must have fallen off for a second. How dare I think it takes two to tango.

          Which is my point. Every article of this type consistently blames the man for everything. The woman is always innocent and a victim.

          • No reason to get upset over your error of the dress. There are alot of people that assumed this.

            I would assume the wife was ‘threatened’ by some of the content in the texts – since that is how she discovered he/she were texting back and forth. If your husband doesn’t mention this? I would assume most people maybe a bit threatened by that.

            It was also in the court papers – attached .pdf on a news website – that she was NOT accused of flirting, etc. Matter of fact I was surprise at how honest he was about his behavior. Most people would have lied through their teeth.

            They stated most of the texts were mundane, but on occasion he would send a strange one … which she ignored. She should have looked for a new job at that point. I wouldn’t be texting my boss, but if comments were made to me like he – himself – mentioned giving to her? I would be OUT of there!

            Are there some strange interactions between the two? I would say YES! The court papers did state if she had filed sexual harassment charges the outcome may have been different…yet she did not do that.

            So now she has to move with her life, and find a new job. The poor wife has to worry about the next woman that comes in that makes his pants budge.

            Yes, if she made the wife that uncomfortable she needed to go. They could have handled it in a better way. Feelings still would have been hurt, people upset, etc. They handled it in a very creepy way. No doubt at the height of emotions as well. IMO it wasn’t very professional.

            Just a side note: her leaving doesn’t end the threat to their marriage. I hope they get help.

      • @Sarah

        Exactly. This issue hits close to home for me.

        I live in the Middle East. One of the more liberal states therein. So you know that modesty is a social norm out here. And yet, in my admittedly small office there is a stunningly beautiful married woman. And it isn’t just her looks that I’m talking about. Obviously, I keep this to myself, but I have noticed that during the winter, when she is in a sweater and pants, I am able to concentrate far more on my work and less on her. I am grateful for the winter.

        We can not control attraction. In fact, sometimes the more troubling it is, the greater the attraction.

        Dressing modestly in my opinion (for women and men) is an act of Empathy.. It’s enlightened, higher-thinking animals (humans) recognizing the truth of our biologic and psychoanalytical reality and then thereby through understanding we gain control of it.

        To ignore it, or twist it to suit our own selfish principles would be at best, stagnation of, or at worst, the be downfall, of humanity.

        • Do you understand what a scrubs uniform consists of? A top and a pair of pants. Many scrubs are unisex style (cut straight not tapered). Unless she was wearing something that was the wrong size (too tight), most scrubs are rather not very sexy.

          A further thought… she was 32, he was 53. That’s 21 years difference. He could have easily been her father. Stop blaming her for his weakness. Not only that, but his wife could have approached her to talk about her clothing choices. The wife did work in the office and it would have been an easier conversation than from him. He looked to blame her for his lack of control.

          • You are fixating on the wrong detail. hence why you can make that argument.

            It was the wife AND the pastor who pushed for her dismissal. If it was simply his weakness, and she had nothing to do with ‘encouraging’ his behavior, the why didn’t the wife and pastor try to seek therapy for him? Why fire an innocent woman? Why is there no mention of past behavior? Why are there no comments from any one else at the practice? Was she so disliked that not one colleague was willing to stand up for her? Is this guy so stupid that he failed to think ahead and find another reason to fire her? Or simply give her no reason?

            Also, the comment from the Business Insider page:

            At one point, Knight told Nelson that “if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing,” court records showed.

            Where is the context for such an ugly statement if all she ever wore were scrubs?

            • “At one point, Knight told Nelson that “if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing,” court records showed.

              Where is the context for such an ugly statement if all she ever wore were scrubs?”

              I can think of NO context where that statement is even appropriate.If he weren’t working for himself, he would’ve been fired. No matter what the situation, his comments were totally inappropriate. According to an article in The Guardian,he asked her how often she experienced orgasm. I think that he has a problem that the he, his wife and the pastor are not dealing with. He has an obsession/fixation with her.

              Don’t forget that he is basically a one man shop. Hence, there is little a worker can do if there is an issue between her and the “boss”. My bet is that he has made inappropriate comments to other employees as well. They didn’t report because they wanted to keep their jobs.

              • Maybe I just watch too many law centered drama’s but I imagine if that was the case, more people would have joined her lawsuit. I ain’t buying your argument. The nurse is culpable to her actions just as much as he is.

