The agency behind the viral Jesus advertisements that played during Sunday night’s Super Bowl explained why it welcomes controversy surrounding their campaign, after the ads drew backlash from both the right and left on social media.
He Gets Us, a campaign that says it wants to help everyone “rediscover the love story of Jesus,” organized two ad spots during the game Sunday; a 60-second ad called “Foot Washing,” and a 15-second ad called “Who is my Neighbor?”
Spokesperson and BrandHaven president Jason Vanderground told Fox News Digital that the ads were meant to invite people intrigued by Jesus’ “unconditional love, kindness and generosity” to explore his message. The campaign also sought to “disrupt” “preconceived notions” about Jesus and Christianity, he said.
“Foot Washing” shows unlikely persons washing others’ feet, including a police officer washing a young Black man’s feet, and a pro-life activist washing the feet of a woman outside a family planning clinic. It ends with the slogan, “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.”
“Who Is My Neighbor?” shows images of people from various backgrounds, including a homeless woman begging for money. The ad ends by describing the neighbor as the one you don’t “notice, value or welcome.”
Vanderground said this year’s ads were crafted with the election year in mind but were not intended to be political.
“We see just a lot of divisiveness, but we also see isolation and anxiety running high,” he said. “As we look back, through Scripture, we were looking at what would be the unique message of Jesus into an environment like this.”
Last year, the campaign spent $20 million on two Super Bowl advertisements that showed Jesus as someone with empathy for immigrants and the poor, who was also tired of the division of politics, Fox News Digital previously reported. This year, the focus shifted to what “loving your neighbor” actually looked like, Vanderground explained.
“What we’re trying to offer people is this invitation from Jesus to, even if they have differences, even if they have different beliefs and strongly held convictions, that there’s still a way that we can treat each other that transcends all of that. And it’s actually very helpful for us as Americans,” he continued.
The campaign spokesperson touted the ads’ impact, calling it “the largest campaign for Jesus we’ve ever seen.”
Their site has surpassed over 700,000 views since the game, he said, adding that they’ve had higher engagement and more people signing up for their Bible reading plans.
“We’re just kind of [trying] to give people —a glimpse into, ‘What is the Jesus way?’ And we’re trying to really disrupt their preconceived notions about Jesus and a lot of times their views of Christianity to say, ‘Here is this person who lived and demonstrated perfectly for us, unconditional love, radical forgiveness, grace and kindness,” Vanderground said.
Some conservative Christians have criticized the ads on social media, saying they missed the mark at best, and were blasphemous at worst.
The ads also faced attacks from the left, because the family who owns craft store Hobby Lobby reportedly helped fund the campaign.
Vanderground said he found the pushback, “actually, very reassuring.”
“A lot of times, we’re trying to put out such a disruptive message about Jesus where people are changing their understanding of who he was and what it means to follow him that many times we do get that reaction, that people from all sides are taken aback by it at the beginning,” he began.
“But the more they really explore our message, the more they read about it on the website, I find that other Christians are saying, ‘That’s the Gospels.’ So we do see at the Last Supper, for a Christian, there’s Jesus, on all fours washing the feet of Judas, who’s going to betray him, washing Peter’s feet, who’s going to deny him. He wasn’t making choices there at the table about whose feet he was going to wash,” he said. “We think that that’s something that we can take and apply today.”
He Gets Us also addressed critics on the left who argued the millions of dollars spent on a Super Bowl ad would’ve been better spent helping the poor.
“The opportunity to put the message of Jesus on display in the middle of the biggest cultural event that we have and to make his love clear and then invite people into exploring more and reading the Bible — We feel like that’s a great investment because that’s going to unleash all kinds of generosity,” Vanderground explained.
That generosity was further displayed in a community service event He Gets Us organized in Vegas on Saturday with a local faith-based nonprofit and the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Organizations with different beliefs teamed up to give away bags of food and provide health services for underserved communities, he said.
This year’s ads were funded by a new nonprofit organization called Come Near, which is not affiliated with “any single individual, political position, church, or faith denomination,” according to the He Gets Us website.
Come Near’s CEO is Ken Calwell, who was previously Chief Marketing Officer at Compassion International. He also worked for years as an executive in the food industry, most recently as the CEO of Papa Murphy’s Pizza.
Fox News’ Landon Mion contributed to this report.