On Sunday, a slick marketing campaign aimed at boosting Christianity’s image found its biggest audience yet. “He Gets Us” aired two commercials during the Super Bowl, inviting viewers to discover — or rediscover — what Jesus is all about.
The longer of the two ads, which aired during the second half, featured a series of images showing people fighting. At the end, white text on a plain black screen explained that, “Jesus loved the people we hate.” Viewers were invited to learn more about “He Gets Us” by visiting a web address including the words “Love Your Enemies.”
By the time the commercial aired, the ad campaign itself had caused more than a few fights. Religious leaders, LGBTQ rights activists and even some politicians have questioned the motives of the “He Gets Us” movement in recent weeks, as buzz about the then-forthcoming Super Bowl ads grew.
“Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Sunday night.
What is ‘He Gets Us’?
“He Gets Us” is an advertising campaign working to connect people with Jesus and improve Christianity’s brand. Through a series of commercials and billboards, it promotes biblical teachings and urges viewers to go online to learn more.
“We’re confident that as people clearly understand, read and learn for themselves about who Jesus is, they’ll find wisdom, hope and peace unlike any other offered,” the “He Gets Us” website explains.
The original budget for the campaign was around $100 million. But a spokesman recently told Religion News Service that “the goal is to invest about a billion dollars over the next three years.”
Why is ‘He Gets Us’ controversial?
Negative reactions to the “He Gets Us” ads are notable given that the campaign aims to strike an inclusive tone. The commercials — and associated websites — do not promote one specific church over others and, instead, encourage people to follow Jesus in their own way.
“Everyone’s journey is individualized. Everyone’s journey is different. ... Any way that someone becomes engaged and grows closer to Jesus in their journey — that, to me, would be a success story,” said Jordan Carson, spokesperson and director of communications for “He Gets Us,” to the Deseret News last month.
Critics’ complaints about the “He Gets Us” ads have focused on their cost and creators, rather than the content. For example, people question why so much money is being spent on advertising, rather than on humanitarian initiatives.
“With the money the ‘He Gets Us’ people spent on their right-wing Jesus ads, they could permanently house 1,563 people experiencing homelessness,” tweeted Sawyer Hackett, a Democratic strategist, Sunday.
When asked about this complaint in January, Carson told the Deseret News that, from the beginning, Christians have used a wide variety of methods to connect with and care for people.
“If you look at the Bible, during Jesus’ life, people took different steps and avenues to speak out about big issues. That’s exactly what this campaign is doing,” she said.
Observers have also raised concerns about the funders behind “He Gets Us,” although most of these donors remain anonymous.
In November, David Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, talked about his involvement during an appearance on Glenn Beck’s radio show, leading some to associate the campaign with his polarizing brand of conservative Christianity.
“Hobby Lobby has famously been at the center of several legal controversies, including the support of anti-LGBTQ legislation and a successful years-long legal fight that eventually led to the Supreme Court allowing companies to deny medical coverage for contraception on the basis of religious beliefs,” CNN reported.
Jacobin, a left-leaning news website, released a story ahead of the Super Bowl highlighting the ties between the campaign and organizations that have worked to restrict access to abortion and support other conservative causes. That article and others have implied — or openly stated — that the “He Gets Us” campaign isn’t as apolitical as it claims to be.
How has ‘He Gets Us’ responded to pushback?
Ahead of the Super Bowl, the minds behind the Twitter account for “He Gets Us” appeared to face recent criticism head on. They shared a post about the campaign’s agenda, arguing that the time had come to make that agenda “perfectly clear.”
The tweet linked to an article on the “He Gets Us” website that explores the inspiration behind the campaign. In that article, as in interviews, campaign organizers explain that their goal is to share “the love story of Jesus,” not to increase polarization or discrimination.
“That is our agenda at He Gets Us: to move beyond the mess of our current cultural moment to a place where all of us are invited to rediscover the love story of Jesus. Christians, non-Christians, and everybody in between. All of us,” the website says.