I first wrote about the “He Gets Us” Campaign last fall when it began to show up during the baseball playoffs. Any other year, I would have missed the ads, since the Seattle Mariners hadn’t been in the playoffs for 21 years. But because they finally ended the playoff drought last fall I saw the ads. Here’s what I wrote last October.
Since then the campaign has become a bit of a Culture Wars hot potato. So . . . I thought you might be interested in a bit of a round-up of some of the back and forth, as well as an update of my own take on the ads.
Jim Burklo a fellow UCC pastor and Executive Director of Progressive Christians Uniting is calling for progressives to rally against the campaign and its “right-wing funders.” You can see how Jim shapes his response at his newsletter here. He does encourage those of a like-mind to list their churches with the He Gets Us church referral campaign to get visibility for a progressive alternative. MSNBC ran another take-down of the campaign the day after the game.
The complaint about right-wing funders largely owes to the family that owns Hobby Lobby being a major funder. That said, the ads avoid partisan politics and the culture wars. Moreover, the present a human and humane Jesus, not some Christian Nationalist Messiah waving an assault weapon or someone hating on gays.
Another, and different take on the campaign, comes from Mockingbird.com and Bryan Jarrell who writes on media for Mockingbird. Jarrell acknowledges initial skepticism, but after viewing a bunch of the He Gets Us spots, says he’s on board. You can watch a number of the ads and make up your own mind. Here’s Jarrell on the political/ culture wars question:
“Then, there’s the politics side. The vast majority of the project’s donors are silent, the exception being the (in)famous Hobby Lobby family, who claimed they chipped in to pay for the ads. The political side of things is neutral to non-existent, highlighting themes in Jesus’s life that affirm and challenge both sides of the political aisle. If there’s some secret bait-and-switch in the campaign that would suddenly reveal a political party preference, I don’t see it. The follow-up material in the campaign claims it wants viewers to interact with the Nazarene himself without any Washington D.C. overtones.”
NPR also did a spot on the campaign, which you can see here. It’s a good conversation between NPR staffer, Scott Detrow, and Bob Smietana of the Religious News Service.
Taken at face value, I more or less like the He Get’s Us spots. The point appears to be that Jesus cares about people who are hurting, struggling, and have been kicked to life’s sidelines. That he is into mercy not judgment. That he shares the human condition, top to bottom. I’m on board with all that.
But as I noted in my first article on the campaign there is often a gap between the Jesus which this ad campaign gives us and people’s experience of actual churches, something which the UCC’s God Is Still Speaking Campaign back in 2006 also ran into. With some exceptions churches aren’t always as accepting of messed up people (even though we are pretty much all messed up in some way) as is the Jesus of He Gets Us. But that may be changing at least in some quarters as the church, broadly speaking, is less part of the cultural establishment and more of a counter-culture itself. Let us hope.
And what about the Marshall McLuhan point that “the medium is the message.” What does the medium of TV, 30 second televised spots, and more particularly, Super Bowl Ads, do to the message? The overall Super Bowl extravaganza is entertainment, arguably the biggest show of them all. Does it work to sandwich Christianity in there? Or does it transform it into yet another form of entertainment or consumerism, which in some quarters is already pretty far advanced?
Is it naive to suggest that the $100million paid for the TV Jesus ad campaign could be better spent for more quietly “Jesus-like” use, to feed and house and provide physical and mental health services for those we see everywhere, in need? This paragraph from your October essay was a shocking revelation of misused money, in the opinion of this non-christian. You wrote: ” The $100 million ‘He Gets Us’ campaign is the work of a marketing firm called Haven based in Grand Haven, Michigan. Jason Vanderground, Haven’s president, says his hope is that the campaign can bridge the gap between the story of Jesus and public perceptions of his followers.” I respond: These subtle proselytizers should leave TV “entertainment” out of it and put their money to christ-like use.
Well, while I completely agree that instead of proselytizing during a major sporting event, the money should be spent helping those struggling, we could take a look at the Billion-plus dollars spent (or, as many feel, “wasted”) trying to help the homeless here in Seattle, and realize that $100M doesn’t go very far.
Marshall McLuhan wrote a sequel titled “The Medium is the Massage”. That’s what we get with Super Bowl ads, whether for Christianity or Budweiser. These are not messages. They are full-body massages.