Denison Forum – Zuckerberg testifies before Congress: “Practiced and patient contrition”

“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.” So stated Mark Zuckerberg when he testified before Congress yesterday on data breaches that have made global headlines in recent weeks.

The Wall Street Journal explains that Facebook’s business model is at the heart of the problem. The company makes money by developing tools that allow advertisers to tailor content for specific Facebook users. Then a developer accessed personal data from up to eighty-seven million users and shared it with the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Last week, Zuckerberg admitted he made a “huge mistake” in not focusing more on potential abuse of user data. He also said he had been “too flippant” when dismissing the threat of fake news after the 2016 presidential election.

A tone of “practiced and patient contrition”

Yesterday, Facebook’s CEO spent nearly five hours testifying before a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees. He will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee today.

While analysts continue to discuss the content of his testimony, my focus today is not on what he said but how he said it.

Prior to Zuckerberg’s appearance before the Senate, Harvard Business Review columnist Daniel McGinn interviewed William LaForge, a former Washington lawyer and lobbyist and author of Testifying Before Congress. LaForge emphasized humility: when CEOs speaking before Congress think they are the smartest person in the room, answer dismissively, or fail to prepare adequately, they can get in trouble in a hurry.

The key to testifying before Congress is knowing what the committee wants to hear and saying it as humbly and persuasively as possible. According to the Washington Post, Zuckerberg followed this advice with a tone of “practiced and patient contrition.” The New York Times noted that he spent weeks in preparation for the hearing and “seemed calm, deferential and prepared.”

How does his example apply to Christians living in a skeptical culture?

“Not knowing where he was going”

In Leviticus 10 we find Moses frustrated with the sons of Aaron because they did not handle an offering as he had instructed them. Aaron explained that his sons acted as they did out of fear of God, “and when Moses heard that, he approved” (v. 20).

Moses’ response astonishes and inspires me.

Remember that he heard from God so directly that he was able to give the world the Ten Commandments. He stood up to Pharaoh and led his people from Egyptian slavery. He was unquestionably one of the greatest leaders in human history.

By contrast, Aaron failed to watch over the nation while Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God. Not only did he allow the people to make a golden calf, but he also lied about how the idol was created (Exodus 32:24).

And yet Moses was teachable enough to learn from his flawed brother.

We find this pattern throughout Scripture. God called Noah to build an ark when, according to many scholars, it had not yet rained on the earth. He called Abram to leave his homeland, “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Jesus called fishermen to “fish for people” (Matthew 4:19 NIV) and a persecuting Pharisee to become his apostle (Acts 9:15). The Lord called Peter to abandon his prejudice against Gentiles and led him to lead a Roman soldier to Jesus (Acts 10).

If we would speak for God, it’s vital that we listen to him.

Humility and teachability are imperative

The Washington Post is carrying a tragic story today about Methodist preacher William Joseph Simmons, who revived the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 at a ceremony in Georgia. He and his followers built an altar with a burning cross, beneath which they laid a US flag, a sword, and a Bible.

As they pledged themselves to their horrific racist ideology, I’m convinced that Jesus wept.

People who claim to love God but hate their neighbor are deceiving themselves. Christians who denigrate non-Christians drive them further from Christ. Believers who separate Sunday from Monday also separate people from Jesus.

Humility and teachability are imperative not just for CEOs before Congress or Christians in following Christ. They are also important for our witness as we engage a skeptical and antagonistic culture.

Before we speak to the world, it’s essential that we listen both to Jesus and to those we seek to persuade. If we repent where the Spirit convicts us, he can use us as conduits of truth. If we learn the needs of those we seek to serve, we can serve them with relevance and grace.

“God has no grandchildren”

In 1904, a great revival swept the nation of Wales, bringing thousands to Christ and transforming the nation. Missionaries were sent from Wales all over the world.

One of those missionaries traveled to Argentina, where he led a young boy to Christ. That boy’s name was Luis Palau, now known as the “Billy Graham of Latin America.” Years later, Dr. Palau traveled to Wales and was heartbroken to find no evidence of revival at all.

From this experience, he produced a movie, God Has No Grandchildren. Its message: If Christians don’t share their faith, the church becomes extinct.

Dr. Palau is right: God has billions of children, but no grandchildren. Can the Holy Spirit use you to help someone meet Jesus today?

 

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