A PR Campaign for Jesus Christ?

If you watched the Super Bowl last Sunday, you probably saw the commercial for He Gets Us, a Christian group that is doing PR work for Jesus. If you didn’t see the commercial during the Super Bowl, take a look:

Pretty slick, huh?

He Gets Us has been running these types of commercials for the past three years. Each commercial costs in the neighborhood of $10-$20 million dollars  to make, and the commercials they run during the Super Bowl cost another $7 million per 30-second placement. He Get Us must have some deep pockets.

In fact, the He Gets Us ads are being paid for by the Servant Foundation, a group that does business as The Signatry. They are a “donor-advised” 501 (c) 3 non-profit that distributes millions of dollars every year, primarily to conservative Christian churches and organizations.

The biggest recipient of The Signatry’s largess is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing organization that fights against LGBTQ+ rights, opposes women having control over their bodies and reproductive systems, and which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) has designated as a hate group. Most organizations The Signatry supports hold views similar to the ADF.

To watch the He Gets Us ads, you’d think they are promoting a progressive, even woke, Jesus. The He Gets Us Jesus loves everyone, including gays, immigrants, and the bullied. He opposes cancel culture, and the ads claim Jesus came from a broken home, just like many of the people the ads are targeted toward.

Jason Vanderground, a spokesperson for He Gets Us, says the group behind the ads “believe it’s more important now than ever for the real, authentic Jesus to be represented in the public marketplace as he is in the Bible.” But it isn’t Jesus that needs the PR. It’s the churches that claim to follow his teachings while routinely behaving in ways that are in direct opposition to those teachings.

According to Pastor Kevin M. Young of Christ’s Table Ministry, “Jesus doesn’t have an image problem, but Christians and their churches do. These campaigns end up being PR for the wrong problem. Young people are savvy. One of their primary issues with evangelicalism, and the modern church in America, is the amount of money spent on itself.”

The He Gets Us ads are aimed at a primarily Gen-Z audience, an audience that is digitally native, tech savvy, and culturally aware. And, they are the least religious generation in history. Members of Gen-Z report overwhelmingly that they have avoided the church, not because they have a problem with the teachings of Jesus, but because of the way many churches carry out those teachings. It’s the churches themselves that need PR (if not an entire overhaul), not Jesus.

The He Gets Us ads appear to be conducting a sort of slight-of-hand, using Jesus and his teachings to reel in potential followers, but then dropping the progressive  pretense when they hook a potential convert and send them to a partner church. Jesus is the bait, not the message.

He Gets Us has set up a network of thousands of churches across the nation to send their catch to. Although they claim that all churches are welcome to join their network, if you read the fine print on their website, you’ll learn that only those churches that agree with the Lausanne Covenant will be accepted into the network.

Written by John Stott and agreed to primarily by evangelical church leaders in 1974, the Lausanne Covenant “lays out fifteen specific categories of belief: the purpose of God, the authority and power of the Bible, the uniqueness and universality of Christ, the nature of evangelism, Christian social responsibility, the church and evangelism, cooperation in evangelism, churches in evangelistic partnership, the urgency of the evangelistic task, evangelism and culture, education and leadership, spiritual conflict, freedom and persecution, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ.” In practice, the Lausanne Covenant has been used to oppose what the church refers to as “idolatry of disordered sexuality,” which is a fancy way of saying they fight against the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

Vanderground says that He Gets Us is neither left nor right, nor are they affiliated with any particular church or denomination. But isn’t that a bit naïve? Was Jesus apolitical? Were the issue he preached about non-political?

Josiah R. Daniels, writing in Sojourners, had this to say:

“The campaign may want to advocate for apoliticism, but whether they recognize or admit it, it is practically impossible to be apolitical when it comes to the issues referenced on their site. Furthermore, imagining Jesus as apolitical is itself a political decision — and it is a decision that aligns with politically and financially powerful interests…Jesus’ politics, which challenged Rome’s politically and financially powerful interests, guaranteed his death. The message of the Roman Empire should sound familiar to those of us who live in the American Empire: The more resources and power you can attain, the better off you’ll be. Of course, Jesus sought to bring about a kingdom, that is a political domain, where the exact opposite was held to be true: The poor and the powerless will inherit the kingdom, but the powerful will be kicked off their thrones and the wealthy will be sent away empty.”

