“He Gets Us” ads funded by anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion donors

Youtube Screenshot / He Gets Us

If you were watching the SuperBowl — and what Philadelphian wasn’t? — you saw all the much-hyped and super-pricey commercials that are often as talked about as the game itself. But the ads that had everyone from right-wing Fox News to left-leaning PBS buzzing on Monday morning weren’t for a product or a business, but ads for “He Gets Us,” featuring Jesus and funded by anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion Christian evangelical donors.

“He Gets Us” is a prolific — and highly controversial — ad campaign, no less so for being featured among ads with well-known stars like Serena Williams, Diddy, Jennifer Lopez, Ben Affleck, Maya Rudolph, Steve Martin, Bradley Cooper and Melissa McCarthy. The clear argument from the group funding the $20 million SuperBowl ad buys is that Jesus is an all-star global A-lister. 

Ads from the evangelical Christian group “He Gets Us” first debuted on TV in March 2022. They are also on YouTube and billboards nationwide, including in Philadelphia. The TV ads aired during the 2022 Major League Baseball season and also played during the Grammys. The ads also ran during NFL playoffs before hitting the SuperBowl.

As Christianity Today detailed in March 2022: “$100M Ad Campaign Aims to Make Jesus the ‘Biggest Brand in Your City.’” The magazine explained that the “He Gets Us” campaign is “an effort to attract skeptics and cultural Christians,” but added, “Christians still have questions about how the church markets faith.”

While Christianity Today debates the ethics of marketing Jesus, women’s and LGBTQ advocacy groups question who’s behind the ads and if their messaging is, as Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez suggested in a tweet during the SuperBowl, more ethno-Christian “fascist” than inclusive: “Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign.” 

AOC’s tweet received 18.7 million views and a quarter million likes, but the replies were largely from the right claiming she didn’t “know” Jesus. That attack was repeated Monday morning when Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted her response.  

The ads themselves have a stark look, using high-saturation black-and-white still images, and an equally stark message. In one of the SuperBowl ads, after a series of images of racial and political conflict, with anger often bordering on violence, the final statement in white type on a black screen reads: “He gets us” and “Jesus loved the people we hate.”

Christian theology teaches that Jesus was the Son of God, so loving everyone, no matter how hateful, was part of Jesus’s assignment. Jesus also said declaratively that the foundational tenet of Christianity was universal love, as he stated in The Sermon on the Mount and in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  

That hasn’t been the take Hobby Lobby founder and billionaire David Green has had on Christianity. Green, who’s revealed himself as the main donor to “He Gets Us,” is the billionaire owner of the Hobby Lobby craft store conglomerate. Hobby Lobby has more than 900 stores in 47 states. Green is also a major donor to the Museum of The Bible in Washington, D.C.

Hobby Lobby has also engaged in a series of highly controversial lawsuits, including attempting to ban trans employees from using bathrooms according to their gender identity and keeping employees from accessing contraception through their health insurance. On the latter, Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court decision in 2014 based on religious liberty grounds. Green’s company asserted that his company’s religious beliefs allowed Hobby Lobby to side-step providing a full range of contraceptives to its employees at no cost, as required by the Affordable Care Act. 

An in-depth report by Business Insider in October 2022 detailed “16 of the biggest controversies in Hobby Lobby’s 50-year history — from denying contraceptives for employees to illegally smuggling ancient tablets.” The story cites accusations and “scandals” including  “antisemitism, homophobia, LGBTQ discrimination, attempts to evangelize public schools” and “efforts to deny access to contraceptives for employees,” “discrimination and illegally smuggled artifacts to endangering employees during the coronavirus pandemic.” 

Green informed conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and Forbes magazine that he was helping fund the ads. Green is estimated by Forbes to be worth $14.8 billion. Forbes republished an interview with Green the day after the SuperBowl when AOC’s comments became a lead story on Fox News and the “He Gets Us” ads became a talking point in other media, like USA Today, which ranked the popularity of the SuperBowl ads. In the USA Today rankings, the two Jesus ads ranked #8 and #15 out of the 51 ads that ran — well ahead of many major corporations.    

