For the second year in a row, a
religious Super Bowl ad campaign promised viewers that Jesus “gets us.”Two commercials shown Sunday night centered Jesus’ message to love your neighbors — even across ideological divides. In one, people of different races, classes and gender expressions have their feet washed, including a woman outside a family planning clinic.
“Our goal is to really show that Jesus loved and cared for anyone and everyone,” He Gets Us campaign spokesperson Greg Miller told The Associated Press on Monday. He said the campaign’s website received 715,000 views in the previous 24 hours.
On social media, the ads drew criticism across the ideological spectrum. Some conservatives contended they were overly “woke." Other critics noted that the campaign’s welcoming and progressive messages seem at odds with some of its Christian funders, who have also supported anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion causes.
Last year’s ads were overseen by the Servant Foundation, also a donor to Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent conservative legal organization that helped overturn Roe v. Wade — the ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion — and has represented clients challenging same-sex marriage and transgender rights.
The family behind Hobby Lobby also contributed to “He Gets Us.” They previously won a Supreme Court case challenging requirements to cover some birth control for employees on anti-abortion grounds.
The “He Gets Us” campaign is now under a new charitable organization, Come Near, meaning the Servant Foundation is no longer overseeing it. The nonprofit says it is “committed to sharing the life and love of Jesus in thought-provoking new ways.”
On its website, the campaign notes that “probably the most common questions” received are about its stance on the LGBTQ+ community. “So let us be clear in our opinion. Jesus loves gay people and Jesus loves trans people … No matter who you are, YOU are invited to explore the story of Jesus and consider what it means for your life.”
The “He Gets Us” campaign says it plans to advertise during other major cultural moments over the next year, including the Paris Olympics, the NFL draft, and the Republican and Democratic conventions.
Other faith-based ads at this year’s Super Bowl included a spot from Scientologists, inviting viewers to “see for yourself who we are.” An ad for the Catholic prayer app Hallow, featuring actor Mark Wahlberg, also broadcast in select markets during the game.
This is the 12th consecutive year the Church of Scientology has premiered a new ad during the Super Bowl, said spokesperson Erin Banks.
Banks said the ad “brings viewers inside a church alongside other curious people who want to learn more about the world’s youngest major religion” while highlighting the religion’s “spiritual technology” and its humanitarian campaigns.
Scientology is a system of beliefs, teachings and rituals focused on spiritual betterment. Science fiction and fantasy author L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” is a foundational text. The religion has a notable celebrity following — Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley are among those who have practiced Scientology.
Within the NFL, Christianity has long permeated the culture, and regular fans are familiar with expressions of faith, from locker-room prayers to Hail Mary passes to players pointing skyward after touchdowns.
“One of the main purposes for ‘He Gets Us’ is to try and invite anyone, no matter what they believe, to explore the story of Jesus,” Miller said. “The audience of the Super Bowl allows us to do that with the greatest potential reach.”
AP Religion News Editor Holly Meyer and reporter Deepa Bharath contributed.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s
collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.