In general, I don’t care for commercials. Unless they’re for an upcoming movie I’m excited about or some local pizza shop I haven’t tried, I tend to ignore or skip them. I’ll even mute them during a live broadcast. I just find them that unremarkable.
But every now and then, a commercial will come along that really annoys me. It’s not just the aesthetics of the commercial, the cheesy nature of the scenario, or the annoying jingles that some devious marketing team conjured. It’s the overall substance of the commercial and what it’s ultimately selling. Because it’s one thing to advertise in hope of selling a product. It’s quite another to advertise in hope pushing a questionable agenda.
This is how I feel about the recent flood of the “He Gets Us” commercials that have been popping up lately. If you’ve been awake and coherent for any commercial break lately, you’ve probably seen them. They’re part of a PR campaign by Christian organizations like The Signatry and billionaire activists like David Green, the co-founder of Hobby Lobby.
And it’s not a cheap, low-level campaign either. According to NPR, it’s part of a multimillion-dollar effort intended to change or influence the public perception of Jesus Christ and Christianity, in general. There’s even plans to air a special commercial during the Super Bowl, which is not a cheap endeavor.
That alone should hint at the ambition behind this effort, as well as the deep pockets of those funding it. As for the commercials themselves, they all have a very distinct tone.
You’ve got these dark backgrounds depicting people who appear real and genuine.
They’re often include messages about how Jesus was a refugee, hated hypocrisy, and was unfairly persecuted for his beliefs.
They often end with the tagline message that Jesus gets us and with references to the organization.
Anyone who has a passing familiarity with Christianity and the bible probably knows these details about Jesus Christ, already. Even if you’re not a Christian, it’s nearly impossible to live in the United States and not be aware of basic Christian ideas. That alone makes the idea of a campaign to inform and educate people about Jesus’ life seem somewhat redundant.
However, it’s the bigger picture behind the message and the larger trends in organized religion that genuinely concern me. Because even though the message seems uplifting and benign, it’s important to understand who it’s coming from and why.
In case anyone has forgotten, the family behind Hobby Lobby has also been behind a number of court cases and legal efforts to promote “religious freedom.” I put that term in quotes because it’s a very politically charged term. In America, when most people talk about religious freedom, they’re usually referring to the rights of mainstream Christians to oppress, denigrate, or discriminate against minorities, usually individuals of the LGBTQ+ community.
To them, religious freedom means the ability to refuse service to people based on their sexuality, race, or gender identity.
To them, religious freedom means the ability of their particular religion to get special treatment and protections by the state. They’ll rarely say anything about Jewish or Islamic communities getting similar treatment.
To them, religious freedom means being exempt from laws or policies about women’s health care, adoption, or science.
To them, religious freedom means the ability to indoctrinate their children on their terms through things like homeschooling or private schooling.
In essence, their struggle for religious freedom usually boils down to an effort for their brand of religion to have power, influence, and some measure of preferential treatment over the competition, be it other faiths or no faith at all.
Now, as always, I need to make clear that organizations and efforts like this do not reflect on the character of most Christians. As I’ve said before, most of the people in my family identify as Christian. Some are very active in their church. They are good, decent, loving people. And most of them couldn’t care less about the politics or private lives of others.
They’re goals are actually perfectly in line with the teachings of Jesus. They seek to help and comfort others through meaningful community-centered efforts. They don’t need multi-million dollar campaigns to do it. Their faith is enough for them. And if others join them in that effort, then everyone benefits. That’s a legitimately beautiful thing.
But efforts like “He Gets Us” attempt to go beyond those simple, smaller acts of piety. It’s attempting to reshape perceptions of the notion that being a Christian means being an intolerant, anti-science, anti-fun, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-woman, anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-capitalism, anti-environmentalist bigot. Considering the damage the religious right has done to perceptions of Christianity, I totally understand that.
The problem is that those behind “He Gets Us” actively contributed to that perception. They’re the ones who funded organizations that opposed same-sex marriage, anti-discrimination bills, and political candidates who claim global warming is a hoax. They’re the ones who seek favorable treatment by the courts when it comes to refusing services to certain minorities or getting special exceptions from general business practices.
On top of that, organizations like Hobby Lobby and The Signatry have close ties to organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, a recognized hate group that often leads the charge in pursuing anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion policies. You can definitely make the case that they actively contributed to the current situation regarding abortion in the United States.
It’s this disconnect that I find so troubling about these commercials. They send a message that the message of Jesus and Christianity is for everyone. It’s somehow a necessary message in the current cultural landscape. But it ignores the fact that religious right has effectively co-opted Christianity to create this current situation. And at no point in these commercials or in their promotional material does “He Gets Us” or the organization behind it apologize for that, let alone acknowledge it.
This initiative claims to want inclusivity, but ignores where that lack of inclusivity came from. It also ignores that Christianity, as an organization, has become a political force that advocates egregious injustices, outright inequality, and a distinctly fascist form of governance that a large segment of the population has embraced. Like it or not, Christianity is closely tied with a brand of politics that is completely antithetical to nearly every core teaching Jesus Christ ever espoused. To not acknowledge or confront that is like trying to change a tire on a car that’s actively on fire.
In that sense, the agenda “He Gets Us” feels less like an effort to redress actual missteps of modern Christianity and more like damage control. It comes off as oil companies trying to shirk responsibility for climate change by claiming they care about the environment too, but refuse to stop polluting.
Again, I’m not trying to say every Christian is responsible for the misdeeds of a select few, nor am I saying someone is a bad person for identifying as a Christian or even contributing to organizations like this. It’s critical to distinguish the individual people from the nefarious agendas that organizations push. If there’s one message I’d like to convey about “He Gets Us” and the message they’re trying to sell, it’s this.
Be very skeptical of their agenda.
Be very skeptical of any religious organization that chooses to spend millions of dollars on TV ads to address a PR problem that they’re responsible for.
If you truly do believe in the values and teachings of Jesus Christ, then you don’t need commercials or politically connected organizations to practice them. You just need faith and a desire to be decent to other people, even if they don’t agree with you.