Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 19, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: The Real Problem With The ‘He Gets Us’ Ads

Following up on my previous posts:

New York Times Op-Ed:  The Real Problem With the ‘He Gets Us’ Ads, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3About a year ago, I noticed a “He Gets Us” ad on a billboard. I gathered that the “he” in “He Gets Us” referred to Jesus, but beyond that I didn’t pay it a lot of attention.

Since then, I’ve distantly followed the ad campaign, which features television commercials, online ads and billboards, and which Christianity Today described in 2022 as targeting “millennials and Gen Z with a carefully crafted, exhaustively researched, and market-tested message about Jesus Christ.” In the ads, Jesus is portrayed as an impoverished refugee, an immigrant and a radical revolutionary committed to justice and love.

“He Gets Us” commercials ran during the broadcasts of several high visibility events in the past several months: the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, the Grammys and, of course, the Super Bowl. The Times described the campaign’s videos as connecting “Jesus to contemporary issues like immigration, artificial intelligence and activism.” Jason Vanderground, the president of Haven, the agency behind the ads, hopes that the campaign increases “the relevance of Jesus in American culture.” The billboards and commercials invite viewers to visit the “He Gets Us” website to learn more.

As a Christian and a pastor, I care deeply about religious discourse in America, but to be honest, it’s hard for me to care much about the “He Gets Us” ads, not primarily because of any problem I have with their content (though I may quibble here and there), but because, by their very nature as commercials and billboards, they tend toward the trivial.

Christianity is a 2,000-year-old global faith that is complex and perplexing. People misunderstand, scapegoat, co-opt, debate and believe it deeply. People live and die for it. To reduce its message to 30-second clips sandwiched between ads for snack foods, S.U.V.s and beer will inevitably be reductive. How can it not be?

God can make use of whatever God wants to, but I don’t think many people’s lives will be transformed by a TV commercial. I think this campaign will be largely forgotten in a year or two. Mostly, I think the “He Gets Us” campaign is a huge waste of money. The billion dollars that the campaign says it will spend in the next three years could be used to fund schools, reduce poverty and homelessness, plant churches, end diseases, or build other healthy faith-based institutions that could transform lives and that would more profoundly increase the perceived “relevance of Jesus in American culture.” ...

What I am interested in, however, is the public responses to the ads, which often reveal something far more destructive in our culture than the ads could ever be.

The online reaction to “He Gets Us” after the Super Bowl, for instance, was intense. The Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Something tells me Jesus would not spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign.” ...

Not to be outdone, many on the far right were equally outraged. Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing campus group Turning Point USA, said the campaign was “one of the worst services to Christianity in the modern era,” calling the ads’ producers “woke tricksters.” ...

Nearly 20 years ago, in my first class on my first day of seminary, my professor paraphrased Simone Weil: “To be always relevant, we must speak eternal things.”

To this day, I regularly think about this simple yet arduous commission he gave to his students. What our society and our souls need most is not the roaring noise of trending topics or fleeting debates. We need the slow wisdom of eternal things that, though always relevant, are often overlooked, yet still quietly seed the world with redemption.

Editor's Note:  If you would like to receive a weekly email each Sunday with links to the faith posts on TaxProf Blog, email me here.

Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

Faith, Legal Education | Permalink