During the Super Bowl on Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) criticized advertisements by a Christian organization with deep conservative ties, saying that the ads normalize fascism.
As part of a $100 million media campaign, a group called He Gets Us ran two ads during the Super Bowl on Sunday. As Lever News revealed earlier this month, He Gets Us is a subsidiary of the Servant Foundation, a charity that has given tens of millions of dollars to the far right Alliance Defending Freedom, which is leading fights for anti-abortion laws and has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Ocasio-Cortez criticized the ads on Twitter, suggesting that they reinforced calls for supposed civility and both-sidesness that ultimately weaken efforts to resist current fascist movements.
“Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Sunday night.
One of the ads consisted of a series of photos of people fighting with each other, including photos depicting conservative COVID lockdown revolts, a Black man yelling at a police officer, and a white man in a viking hat yelling through a megaphone at a Black man at a protest. The ad then faded to black, and a message appeared on the screen: “Jesus loved the people we hate.”
It directed Super Bowl viewers, of which there were likely hundreds of millions, to visit a website saying that Jesus offers “a third way” of responding to political and social disagreements. “What if we tried to love our enemies the way Jesus loved his?” the website reads.
The message of confronting political and other conflict with civility and love has been an ongoing thread across He Gets Us’s ad campaign, which has run throughout football season. The other ad aired during the Super Bowl encouraged viewers to “be childlike” and imitate childrens’ “innocence” in approaching life and conflict. It directed viewers to another blog post on the site, also encouraging them to embrace the “third way” that they say Jesus preached. “He spoke truth to power, defended the poor and the marginalized, and represented his identity to others consistently,” it says.
He Gets Us’s stated goal is to rebrand Jesus “as he’s depicted in the Bible” — although many leftist activists have pointed out that the Biblical depiction of Jesus actually resembles a modern-day socialist. The group claims to be nonpartisan, but behind its seemingly progressive messages are other far right connections.
For instance, one of the people who bankrolled the group’s current media campaign is David Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, which has been at the forefront of conservative crusades like the 2014 landmark Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to deny medical coverage for contraception based on executives’ religious beliefs.
In modern politics, many conservatives are still hiding behind their supposed Christianity in their attacks on the LGBTQ community and abortion rights. They often use the religion as a front to erode peoples’ rights and as a recruiting tool to sell Americans on the idea of Christian nationalism, a far right ideology closely associated with white supremacy and fascism that many Christians say bears little resemblance to the teachings of Jesus and the Christian Bible.
Experts in theology say that He Gets Us’s attempt to recruit more people to Christianity may backfire. “Young people are digital natives who understand the difference between slick marketing and authenticity,” Christian biblical scholar Kevin M. Young told CNN. “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.”
“Jesus doesn’t have an image problem, but Christians and their churches do,” Young continued. “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.”
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