                • What you have to ask yourself is this…Would I make the pants bulging comment to someone who was working for me or with me? Would I be offended if my wife/girlfriend/mother/sister/friend/cousin were told that by an employer/co-worker? Would I ask a female employee/co-worker how many orgasms she had? How would I feel if my wife/girlfriend/mother/sister/cousin/friend were asked that question?

                  Even if her uniforms were too tight, was there a better way to get that idea across? Without being gross and offensive? I would like to suggest to you that what he said was a reflection of his heart and mind rather than the clothes that she was actually wearing.

                  Law centered TV shows are great entertainment. However, they reflect more of the way that the writers, producers,directors, and actors would have it come out than reality.

                  Finally, where’s his culpability? She loses her job, he gets to keep his practice. She winds up working as a waitress, he still gets to be a dentist. He was lusting after her. He was the one who was making crude comments to her. Even if her clothes were too tight, he is STILL responsible for his own thoughts and actions. She didn’t MAKE him feel that way. He decided to feel that way. Yes, as a male, you can control your thoughts. That’s what Matthew 5 is all about in the Bible. Too bad the Senior Pastor didn’t remind him of that.

                  • courage the cowardly dog says:

                    You are damn right he gets to keep his practice. She worked there for 10 years I doubt she wore scrubs every day. She traded texts with the doctor frequently. Was she flirting with him? I am giving the Iowa Supreme Court the benefit of the doubt here. There was a trial and facts were introduced at that trial. The Iowa Supreme Court had the full transcript of that trial and presumbably reviewed that transcript carefully. The fact is the doctor did not need to state a reason for the firing, unfortunately he did. I think if an employee does anything to disrupt the productivity of the workplace they can be fired. BTW, scrubs can have a V neck exposing a cleavage. As I understand it many doctors wives wear them as pajamas to bed. If this doctors own wife did that the wearing of the scrubs by this woman would be suggestive of going to bed in this Doctor’s mind. The woman here is not blameless.

              • “I can think of NO context where that statement is even appropriate.If he weren’t working for himself, he would’ve been fired. No matter what the situation, his comments were totally inappropriate.”

                She obviously didn’t think so because she specifically avoided filing sexual harassment charges. I have made comments like this to women I work with. The inappropriateness of the conversation strongly depends on the intimacy of the relationship and the woman you are talking to. It looks like they had a pretty intimate relationship. And I have made far more sexual comments in front of women and directly to women at a very conservative financial institution. I am very aware of which women I can talk to like this and which I can’t talk to like this.

                “Would I be offended if my wife/girlfriend/mother/sister/friend/cousin were told that by an employer/co-worker? Would I ask a female employee/co-worker how many orgasms she had?”

                It strongly depends on the woman. We don’t live in 1950’s America anymore and women are not delicate porcelain dolls who can’t handle sexual conversation.

        • Stop blaming women and their clothes for your inability to control yourself

          • Grow up and try to understand there are consequences to your actions. Free agency isn’t without its limitations and it doesn’t entitle you to a get out of jail free card.

          • “for your inability to control yourself”

            He did control himself by firing her. You simply don’t like the way he did it. Your argument is that no only should he control himself but he has to do it in a certain prescribed way that you approve of. He is not a slave. Its his business.

            • At least somebody on here gets it..

            • That’s not control. That’s passing the blame.

              “I can’t deal with her, so, I’ll blame her for my inability to control my own thoughts.”

              Please consider reading Matthew 5:27-29. Lust is a problem of the heart, Getting rid of her did nothing except maybe getting her to take the blame.

              • “That’s not control. That’s passing the blame.”

                I am unaware of him blaming her and I don’t see how blame fits into it at all. All I see is two things: a problem and a solution. The problem is that he was developing an increasingly intimate relationship her that he had no other way of solving other than firing her. I agree that its totally unfair to her. But I don’t see how blame fits into it…I think he solved his problem very effectively. I also don’t see why he should be forced to associate with her if he doesn’t want to. If I don’t want a friend I can get rid of my friend. It may not be fair but that’s life

                • “I see is two things: a problem and a solution. The problem is that he was developing an increasingly intimate relationship her that he had no other way of solving other than firing her.”

