Like 208 million other people, I watched the Super Bowl Sunday night. Patrick Mahomes’ remarkable courage and talent took my breath away, and I was amazed at how Jalen Hurts could do it all. Like those millions of other people, I was also tuning in to watch the commercials. But two of them ruined the rest of the show for me.
The ads for “He Gets Us,” which promoted Jesus Christ and Christianity, have no place in a show sponsored by the National Football League. As a Jewish mother and grandmother, I found them hurtful, confusing and potentially damaging to any football fan who is not a Christian.
The first ad ran at the end of the first quarter. It displayed beautiful pictures of children of all races and abilities getting along, smiling and hugging each other. I didn’t know who was sponsoring the ad, but the photography was so exquisite and the message so touching that I was ready to take out my checkbook to support whatever organization created it. Then I learned it was “He Gets Us,” and I could visit the website to discover who “He” is to learn more.
I didn’t need a website to tell me who “He” was, but the second ad, aired towards the end of the game, confirmed it. Also using striking photography, a voiceover told us viewers, “Jesus loved the people we hate.” I don’t hate anyone. My children are taught to not hate anyone. Curious, I went to the website, which linked me to a series of “reading plans” that will “reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness.“
Does that belong in the Super Bowl?
The two ads cost $20 million, money that could easily be spent on houseless people or hungry kids or any of the many serious issues our society faces today.
But to me, the biggest problem with the ads is how they might subconsciously be affecting children who are not Christian. Young Jewish children who admire football stars can easily confuse their hero worship with religious messages about who they should actually worship. And it is not just Jewish children who were exposed to this Evangelical propaganda. Pew Research Center reports there are 3.45 million Muslims, 3-4 million Buddhists and 2.5 million Hindus in the United States, along with about 4% who are atheists or have no or other religions. Lots of them are football fans, too.
As the Forward reports, “Jason Vanderground, a spokesperson for He Gets Us, said the campaign’s goal is to ‘unify the American people around the confounding love and forgiveness of Jesus,’ seemingly unaware of the fact that Jesus is not so unifying to all Americans. It’s hard not to see the campaign as a conversion drive.”
It all leaves me extremely worried. As Christianity Today reports, the campaign “will target millennials and Gen Z with a carefully crafted, exhaustively researched and market-tested” messages. They could make children who do not believe in Jesus feel different at a time in their development when most just want to fit in. Many are already isolated or embarrassed at school events that celebrate Christmas or Easter with little to no acknowledgement of Jewish or other religious holidays. A constant barrage of ads suggesting they are not the same as their classmates surely won’t help.
Besides, while the ads promote being kind to one another, the funders behind them, including primary donor David Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, are also funding anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Of course, thanks to the First Amendment, the Servant Foundation, which is running the “He Get Us” campaign, absolutely has a right to run these ads. But these pro-Jesus commercials, intentionally or not, separate us according to our religion. Sports are already filled with athletes who pray in locker rooms, celebrate victories by thanking God, and get on their knees to ask their Almighty to heal injured players. Fans willingly accept that long passes that might lead to touchdowns are called “Hail Marys.” And the Supreme Court just ruled that coaches in public schools can pray on the field.
Does the Super Bowl really need more Jesus?
A representative from Signatry, which the Servant Foundation does business under, told Christianity Today that they plan to spend over $1 billion in the next three years to market their religion, perhaps during the World Series and the Olympic Games.
Kids of all ages, religions and backgrounds will be subjected to sophisticated, subtle marketing about Christianity, already the dominant religion in this country, when they just want to watch and cheer for their favorite team.
It is time to separate church and sport.