Why are Hobby Lobby’s Jesus commercials ruffling feathers? The ‘he gets us’ controversy, explained

Why are Hobby Lobby’s Jesus commercials ruffling feathers? The ‘he gets us’ controversy, explained

The Super Bowl is as synonymous with commercials as it is with chicken wings, pizza specials, and watch parties. Rarely do those commercials push for anything other than consumerism, but in the last 2 years the “He Gets Us” campaign has stirred up a world of praise – and even more controversy – from Super Bowl fans.

The 2024 advertising push from the Christian campaign has left a worse taste in viewers mouth that the inescapable Taylor Swift x Travis Kelce romance. The latest ad has left both sides of the aisle frustrated, with Christians decrying the egregious misuse of funds, or in worse cases, decrying the message of inclusivity, and those outside of the religion furious with the propaganda-like images and what they see as hypocrisy.

What is the “He Gets Us” campaign?

The He Gets Us campaign is by no means new. The marketing push has been making the rounds for the last few years and seems to be everywhere these days. From X – formerly Twitter–, Reddit, and the Super Bowl, “He Gets Us” has permeated advertising spaces.  These adverts range from encouraging viewers to love their neighbors (all of them tattooed, foreign, or unhoused), to encouraging viewers to love their enemies.

Super Bowl 58 isn’t the first time the adverts have graced the screen during a big game. The first major push from the non-profit came during last year’s game, with an ad reminding viewers that every one of us is “only human” and deserves compassion. The commercial wraps with “Jesus loves everyone we hate.”

While the 2023 advertisement fielded its own wave of controversy, the ad was met with plenty of praise. Commenters left high praise for the commercial’s content, and Christians were pleased to see the message during prime-time television. The ads marked the beginning of a billion-dollar campaign to “spread the good word,” but as usual the intent is only as good as the people behind it. One of the primary coffers for the campaign comes from Mart Green, the eldest son of the Hobby Lobby Empire.

Who is behind the “He Gets Us” campaign?

The Greens have long been embroiled in controversy. From smuggling artifacts out of their respective countries, to suing for the right to deny female employees access to birth control, and even refusing to allow trans individuals the right to use bathrooms associated with their gender identity, the family has long been vocal opponents of social justice.

The Greens may have lost their lawsuit to deny a transgender employee the right to use her preferred bathroom and transferred ownership of their company to a trust, but that doesn’t mean their religious meddling hasn’t earned the ire directed towards them. In many ways, the family’s actions are the reason the movement was created to begin with.

Hobby Lobby founder, David Green told Rolling Stone, “We’re beginning to be known as haters — we hate this group, we hate that group. But we’re not.” A bit ironic from a man whose billion-dollar company spent 11 years attacking a trans woman and denying her basic human decency. By leaving the religious message until the end of the commercial, they hope to appeal to those who don’t consider themselves religious or aren’t heavily affiliated with a religion. The goal is to modernize Jesus and make him more approachable.

While the messaging for the movement might praise inclusivity and love for your fellow man, the people behind it push anything but. “He Gets Us” was originally a push from the Servant Foundation, a Kansas-based charity that donated more than $50 million to the Alliance Defending Freedom – a nonprofit designated as an LGBTQIA+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The ADF was at the heart of the Supreme Court decision that allowed individual states to ban abortion, and more recently, sued for vendors’ rights to discriminate against potential LGBTQIA+ customers.

The Alliance Defending Freedom acts as a conservative Christian litigation boutique – that is a law firm that specializes in a specific form of litigation. In the ADF’s case, their specialty comes in the form of fighting abortion laws and allowing businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. While the ADF is no longer directly tied to the ad campaign, the Greens have ties to the National Christian Foundation, which funds the ADF.

Why are the “He Gets Us” commercials seen as bad?

While the messaging behind the commercials might seem well-meaning, it’s the money behind them that has viewers leery. Super Bowl ads are by no means cheap, and reports estimate that “He Gets Us” paid roughly $7 million per 30-second ad spot. The campaign paid for two slots, a 3-second ad, and a full 1-minute ad. At roughly $21 million dollars, viewers couldn’t help but speculate that it was money poorly spent. The feeling was compounded when the campaign announced that it intended to spend around $1 billion on ad spots before the campaign is done.

Others speculated on what Jesus would have done with that mind-boggling amount of money, and pointed to the hypocrisy of using it for commercials rather than helping the poor. Many focused on the propaganda, like the effect of painting cops, blond women, and blond kids as the “washers,” while migrants, folks in headscarves, and members of the LBGTQ community were those being washed.

After more than 24 hours, the video has been massively ratio-ed, with 2.5k upvotes against 35k downvotes. Commentators question the stolen art style, pointing to the AI-like lighting, and the Gregory Crewdson-like framing and style choices. It’s almost certain that the “artwork” for the commercial was artificially created – the very first still shows 6 toes on his left foot, and a woman clearly meant to be a South American asylum seeker in front of a bus is missing her entire right hand.

Christians are also wary of the campaign’s intent. Author Jennifer Greenberg told The Washington Post that, while she supported the idea of spreading her faith, the emotional aspect isn’t all there is to Christianity.

“I can look at Buddha or Sarah McLachlan or Obama and I can find things in common with them,” she said. “But that does not mean they are going to save me.”

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