Hundreds of millions encounter Jesus through Super Bowl ads
So why the controversy?
You might think a Super Bowl ad about washing feet would be relatively uncontroversial. But on the internet everything is controversial.
The advertisement, funded by the organisation ‘He Gets Us’, showed images of people washing others’ feet, and concluded with a reference to Jesus’ own demonstration of humble service through footwashing.
The scenes include young people washing the feet of elderly family members, a police officer washing the feet of a Black man, a woman washing the feet of a younger woman near a ‘family planning’ clinic, a White woman washing the feet of a migrant, an oil worker washing the feet of a protestor and more.
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In case the point isn’t clear, the ad announces, “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.”
Another shorter ad entitled ‘Who Is My Neighbour’ aired later in the first half of the Super Bowl, featuring a range of close-up images, including one of a homeless woman begging at a car window. Having asked “Who is my neighbour”, the commercial answers, “The one you don’t notice, value or welcome”. It finishes with one word: “Jesus”.
This 2024 campaign was designed to contrast with last year’s Super Bowl ad, ‘Love Your Enemies’.
‘He Gets Us’ thinks the message of loving one’s neighbour will be especially important in 2024. “With an upcoming election year that will be filled with division and derision, we decided to focus on one of the most important directives given by Jesus – Love Your Neighbour,” says their website.
One of the main purposes is to try and invite anyone, no matter what they believe, to explore the story of Jesus.
This might seem like a gentle, compelling and unobjectionable portrayal of Christlike servant-heartedness to hundreds of millions of viewers. So you, like me, might be surprised to find vitriolic conversation swirling around these ads.
Hilariously, when I searched ‘Christian Super Bowl ad in Google’, the first two results were ‘Super Bowl “foot washing” Christianity ad faces attacks from the left’ and ‘Christian Super Bowl Commercial Outrages Conservatives’.
Most of the outrage was predictable: political attacks, financial critiques and accusations of liberalism from more conservative voices who wanted to see a call to repentance. (In fairness, you can’t always cover every base, especially in a 60-second ad.)
Some of the criticism was unpredictable, like those who latched onto the idea of Christians being obsessed with feet!
In the end, as is often the case with public Christian content, He Gets Us has been labelled too liberal by some and too conservative by others – ‘too soft on sin’ by some and ‘too anti-autonomy’ by others.
Why not marvel that hundreds of millions got a glimpse of the character of Jesus?
But campaign spokesman Greg Miller told The Associated Press that their aim is simple: “Our goal is to really show that Jesus loved and cared for anyone and everyone … One of the main purposes for ‘He Gets Us’ is to try and invite anyone, no matter what they believe, to explore the story of Jesus. The audience of the Super Bowl allows us to do that with the greatest potential reach.”
Are there legitimate questions to be asked about whether the $20 million (the estimated cost of these ads) could have been better spent, or whether the message portrays the Christian gospel holistically? Sure.
But this strikes me as a classic example of internet-induced polarisation. Rather than watching the ads, thinking “Hey, that’s kinda cool”, and moving on, those seeking clicks will make sure we know every possible criticism, from how they would have changed the ad itself to the political affiliations of investors.
Instead of getting sucked into the controversy, why not marvel that hundreds of millions of Westerners, many of whom are estranged from Jesus and his church, got a glimpse of the character of Jesus?
Why not just think, “Hey, that’s kinda cool”, and pray that God does big things with this tiny seed?