                  The problem is that his wife discovered the texts the he was sending to her. The wife, evidently, was one of the major factors in getting her fired. The blame comes in because he accuses the dental assistant of wearing tops that were too tight. Hence, his seeming inability to deal with her in a professional manner. His lust was HIS problem. Suppose that he has a patient that he lusts after or another employee? He really hasn’t dealt with the root cause. He has dealt with a symptom, but not the disease. He got rid of the object of his lust, but not the heart issue that caused the lust.

                  ” I also don’t see why he should be forced to associate with her if he doesn’t want to. If I don’t want a friend I can get rid of my friend. It may not be fair but that’s life”

                  Employer/employee relationships are not like friendships. I associate with people at work that I would not associate with as friends. Yes, he had the legal right to fire her, despite the fact that he was the aggressor when it came to the sexual advances. However, the question that Dan discussed has nothing to do with the legal, but rather the moral actions. As her employer, there is an implicit duty on his part to act in a moral manner. Frankly, firing someone because you can’t control your lust is a poor excuse. Unlike you, I think he acted in a morally questionable manner. Fairness isn’t really the argument here. Ultimately, she winds up paying for his sin.

          • “Stop blaming women and their clothes for your inability to control yourself”

            Again what does blame have to do with anything? And women experience these same problems with men. I know of many cases where women avoid men specifically because they can’t control their desires.

            And once again lets go back to food. Because in the case of food, should we blame the fat person for not controlling their desires? I’d like to see some consistency here rather than adhoc feminist arguments.

    • courage the cowardly dog says:

      WOW, you nailed my sentiments exactly. Well said.

  12. I wonder what the Iowa dental board would say about the situation and whether any ethical boundaries were crossed. Then again the make-up of the board probably reflects the same sentiments as Dr. Knight. The “good” doctor opened this can of worms with his brutal honesty. As was mentioned he could have simply terminated her employment without fanfare and was not obligated to give any specific reason, but the easiest way would have been to say “I cannot afford to keep you on staff.” What if the opposite was true? What if the assistant was so unattractive and repulsive he couldn’t stand being in the same room? The dentist, his wife and the judges are not of this century. Her attorney should try to get it in federal court on sexual discrimination grounds. I suspect that with this much publicity this decision is not the last we will hear about this case.

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Mahatma Gandhi

  13. Regardless of your personal views on the matter, the U.S. laws governing employment are defined as “at-will employment.” Under this law, her termination is completely legal, since employment can be terminated by the employer “for good cause, for bad cause, or for no cause.” FYI, here is Wikipedia’s definition of at-will employment:

    “At-will employment is a doctrine of American law that defines an employment relationship in which either party can break the relationship with no liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargaining group (i.e., has not recognized a union). Under this legal doctrine:
    “ any hiring is presumed to be “at will”; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals “for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,” and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.[1] ””

    • Kim, no one is suggesting that the court ruling was wrong, rather that the base view of sexuality and male-female relationships promoted by the Knights (no relation, BTW) and the pastors in this case are off-base, faulty, even immoral — in that they led to the unnecessary firing of this woman who is now in a worse position to support her young family financially.

  14. As a woman I definitely identify with #3.. it always bothers me when teenage girls are taught to dress modestly and never be flirtatious b/c they could make their brothers stumble. I don’t recall hearing much in youth group or college groups about men taking responsibility for their sexuality and/or adjusting for the possibility that *gasp* not all men think about sex every 2 seconds and are therefore slaves to sexual temptation.

  15. From this analysis, one would think that the idea to terminate Ms. Nelson came from the male pastor, or Mr. Knight. According to the Court’s Opinion, however, the driving force behind the termination was Dr. Knight’s wife:

    Jeanne Knight found out that her husband and Nelson were texting each other during that time. When Dr. Knight returned home, Jeanne Knight confronted her husband and demanded that he terminate Nelson’s employment. Both of them consulted with the senior pastor of their church, who agreed with the decision. [p. 4]

    Whatever the merits of the points about evangelical’s attitude toward “irresistable attraction”, it’s demonstrably false to hold men – husband, pastor, Justices – solely responsible for this firing. I find it unsurprising that the pastor would support that course of action, but it was a woman who initiated it, and if the attitudes you ascribe to evangelicals are as pervasive as you say, it wouldn’t surprise me if a woman pastor would avise the same. The all-male Court weren’t advising or endorsing anything, only ruling on whether it was gender discrimination, which the facts of the case (and precedents) don’t support.

