Usually questions here are submitted by readers, but this time the question was posed by a journalist. In the March issue of Christianity today, Ruth Moon asked several of us to weigh in on a court case in Iowa in which a Christian dentist was found to be within his rights to fire his female hygienist because he feared he was too attracted to her and might be tempted to have an affair with her. The magazine asked whether this action was right.
You can read my response here, and weigh it along with the others. I said “no,” that I didn’t think firing her was the right way to go. I wanted here to give a fuller sense of why I think the way I do. I believe the issue is bigger than the particulars of this court case.
First of all, I’m no anti-dentite. I have nothing but commendation for the dentist for recognizing, early on, his point of temptation. The first step in overcoming temptation is finding one’s own points of vulnerability and finding the way of escape Holy Scripture promises us is there (1 Cor. 10:13). The dentist is right to take action in his life as soon as he realized he is hot-for-hygienist and he is right that his marriage is more important than his practice.
If the hygienist were pressing for a relationship or actively seeking to be sexually provocative, I think he has the right to fire her, if she won’t end it. That’s unprofessional behavior and puts him in a situation in which it is impossible for either of them to do their jobs. It would be a kind of reverse sexual harassment.
But, if not, I think there are other means for keeping his integrity intact.
He could have acted to his own economic hurt, rather than to hers. I know of Christian professionals who cut their own salaries in order to hire more than one staff member, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. He could have made sure that he was only in the office when there were others there, or, when that was impossible, his wife or a friend would accompany him.
Jesus said “If your eye offends you, gouge it out.” He didn’t say “If you find your neighbor’s eyes are too sexy, gouge them out.” It isn’t a just society when women are hired only if they meet certain standards of “sexiness,” as in our “Mad Men” celebrated recent past. It also isn’t a just society if women are fired because some man finds them attractive on those same terms.
At the root of this is, I fear, a kind of misogyny which identifies women themselves as the problem rather than one’s own lust and self-control. That’s not what the Bible teaches.
What would happen if this standard were enforced on a wide scale? What happens when, for instance, a new hygienist gets a new hairstyle and a new pair of glasses and, suddenly, the dentist starts noticing her in a new way? Is she fired too? And what happens across the board when women can be fired at will by men who can simply proclaim, “You’re too sexy for this office.”
The dentist is right to maintain his marriage and his integrity, but I think there are better, more just ways of doing that.
Remember to send me your real-life ethical dilemma at firstname.lastname@example.org.