Public figures—be they actors, musicians, politicians or athletes—sometimes make poor choices. And sometimes they have to face the consequences.
Over the last seven months, we’ve watched one such moral scandal play out in the media. Actresses Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives, Get Shorty) and Lori Laughlin (Fuller House, When Calls the Heart) were among a group of 50 people who illegally paid to have college admission scores changed and/or had their children designated as athletes in order to get into prominent schools.
Felicity Huffman was sentenced this week for her involvement in this scandal, receiving 14 days in prison and a $30,000 fine. We can debate whether the punishment fits the crime or not—and let’s just say Twitter users have had a few choice things to say about it—but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Instead, I want to talk about Huffman’s reaction to the sentence.
Now, I have to admit I have a certain cynicism with regard to these types of stories. So often when privileged people have to face the music, we hear denials, excuses, explanations, non-apologies and vehement defenses of their character—sometimes even after the judge’s gavel falls.
So I was caught off guard by the extent to which Felicity Huffman was willing to take responsibility for her choices. In court, before the sentence was announced, she said, “I take full responsibility of my actions and making amends with my crime. I will deserve whatever punishment you give me.” Afterward, she had this to say:
I accept the court’s decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.
I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions. And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.
I have learned a lot over the last six months about my flaws as a person. My goal now is to serve the sentence that the court has given me. I look forward to doing my community service hours and making a positive impact on my community. I also plan to continue making contributions wherever I can well after those service hours are completed. …
My hope now is that my family, my friends and my community will forgive me for my actions.
What do you think of what Huffman had to say here? I was struck by extent to which Huffman took responsibility here—something that feels more and more rare in our culture. She recognized what she had done wrong and the people it had hurt. And she didn’t try to convince anyone otherwise or imply that there had been some miscarriage of justice. Instead, she submitted willingly to the judge’s ruling. And she ended with a plea for forgiveness from those closest to her.
I have no idea where Felicity Huffman stands spiritually. But her words here reflect a Christian understanding of the process of reconciliation. We confess our shortcomings. We recognize our need for forgiveness. And we move forward in the hope of redemption.
Christianity says that our sins—be they the kind that make the headlines or the more mundane variety that we all commit every day—don’t have to have the last word. When we confess our failures and moral lapses—both to God (1 John 1:9) and to each other (Proverbs 28:13)—it opens the door to restoration, to a fresh start, to the possibility of a new and different outcome for our lives as we turn away (with God’s help) from our destructive choices.
Sometimes I can be quick to condemn, to unleash judgment on those whose moral failures become the stuff of headlines. And it’s especially tempting to act self-righteously toward those who fall to temptations that I don’t deal with personally.
But Felicity Huffman’s story reminds me of how much we all stand in need of forgiveness, of a second chance. That doesn’t eliminate the consequences for her—or for our—wrong choices. But it does mean that our failures don’t have to be end of the story.