While I’m not the biggest NFL fan, I always watch the playoffs. So it has been impossible to avoid the new “He Gets Us” ads for Jesus that have appeared during every playoff game. They include themes such as “Jesus was a refugee” and “Jesus confronted racism with love.” These ads are part of a billion dollar campaign that will also include two ads during the Super Bowl this weekend, funded by a group of anonymous Christian donors.
The “He Gets Us” campaign is ostensibly a strategy to rebrand Jesus for the younger generation. This version of Jesus is inclusive, values diversity, and cares about the issues that matter most to younger Americans. This less dogmatic “woke” version of Jesus, like the ads themselves, feels phony. Perhaps the best description comes from podcaster and secular activist Seth Andrews, who described the campaign as revolving around a “touchy-feely, conveniently vague, designer Jesus.” The ads are a stark contrast to what you hear from televangelists, megachurch leaders, hate-preachers, apologists, Christian movies, etc. But that’s the point.
The conservative groups funding this campaign hope that the ads will launder Christianity to younger Americans who continue to drift further away from religion in favor of secularism and progressive ideologies. The campaign was started explicitly because conservative Christians are concerned that younger Americans are leaving Christianity in droves and people are growing more “hostile” towards Christians. They should be concerned. Projections show Christians of all ages shrinking from 64 percent to between a little more than half (54 percent) and just above one-third (35 percent) of all Americans by 2070. Over that same period, “Nones” are expected to rise from the current 29 percent to somewhere between 34 percent and 52 percent of the U.S. population.
For decades, fundamentalist Christians have largely ignored Jesus, and his rather sizable role in the bible, in favor of radical right-wing theology, grievance politics and hate. Rather than rethinking the popular Christian stances on a host of important issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights and the like, the solution that they have now come up with is a billion-dollar media blitz for Jesus. It’s not really about Jesus, however — it’s just a slick, well-funded marketing campaign meant to improve the image of conservative Christians.
Unfortunately, we don’t actually know all the people and groups behind the campaign. After all, that’s the point of these types of dark money schemes. We do know that Christian nationalist David Green, the billionaire co-founder of Hobby Lobby and the Bible Museum in D.C., donated money to the campaign. Yes, this is the same Hobby Lobby that went to the Supreme Court fighting for its right to deny contraceptive coverage to its employees.
We also know that the funding for the campaign comes from The Servant Foundation, a nonprofit backed by a Christian donor-advised fund called The Signatry. This shadowy, dark-money group has given funding to organizations directly attacking the issues that matter most to younger Americans. In 2019, it directed more than $19 million to Alliance Defending Freedom, a theocratic anti-LGBTQ hate group that has opposed marriage equality, trans rights and reproductive rights. It directed nearly $8 million to Answers in Genesis, the fundamentalist ministry behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Park and a major driver of misinformation and anti-evolution pseudoscience. This funding of hate and misinformation is especially alarming because He Gets Us, LLC has only one member, the Servant Foundation, which is tax exempt. This means that all donations to the “He Gets Us” campaign are tax deductible as donations to the Servant Foundation.
You could do a lot of good in the world with a billion dollars. A better campaign would be using the money to improve people’s lives, say, providing food and housing for the homeless. Instead, the anonymous Christians behind the campaign would rather fund various hate groups and spend tens of millions of dollars on two Super Bowl ads that will only further highlight their hypocrisy.
The ads airing this Sunday during the Super Bowl will claim Jesus “gets us,” but this whole campaign just shows that when it comes to why Christianity is on the decline in this country conservative Christians don’t “get it” and they never will.