I wasn’t going to blog this week and instead re-post old blogs from each of the months in 2012. But my blood is really boiling about the case in which the all-male Supreme Court of Iowa ruled that there was no gender discrimination at play when dentist James Knight fired a dental assistant Melissa Nelson because he was “irresistibly attracted” to her. Dan Brennan has a much more eloquent response, but I guess I just needed to write something too. Knight’s wife discovered that her husband and Nelson were sending text messages to each other, so she confronted her husband about it and he responded by firing Nelson. What bothers me the most is that a pastor from Knight’s church presided over the process of Nelson’s firing. They had a meeting at which the pastor was present where Knight read Nelson a prepared statement announcing her termination. In response to the oft-played card that “straw men” are being deployed in the evangelical church’s gender debates, this would be an example of a living straw man. This is a case of the false narrative of sexuality in “family values” culture creating an abominable, misogynistic ethics.
Being a married man and a pastor at that, I know that it’s a real battle to look away from female bodies that I don’t want to be looking at or thinking about. Believe it or not, women do not always dress very conservatively when they come to church. I actually got into a spirited conversation recently on a feminist blog in which I tried to explain that men who are trying to be chaste genuinely suffer when women dress in a way that causes men to look and have thoughts that they don’t want to have. I don’t think it’s fair to take the radical stance that women have no ethical responsibility to their community in how they dress, which is different than saying women are responsible for how guys respond to how they dress. Think of it this way. If men were walking around in clothing that deliberately accented a certain swollen part of their anatomy, that would be considered sexual harassment. So I think that both women and men should have a baseline of decency in how they dress (e.g. g-strings and man-thongs are not appropriate grocery shopping or even gym attire).
However, the question of that baseline of decency is not applicable in this case. If there’s an employee dress code problem, you make a policy; you don’t send text messages to your employee talking about the “bulge in [your] pants.” How in the world is that not blatant sexual harassment? The worst part for me is the spiritual malpractice of this pastor presiding over a parishioner’s unjust personnel decisions and framing it as a legitimate defense of his marriage. To do that is to condone sin and punish the victim rather than the perpetrator. Sorry Melissa, but James just can’t help himself; I’m sure you understand. Now Mr. Knight’s lack of self-control has the blessing of his church. Now the pastor has legitimated James’ self-abandonment to his lust rather than counseling him to take responsibility for his actions and resolve the conflict in his marriage in a way that doesn’t involve scapegoating a third party. Certainly the media storm will create a different reality now for Mr. Knight, but otherwise wouldn’t this outcome basically mean that he’s free to flirt with his hygienists in the future as long as he’s willing to fire them when he crosses a line that makes his wife uncomfortable?
I’m very interested in hearing what complementarians have to say about this. Here you have a pretty blatant example of what you would call a “caricature” of your beliefs. Are you going to speak out against it? Or do you think the values represented here are a legitimate expression of what you believe about how men and women should relate to one other? Friends, the fruit continues to testify.