The “He Gets Us” campaign promotes the ideas of Jesus and Christianity. The campaign bought two spots during Sunday night’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles – part of a media investment of $100m, according to CNN.
The campaign was launched last year and covers TV, billboards, and social media. The ads show Jesus as an immigrant, a refugee, a women’s rights advocate, and as someone fighting racial injustice and corruption in politics.
The campaign site includes content concerning AI and social justice, among other things.
“Whatever you are facing, Jesus faced it too,” the ad campaign says.
“Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Sunday night.
A video by the campaign entitled The Rebel has been viewed more than 88 million times since it was published 11 months ago. The amount of searches for “he gets us” has increased on Google since the year’s start, CNN noted.
NFL games often include religious symbols and gestures, such as prayers on the field.
But some people, notably young people and those sceptical of religion, have spotted some red flags in the campaign’s outreach.
While the campaign’s messaging appears to attempt to be inclusive, its holding company and its major donors are connected to right-wing political causes that don’t connect with what the campaign makes itself out to be.
The campaign is connected to laws restricting women’s reproductive rights as well as the rights of LGBT+ individuals.
Public information and content on the campaign’s own site reveal the roots of the campaign, which is a subsidiary of The Servant Foundation, which has donated tens of millions of dollars to the right-wing Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the left-leaning publication Jacobin.
The alliance has been a part of efforts to limit LGBT+ rights to quash non-discrimination legislation at the Supreme Court.
Hobby Lobby founder David Green, a major donor to the campaign, told rightwing talkshow host Glenn Beck in November of last year that “we are wanting to say — ‘we’ being a lot of different people — that he gets us”.
He added that Jesus “understands us. He loves who we hate. I think we have to let the public know and create a movement”.
The campaign site states that “funding for He Gets Us comes from a diverse group of individuals and entities with a common goal of sharing Jesus’ story authentically”.
“Most of the people driving He Gets Us, including our donors, choose to remain anonymous because the story isn’t about them, and they don’t want the credit,” it adds.
Campaign spokesperson Jason Vanderground told CNN that The Servant Foundation has a fund which “unites donors to provide pooled support for organizations while ensuring the organizations can operate without donors impacting specific messages”.
“Funding for the campaign comes from a diverse group of individuals and entities with a common goal of sharing Jesus’ story authentically,” he added.
The campaign site claims that “we’re not ‘left’ or ‘right’ or a political organization of any kind”.
“We’re also not affiliated with any particular church or denomination,” it states, but CNN notes that it does have connections to Evangelical Christianity.
The campaign has an outreach site intended for churches and marketers who want to work with the campaign.
“He Gets Us has chosen to not have our own separate statement of beliefs,” it states. “Each participating church/ministry will typically have its own language. Meanwhile, we generally recognize the Lausanne Covenant as reflective of the spirit and intent of this movement and churches that partner with explorers from He Gets Us affirm the Lausanne Covenant.”
This part doesn’t seem to appear on the general site intended for public consumption, CNN notes. The covenant is an important document and the Lausanne movement was started by Billy Graham, a prominent evangelical figure who died in 2018, at the age of 99.
When asked by CNN if the campaign supports LGBT+ Christians, Mr Vanderground said that “the debate over LGBTQ+ issues is a great example of how the real Jesus too often gets lost, overlooked or distorted in debates over political and social issues”.
“Our focus is on helping people see and consider Jesus as he is shown in the Bible … He gets us and he loves us, and that includes people on all sides of these issues,” he added.
“A lot of times when people look at Christianity, unfortunately they see it as much more hypocritical, judgmental, discriminatory,” he added.
“We’re trying to unify the American people around the confounding love and forgiveness” of Jesus, he said.
The Independent has reached out to The Servant Foundation for comment.
Pastor and biblical scholar Dr Kevin Young told CNN that “young people are digital natives who understand the difference between slick marketing and authenticity”.
“Megachurches, mega-events, and mega spending on marketing is seen as money that could have been used funding community programs and advocacy for the oppressed – such as refugees, LGBTQ+ individuals and abortion rights – and the poor,” he added.
“Young people want a church that will put shoe leather to their faith and do something for those in harm’s way; those who the church itself has harmed,” he noted.
“Jesus doesn’t have an image problem, but Christians and their churches do,” Dr Young told the outlet. “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.”