Turns Out the People Funding Those Bizarre ‘He Gets Us’ Jesus Ads Are Just As Awful as You’d Expect
"He Gets Us" but who are the people behind "He"?
If you spend time online or watching TV in the US, chances are that you’ve seen the “He Gets Us” ads promoting Jesus. Yes, Jesus. As in Jesus Christ. The man with arguably the most controversial fandom in history.
The ads have been around for a while, but the lead-up to the Super Bowl has seen a rise in their campaign, likely because of a $100 million dollar advertisement that will air during the game. And this is only the start, as the brand reportedly plans to spend $1 billion over the course of the next 3 years.
A lot of people have expressed disbelief that they’re seeing advertisements for Jesus like he was a new car or iPhone. While many (especially those from the Bible Belt) know that billboards and ads for Christianity are nothing new, there is something that feels different about this campaign.
So who is advertising Jesus at the Super Bowl and why are they doing it?
Who is behind the ads?
Originally, some thought that the campaign might be from left-leaning Christians who were seeking to remind right-wing Christians of Jesus’ life as a refugee, or of his stance against hypocrisy.
However, that is not the case.
According to NPR, “[t]he ads are reportedly funded in part by the family that owns the notably religious craft store chain Hobby Lobby, according to Christianity Today, as well as other evangelical groups, including a foundation called The Signatry. Other donors have kept their identities anonymous.”
Hobby Lobby, of course, has been embroiled in multiple scandals and controversies; from filling their Bible museum with stolen artifacts to refusing to cover female employees’ birth control to attempting to remain open through stay-at-home orders in 2020, this company (along with Chick-fil-a) is basically the gold-standard of hypocritical American Christianity.
Why are they making these ads?
Rebecca Watson made a video breaking down the ad campaign and she explained that the Signatry is a Donor Advised Fund. Donor Advised Funds are meant to allow rich people to funnel money to their organizations with little to no accountability. Campaigns like these have allowed oil and energy companies to fund climate change misinformation in the past. The Signatry in particular has previously spent money on the “Alliance Defending Freedom,” “Answers in Genesis,” “Campus Crusade for Christ,” and Al-Hayat Ministries, all of which seem to have the goal of promoting right-wing Christianity and their agenda.
That’s why they spend millions of dollars on these advertisements instead of on charities. Because they are ultimately promoting an agenda, not trying to do good. If they can’t get something out of it (like new converts), then there’s no point in spending their money on it. They’ve basically admitted as much.
Bob Smietana, a national reporter for Religion News Service, said in an interview with NPR that “I think spending that much money, again, is a kind of admission on their part that there’s a problem. And, you know, there is a problem for organized religion in America. It’s declining, congregations are declining. And these ads, too, are a way to chide their fellow Christians to say, ‘This is what Jesus is like, and maybe we know it, and maybe we’re not acting like Jesus.’” Of course, Smietana also noted how a lot of Evangelicals are having a conflict with their personal politics and their religious values. Maybe these Evangelicals should prioritize defining their own relationship with their religion before pushing it onto others?
But there’s something even more insidious to these ad campaigns. When you go to the website affiliated, they have options for finding congregations near you, but the site doesn’t vet any of their churches. Watson pointed out that a closeted gay person could end up being sent to a church that supports conversion therapy, or it could give young women messages like birth control is a sin and their place is in the home. All of which are very real, very dangerous possibilities, especially since the ads appear to be tailored specifically toward a younger audience. Many of the ads have messages suggesting Jesus—and, by extension, Christianity—is outside of or above politics, which we know is just frankly not the case.
Writing the campaign off as cringe or failed because “if you have to advertise the product, then it’s already failed” is, unfortunately, short-sighted. I wish I could write it off as a bad joke, another example of how the Christian right is disconnected from the average American. But when it comes to advertisements like these, the Christian right shows that it knows how to reframe itself for an audience and pretend to be caring and removed from politics when that is very much not the reality.
(featured image: screencap)
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