    So, in all these commentaries about how sexist this case was, how much shaming is being directed at the wife for demanding a woman be fired because she was jealous and insecure? Why is she not being criticized for thinking her husband couldn’t control himself, or for thinking that his assistant was too much of a temptress to be tolerated in the workplace (which the wife herself also worked at)? Why, in the most sexist quote of the Opinion, about being surprised the assistant wasn’t anxious to get home like other women, is that lightly excused as “projecting anxieties” since the wife said it, when it would almost certainly be called out as blatant sexism if it had been a quote by Mr. Knight, the male pastor, or any of the Justices?

    It’s a screwed up situation for sure, but the blame didn’t fall to just one gender in this case, and on the only question the Court was there to decide, I think they got it right, whether it was 7 men, 7 women, or anything in between. Firing someone because a jealous spouse demanded it may be unfair, but it’s neither illegal nor gender discrimination given the facts of the case.

    • Marcus, your point is well taken, but I think it’s safe to say that Jeanne Knight, in this case, has internalized the same bad theology/philosophy that her husband and the pastors in this situation were promoting. And the answer is not to “shame” anyone, but to approach a healthier view of male-female relationships, which I believe is the point and aim of Dan Brennan’s article.

      Also, no one is contesting whether this firing was legal, rather whether it was moral or ethical or right. If a better theology of sexuality had prevailed, Melissa Nelson would still have a better paying job and be better able to support her young family.

      • You’re right, Steve, that this article focuses on the theology, not the legality and whether the Iowa Supreme Court was correct in deciding this case the way it did. A lot of the finger-wagging commentary, however, has centered around the fairness of being fired for “being irresistible”, which is how most of the headlines present it. In fact, the case was about whether firing someone due to spousal jealousy violated gender discrimination laws, but that doesn’t have the same blood-boiling ring to it.

        Narrowing my response to just this article, however, then even as a matter of theology, I find it too lenient toward the wife and too punitive toward the husband to say that in this case, she internalized the bad theology/philosophy that her husband and pastors were promoting. There appears to be no dispute that the wife was the *instigator* of the firing, so there was nothing passive about her role in it. She then insisted her husband, who was reluctant to comply with the demand, consult with a pastor. The pastor concurred, so that makes him complicit in the final decision and probably some bad theology that led to it, but if a reluctant spouse only goes along with a theologically-based decision after the insistent spouse and a pastor “counsel” them to, who’s the one “promoting” and who’s the one “internalizing”? If it was reversed, and the husband was the one insisting his dentist wife fire a too-attractive man, can you imagine saying he’d probably just internalized the bad theology his wife and pastor were promoting, as evidenced by his demand to fire the guy? The only way to give the wife a pass on this one is to strip her of all agency, seeing her as a passive receptacle of bad theology, who can’t possibly share any responsibility for a firing like this, since no matter what happens, she’s already a victim of man-based theology herself.

        While I disagree with diminishing the wife’s accountability in this case, however, I agree with your and the author’s conclusion, that there was bad theology of sexuality at play, with men and women alike believing that attraction and what to do about it were beyond a man’s control (and oddly, also beyond the control of the temptress assistant, since her consent to an eventual affair was apparently assumed as a given). It would be nice if that theology could somehow improve.

        • For goodness sake, this article isn’t about placing blame/responsibility/whatever on any individual person. It is about examining a specific situation in the context of the cultural influences that shaped that situation. Whether it was all the wife’s idea or all the husbands, or all the pastor’s…or (more likely) some combination of the three, this article isn’t about any of that. It’s about the social mores, cultural norms and religious ideas that contributed to making the decision to fire the assistant even possible.

          • HeatherN Exactly!

          • Thousands of women have fired their nannies for being too hot, or feeling she was a threat to her marriage, etc,, nothing to do with religious ideas, cultural norms, or anything else that is being blamed here.

            • EricM – This article is about a specific instance where “religious ideas” were directly involved in the woman getting fired from her position. This isn’t about “thousands of women,” this is about this one very specific story. Did you even read the story? Your generalization makes absolutely no sense. Please stick to the subject.