When those interested in learning more about He Gets Us engage with the tools and chat features they have on their website (HeGetsUs.com), the responses from those working for He Gets Us and their member churches are decidedly evangelical and anti-LGBTQ+.

Writer Chrissy Stroop took advantage of the chat feature on the He Gets Us website and, posing as a young Christian struggling with gender identity, was encouraged to seek guidance from the Bible and a Christian “Biblical” counselor. The He Gets Us employee also shared a Bible verse from the Book of Genesis that evangelicals often use to justify their opposition to trans rights and same-sex marriage.

But it’s not just the message that is a problem for He Gets Us, it’s also the messenger. One of the largest donors to the He Gets Us campaign is David Green of Hobby Lobby fame. The right-wing evangelical is well known for his crusades against LGBTQ+ people, same-sex marriage, and contraception. Gen-Zers view Green and Hobby Lobby in much the same way they view the Koch Brothers and other right-wing zealots who oppose most of the things that are important to, and which Gen-Zers, support. The money being spent by He Gets Us comes in large part from a $3 billion donation from Green designed to improve the image of evangelicals, defend evangelical Christian beliefs both in and out of court, and bring non-believers into the evangelical Christian fold.

I have to admit, at first blush, I kind of liked the He Gets Us ads. They spoke to a Christianity that I find attractive. One that has little judgment but lots of compassion. Alas, the ads are mere parlor tricks, an online bait-and-switch game that is all too easy and far too common. If the people behind the ads actually believed what they said, I might become a fan. Sadly, the words they use are empty and cynical, more appropriate for selling laxatives or nutritional supplements than the Son of God.

ADDENDUM: It’s worth pointing out that left-leaning Christians are not the only ones unhappy with the He Gets Us ads. Hard right evangelicals are also unhappy with the commercials, believing they portray Jesus as a woke deity who accepted and tolerated all sinners, regardless of their sin, and whether or not they had repented.

Music video producer and one-time Congressional candidate Robby Starbuck  wrote on X.com (formerly twitter): “The ‘he gets us’ feet ad about Jesus seems to imply that Jesus was cool with all kinds of sinful behavior. He wasn’t. He didn’t go hangout with prostitutes or any other sinner because he accepted the choices they made, he did it to inspire them to change,”

Pastor Ryan Visconti of Generation Church in Arizona said, “The ‘He Gets Us’ commercial might seem harmless to some, but it’s obviously part of a psyop to trick Christians into thinking Jesus is fine with sin & apostasy. It’s the opposite of what our world needs right now,”

Musician Vinnie James posted this on X:  “SUPER BOWL WARNING! The ‘He gets us’ ad is TOTALLY deceptive. Jesus washed the feet of his DISCIPLES (followers)! Those were people who ALREADY BELIEVED in JESUS. He then told them to wash EACH OTHERS (believers) feet. Christianity shouldn’t be rewritten as political ads!”

In fact, this same sentiment was posted by Brittany Dawn Nelson, a Christian Instagram influencer in this video:

The good folks at He Gets Us responded with a press release concerning the controversy. Reporting on the press release, Newsweek said: “The images [of Jesus washing feet] are meant to symbolize ‘how we should treat one another,’ while the commercial is meant to call themes of ‘love and unity’ and ‘love your neighbor’ ahead of a deeply divided election, according to the organization in a press release, which says its goal is to ‘remind everyone, including ourselves, that Jesus’ teachings are a warm embrace, not a cold shoulder.”

It doesn’t seem that anyone is happy with the ads. Liberal Christians are annoyed that the ads are a cynical attempt to lure in potential converts with nice words, only to drop the progressive  pretense after they get the mark on the line.

Conservative Christians are angry that anyone is portraying Jesus as a kind and tolerant soul who meets people where they live. They want potential converts to repent and live a life free of sin (Like the conservative Christians?) before Jesus metaphorically washes their feet.

And Gen-Zers are turned off by the ads not only because of the ad’s bait-and-switch nature, but because members of Gen-Z are critical of He Gets Us (and other Christian organizations) for spending far too much money to attract new members (like on Super Bowl ads) , and far too little money helping the hungry, the homeless, the downtrodden, and the stranger. You know, the kind of people Jesus helped.


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