Christians divided over ad campaign

A still from the "He Gets Us" Super Bowl ad.(Photo: He Gets Us)

(CP) A Super Bowl ad from a faith-based organization is igniting a debate among Christian conservatives, who expressed concern that its intended message of unity could be misconstrued as a justification for engaging in certain sins and that it fails to communicate a biblically accurate account of Jesus.

The "He Gets Us" campaign, which describes itself as an effort to remind people of "the example that Jesus set while inviting all to explore his teachings so we can all follow his example of confounding, unconditional love," aired a 60-second ad during Super Bowl LVIII Sunday.

The ad, titled "Foot Washing," featured still photographs of people washing another person's feet in various situations.

One image depicted in the ad showed an older woman washing a younger woman's feet outside a facility labeled as a "Family Planning Clinic." In the background were protesters on both sides of the abortion debate holding signs reflecting the differing positions on the hot-button issue.

Additional images in the ad featured people washing the feet of people with clearly divergent ideologies and/or social statuses. Two of the pictures illustrated protests demonstrating against police brutality and in favor of environmentalism. It concluded with an on-screen message declaring, "Jesus didn't teach hate. He washed feet. He gets us. All of us."

Andrew Walker, an ethics and public theology professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who also serves as a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, took to X Monday to raise concerns about the implications of the ad.

"He Gets Us framed evangelism with a leftward tinge, communicating the respectability of certain sins over others in our culture (although I'm not sure the ad even communicated that the respectable sins were sins at all)," he wrote.

"It is curious that Jesus never showed up washing feet at a [Make America Great Again] rally, a truck stop porn store in Alabama, to dilapidated and drugged-out factory workers in Ohio, or a white nationalist militia meeting in Michigan," Walker added. "If Jesus really is for all sinners, we should want right-wing racists converted as well, right? How would we respond to Jesus washing the feet of someone outside the Capitol on January 6?"

Suggesting that the video displayed bias when selecting what situations to identify as opportunities for foot washing, Walker remarked that in the ad, "the socially high-status sins of the Left are the ones Christians are told to evangelize, not the low-status sins of the Deplorable Right because, it seems, they are the ones truly outside redemption's reach."

He maintained that "the conditioning effect of these commercials in framing and reaffirming the social castes of American sin" is "really something."

"The truth of the matter is that Jesus redeems sinners from both the Right and the Left, whether high-status or low-status. Everyone is equal in their need for Christ (Rom. 3:23). That could have been communicated, but wasn't," he concluded.

Pro-life advocate Ryan Bomberger reacted to the ad in an X post Sunday. He addressed its premise that "Jesus Didn't Teach Hate" by proclaiming, "Yes. And No." Asserting that Jesus "taught us to love one another as He has loved us," Bomberger stressed that "His word also teaches us to 'love what is good & hate what is evil.'" The pro-life activist identified another important lesson that "disagreement & truth ≠ hate."

Allie Beth Stuckey, conservative commentator and host of the "Relatable" podcast, responded to the argument that Christians should "just be happy Jesus's name is getting to millions of people" in an X post Sunday.

"If it's not the Biblical Jesus, then no. If you've got the money and opportunity to buy a Super Bowl ad slot, share the gospel," she wrote. "Don't waste it on some ambiguous mumbo jumbo that makes Jesus into our image rather than depicting Him as the King and Savior He is."

Podcaster Michael Knowles took to X Sunday and wondered if he was "the only conservative who didn't totally hate the 'He Gets Us' ad."

While acknowledging the concerns of critics that it "speaks 'woke-ese,'" "it's not for us; it's for secular libs" and poses "a risk it leads to heretical complacency," Knowles contended that "if it gets some lost lib to even consider Our Lord, I'm not totally opposed."

"Your green-haired lesbian cousin who hates her dad is not going to read the Summa Theologiae set you didn't buy her," he predicted. "But if she begins to feel even a slight affection for Our Lord, she *might* turn on a podcast. Maybe that podcast could be Fr. Mike Schmitz's Bible in a Year. The ad wouldn't be my first choice for evangelism. But Our Lord has used much worse things for good."

"He Gets Us" elaborated on the intended message of the ad in a statement posted to its website.

"We recalled the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet and realized this was the perfect example of how we should treat one another, even those people with whom we don't see eye to eye," the statement reads. "Jesus had washed Peter's feet, a loyal friend who would publicly deny that he knew Jesus later that very night. And even more astoundingly, Jesus washed Judas Iscariot's feet, the one who would betray him for 30 pieces of silver."

Noting that Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples during the Last Supper as a "symbol for all of his followers to see how they should treat one another," the "He Gets Us" campaign states that "foot washing required humility on the part of both parties: the one willing to wash another's feet and also the one willing to have their feet washed." The group characterized foot washing as "an act of mutual admiration" that enabled Jesus to eliminate "any notion of rank or caste among his disciples."

"We began to imagine a world where ideological others were willing to set their differences aside and wash one another's feet. How would that look? How would our contentious world change if we washed one another's feet, not literally, but figuratively? Figurative foot washing can be as simple as giving a compliment to a co-worker or paying for a stranger's lunch. It can also be as difficult as not responding to someone who's criticizing you or reaching out to an estranged family member."

Insisting that "acts of kindness done out of humility and respect for another person could be considered the equivalent of foot washing," the "He Gets Us" campaign expressed hope that "our latest commercials will stimulate both societal discussion and individual self-reflection about 'who is my neighbor?' and how each of us can love our neighbor even as we have differences and serve one another with more kindness and respect."

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