              • Plus…with regards to those “thousands of women,” cultural norms DID contribute to firing nannies/babysitters for fear of these other women’s attractiveness. It’s what I’ve been saying this whole time…NO ONE is living in a vacuum; we are all operating under various cultural and social mores. This particular instance in this particular story involves a specific set of religious ideas. Other times when women are fired for being “too hot” it’s tied to specific cultural ideas (which largely stem from those same religious ideas and have taken hold via “scientific” proof that men are more sexual than women, etc).

                This article, specifically, was examining a specifically Christian idea of “irresistible attraction” and the ways in which that idea contributed to the decision to fire the dental assistant.

        • What kind of texts were they? Were they flirty texts? Maybe the wife was right to be insecure. Maybe he ‘s done this before and she knows he can’t he trusted.

          • I agree Sarah, and Heather. People are calling the wife irrational and insecure–when in fact, her fears were legit. He WAS sending her flirty texts. He WAS telling her inappropriate things. He WAS attracted to the assistant. By no means should the assistant have been fired, but the wife had every right to be angry and sad with her husband. What she should have done is to confront him, have an affair herself, and not let herself get stepped on. Not to take it out on the poor assistant, especially when the economy is so tough. It’s not her fault for existing and being attractive to this man.

            • So the jealous wife, who also works at the dental practice, is convinced by the pastor – or maybe just has her own fears confirmed by him – that her husband the dentist can’t possibly work around the attractive assistant because of this “irresistable attraction” thing. You’re saying the appropriate response, then, would be for the wife *not* to lobby to remove the source of her helpless husband’s attraction, but instead to have an affair herself. Could you please elaborate the positive effects on their marriage and business that you would expect your alternative to have?

              If I’m reading this article correctly, I think it’s taking the position that the “irresistible attraction” premise is flawed, in which case I agree. Both men and women are capable of resisting attraction, if that means avoiding or ending inappropriate advances, and refraining from affairs. If you agree with the premise, though, I don’t see how you can simultaneously argue that firing the assistant was the wrong decision. It’s the only reason to fire her – or demand she be fired – else the people involved could simply acknowledge that the attraction shouldn’t be acted on, and then not act on it.

        • “that there was bad theology of sexuality at play, with men and women alike believing that attraction and what to do about it were beyond a man’s control (and oddly, also beyond the control of the temptress assistant, since her consent to an eventual affair was apparently assumed as a given). It would be nice if that theology could somehow improve.”

          I am not sure why this is controversial. Its obvious that in many cases desires are not controllable without some very high level of willpower. This is true for women and men. The solution is avoidance if that’s possible.

          If willpower works for sex then would about dieting? Are fat people responsible for being fat. Shouldn’t they just exercise self-control just as the dentist is supposed to?

          • Doreen A Mannion says:

            Avoidance is NOT the answer. As others have pointed out, he will likely transfer his lust to the next “object” of his desire. The reason willpower is not the same for sex as it is for food is that we MUST have food to live; we do not HAVE to have sex to live.

  16. pete zimmerman says:

    these kind of men are lower down the evolutionary scale than my friends are and don’t mean that in a mean way, they just are at some level overgrown boys. I met boy-men all the time, and i meet ALOT more in the evangelical world than in the mainline world. (of course you can be a grown up and still be a jerk.) The kind of men I hang out with as a progressive can struggle and fail sexually but they make choices that lead to those things. and they don’t have this obsession with women and their sexuality. they are grown men, not boys driven by testosterone. I talked to one of these boy-men a few years ago. His literal first reaction to women..all women was “to young to F, too old to F, or Effable.” I thought he was joking. He told me that at a gut level women are first and foremost sex objects for him. He did not know other men saw people not just T and A. I really pitied him. He had alot of trouble relating to women. He was a very serious evangelical christian and had often gone without sex for years at a time but could not break out of old paradigms nor view women as fully human. I have known women who were insanely, totally, completely seductive at all times, usually a personality disorder was involved. Did such massive seductive behavior push my evolutionary buttons? yep. But I don’t have the evangelical fear/anxiety of my sexual feelings, and can live with being attracted to someone and realize that my attraction is just a factor of reality. not an overriding imperative. The fact that I see women as really just humans who happen to be female helps. because for many men, women are a seperate sexual species created for their pleasure. how sad.

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