Green doesn’t own “He Gets Us.” That group is a limited liability company (LLC) and an initiative of The Servant Foundation which operates as The Signatry, a public charity and Christian foundation based in Kansas. Legal filings show the organization has donated over $50 million to the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom. 

As PGN has previously reported, Alliance Defending Freedom has been a primary legal entity in court cases involving religious-freedom-based objections to LGBTQ discrimination cases, including those before the Supreme Court. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) describes itself as an “American conservative Christian nonprofit advocacy group” and as a “legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God’s design for marriage and family.” 

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes it as a hate group: “The Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.”

SPLC says, “ADF also works to develop ‘religious liberty’ legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion.” Also, according to SPLC, ADF was one of the “most influential groups informing the Trump administration’s attack on LGBTQ rights.” 

ADF has also been a major force behind the anti-abortion movement. 

According to its website, “‘He Gets Us’ is a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness. We believe his words, example and life have relevance in our lives today and offer hope for a better future.”

The Catholic News Agency reports, “the [non-denominational] Christian campaign has reached 431 million YouTube views, connected 113,923 people to churches, and has 19,501 churches involved.” 

The percentage of Americans identifying as Christian has steadily declined in recent decades according to the Pew Research Center. 

The “He Gets Us” website states, “We simply want everyone to understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion and love.” 

In the ads, Jesus is alternately portrayed as an immigrant, refugee and political radical — all positions that some conservatives claim signal the group has a left agenda — particularly with regard to immigration where Jesus is portrayed much as he was: a refugee fleeing to an open border.  

One ad says “Jesus disagreed with loved ones. But didn’t disown them.” Another ad declares Jesus was “an influencer who became insanely popular,” but was then “canceled” because he “stood up for something he believed in.”

Claims of cancel culture are often invoked by the right as exemplifying “woke” politics. Except Jesus was woke. Jesus was not right-leaning, even though evangelical Christianity trends that way. Jesus fought for separation of Church and State and for distribution of wealth to the poor and was an outspoken feminist who never made any statements about homosexuality. 

The “He Gets Us” ads are very compelling and crafted so that viewers don’t know they are religious until the end. Yet their far-right anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion funding and sourcing runs counter to the very message they claim to promote. If you’re fighting women’s and LGBTQ rights in the courts are you really on the side of Jesus? And if you are putting $100 million into an ad campaign about Jesus and projecting $1 billion over three years, isn’t that the antithesis of Christ’s dictate in the Sermon on the Mount which was explicitly at least small s Socialist? Jesus physically threw the moneychangers from the Temple — that’s a declarative statement about the role of religion and corporate money.

In an email sent to Forbes,  Jason Vanderground, a spokesperson for “He Get Us” and the president of Haven, the agency that directed the ad campaign, said, “The Greens are part of a diverse group of individuals and entities with a common goal of sharing Jesus’ image authentically.”

Forbes reports that when Green spoke to Beck during a podcast interview in November about the “He Gets Us” campaign he said, “We’re wanting to say ‘we’ being a lot of different people that he gets us. He understands all of us. He… loves who we hate, so I think we have to let the public know and create a movement, really.” 

In addition to tweets from left and right sources, including anti-LGBTQ Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, Google data indicated a huge spike in searches for the campaign during the SuperBowl. 

“He Gets Us” spokesperson Vanderground said, “The goal is that the two commercials will not only inspire those who may be skeptical of Christianity to ask questions” and “Instead of responding to divisiveness in anger or avoiding conflict altogether, Jesus demonstrated how we can and should show confounding love and respect to one another.” 

Vanderground told Christianity Today, “The goal is to invest about a billion dollars over the next three years. And that is just the first phase.”