Jesus gets you – he doesn’t bait-and-switch you
I do believe Jesus gets you, but he doesn’t bait and switch you. He didn’t come to unite political opponents, but to convert them to be allies of the oppressed, on their side, and thus on his side.
My eyes were on the Birds, so I didn’t watch a single ad during the Super Bowl. But afterward, I couldn’t stop seeing commentary about the “He Gets Us” ads. A friend actually reached out to me before the game to get my thoughts on the ads themselves. After reading an article on them, and discerning that anti-LGBTQIA groups were funding them, I lost interest in the message. I simply said, “I draw the line there.” Rehabilitating the image of Jesus is important, but this felt like simply enchanting people into following Jesus and then just serving them the same old Evangelical ideology that got us into this mess. Jesus got associated with hatred and oppression because of the people that fund the campaign, because of Evangelicals. Hobby Lobby’s founder David Green, who is anti-reproductive rights and anti-LGBTQIA, is one of its main donors. The Servant Foundation, which runs the campaign, has donated to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGTBIA hate group. If Jesus gets queer people, he affirms them. The Servant Foundation literally hates them.
However, most of the critiques (from the left) were that the ad simply cost too much money, and that that money would have been better spent doing the Gospel instead of just selling it in primetime. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic member of Congress from New York tweeted: "Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign.
I want to be honest: that feels like pearl-clutching to me. Super Bowl ads do cost a lot of money, but I think they are also an effective way to get a message out there. Is it the best use of money? Probably not, but I do think its message was more problematic than its medium. And further, I would be very supportive if progressive Christians wanted to spend millions to share their image and understanding of Christ. In fact, I think something like that is needed from progressives.
To be sure, the right-wing also had critiques of its content. Charlie Kirk, who founded the fascist publication Turning Point USA, said the ads “pander to liberals,” and are “woke.”
My issue is that the ads, because of who they are funded by, are wolves in sheep’s fleeces. The two that aired during the Super Bowl showed children playing and political tension depicted in the polarizing events of the pandemic. As precious as I found the ad with kids to be, I found the one about Loving Enemies to be both tone-deaf and unhelpful. As I watched it, I couldn’t understand what the message was. It showed political enmity between groups, and I wondered if it was in support of one or the other. It seemed to highlight the anger of both sides, equated them, and concludes with this phrase, “Jesus loves the people we hate. Jesus gets us. All of us.”
This message of peace between political opponents is given to us by a far-right group. So when the dust settles, there is indeed an anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, white supremacist side they take. But for now, they call for peace and unity between these groups. But there shouldn’t be peace between fascists and those who oppose them, between people who are fine with police brutality and victims of it, for people who hate LGBTQIA people and think they are a threat to their children and those very queer people themselves, for the immunocompromised and disabled and anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. Jesus didn’t come to end political animosity — in many ways, his politics heightened it! Jesus certainly gets all of us, and certainly doesn’t call us to hate one another, but hatred isn’t something that happens on both sides. The groups funding these ads hate queer people, and queer people are simply naming that. Jesus did not come to bring peace between those groups of people. As I have said many times, Jesus took a side. And he sided with the oppressed.
The unity that these ads call for is a unity that burdens the oppressed the most. The enemy love they propagate isn’t the one of Jesus of Nazareth, but one that ceases to challenge their political values. The enemy love of Jesus gets him killed; but here, the path of unity just makes sure everyone is comfortable with their prejudice and bigotry.
The people writing these ads certainly are familiar with the political disruption of Jesus. In an ad that probably got more critique from the right than the left, they depict Jesus as a refugee. Indeed, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and they were political refugees. The ad says Herod pursued them because they were said to be starting an insurrection (an ominous interpretation). The ad ends by telling us Jesus was a refugee, that Jesus gets us. Maybe this is cynical, but I actually think it is speaking to conservative Christians who see themselves chased out of the public sphere because of their bigoted views. Not once does the ad call for political action in favor of migrants, it is merely a re-telling of a Bible story. It seems to me like its purpose is to help people that care about refugees care about Jesus — instead of helping Christians advocate for refugees. Of course, its lack of interpretive depth complicates it. It’s an ad “for everyone,” one that we can interpret in any way we like. I certainly bring what scholars call a hermeneutic of suspicion to the ads because of their source, but even if I didn’t, the ad that describes Jesus as a refugee is simply politically vacuous.
Ultimately, it seems to me like these artistic ads are meant to tantalize people into attending a church that will eventually offer them a political formation. We already know the brand of Christianity that they propagate has political meaning, that it isn’t even moderate, but rather far-right. So “He Gets Us” is simply a “seeker-sensitive” campaign to get well-meaning people in church doors before their converted to something else altogether. I do believe Jesus gets you, but he doesn’t bait and switch you. He didn’t come to unite political opponents, but to convert them to be allies of the oppressed, on their side, and thus on his side.