During Super Bowl LVIII, a new nonprofit group called Come Near released two ads with the tagline “He Gets Us” to promote the Christian faith in a way that it believes is relatable, non-offensive and nonpartisan. The “He” is Jesus, who is portrayed in the ads as an avatar for peace, connection and acceptance. One of the commercials depicts scenes of people washing others’ feet as an act of compassion and service. It ends with these words on the screen: “Jesus didn’t teach hate, he washed feet. He gets us.”
Though Come Near is leading it now, the “He Gets Us” campaign was begun in 2022 by the Signatry (also known as the Servant Foundation), which said it was devoting $100 million to the effort. In November of that year, David Green, who founded Hobby Lobby, told Fox News that his family was a big financial supporter of the “He Gets Us” campaign.
I kept thinking about $100 million dedicated toward an ad campaign to attract people to Christianity. I haven’t been able to get that number out of my head: “$100 million.” One hundred million dollars when, according to a recent report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of people experiencing homelessness jumped 12% in a year and 40% of them were living “in places not meant for human habitation.” One hundred million dollars when grocery prices are higher than they have been in four decades. One hundred million dollars when so many Americans are asking, “Will I ever be able to afford a house?” One hundred million dollars when the cost of educating children has skyrocketed and teacher pay has remained stagnant. In the middle of all these problems, Jesus needs a $100 million marketing campaign?
Estimates suggest that 30 seconds of commercial time during Super Bowl LVIII cost $7 million. The two “He Gets Us” ads added up to 75 seconds. Many evangelical Christians are likely to see those millions of dollars as an investment in evangelism — that is, as a fast way to get the Gospel message in front of as many eyes as possible, a low-stakes investment to discuss values not seen as offensive or inflammatory. The argument seems to be that whatever the cost, the benefit of having that message seen on the country’s biggest stage is worth it.
However, there are some questions that people of faith may want to ponder. Is it consistent with the ethic of Christ to spend millions of dollars for brand management? Is this a commercial campaign about Christian ministry, or is it marketing? Is a commercial about washing feet or recognizing that people who don’t look like us are our neighbors a quick way to put a veneer of acceptance over Christian communities that find it difficult to live out that message of acceptance in real and tangible ways?
Washing feet in the Christian tradition is a sign of ultimate humility and service. Washing feet says the Christian is called to care, compassion and caution. The feet touch things we want to avoid. They touch the filth, mud, dust, the corroded, hard, tough things. And because they touch dirty things and are susceptible to small cuts, bruises and abrasions, the feet have to be taken care of.
As Jesus and his disciples did it, washing the feet wasn’t an act of sentimentality or performance. It was more maintenance and resource management than symbolic ritual. Washing feet was about the care of real and tangible resources. The service of washing feet imagines how we fold our neighbors into care by providing maintenance and stewardship of what is before us. Washing the feet asks: What is the best use of what we have? How do we care for our neighbors well?
When we question the deployment of our collective resources, that which is tangible synthesizes with that which is spiritual and helps us think through living prophetically. In this case, the question is: Can we muster the courage to move beyond the ease of sentimentality of words and find ourselves at our neighbors’ feet to be of service in ways that impact not just their hearts but their lives? Do we have the courage to advocate for a living wage? Do we have the courage to lay aside vengeance and do the work of peace? Do we have the courage to examine our bigotries and fears? Do we have the maturity to let them go? This happens not at the place of our words but at the place of our work.
According to the Come Near website, the “He Gets Us” campaign “is not funded by or affiliated with any single individual, political position, church, or faith denomination.” That website says it has many people in its coalition: “Some are on opposite sides of different political and social issues in our day. But they share this one thing in common: They’ve been inspired and transformed by the story of Jesus and want to invite you to explore it, too. They are troubled by how many people feel excluded from considering the personal relevance of Jesus’ example, life, and mission for their own lives. And so, they’re supporting a movement dedicated to helping foster more and better conversations about Jesus.”
Jesus doesn’t need better marketing. The messaging strategy isn’t what’s at contention at this moment. The market positioning of the Christian faith isn’t of utmost concern. The Christian faith doesn’t need a greater campaign; it needs people who live out its greatest values with a greater commitment.
Before Christians spend millions on commercials depicting feet we wouldn’t wash and hands we wouldn’t hold, perhaps we should ask: Have we provided the care, resources and policies that the people who use those feet need to live well? For Christians who say “the poor will be with us always,” it’s hypocritical to tell our neighbors we love them and then show them a quality of love that ignores the material conditions of their lives.
If a Christian organization has a hundred million dollars to spend on sentimental commercials while people can’t afford to live, it doesn’t mean that “he” doesn’t get us … but it definitely means that they don’t get him.