I teach a class called Art and Christian Faith. We talk about a lot of issues in that class that live at the intersection of art, the church, and culture more broadly. The class is based on readings and discussion so it can head in all sorts of directions depending on what caught the student’s interest in the particular readings. After class this morning, a student came to me and asked what I thought about the “Jesus commercials” in the Superbowl. At the time, I didn’t have a good answer for her other than to acknowledge that I had mixed feelings about them.
First, I will say that I think the commercials are very well done. I’m also a fan of “Only Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man so that helps.
What bothers people
Some people are bothered by the exorbitant price of Superbowl commercials. That money of course could be used to feed the poor. I’m sympathetic to this perspective and think the church fails terribly at caring for those in need. At the same time though, God is abundant. He can provide the resources both the feed the poor and to run an ad. Yes, we should feed the poor. No, we don’t do it well. But God can still call us to prodigal spending for Him in other areas. Only by knowing the heart of those who funded the ad can I know if this was an appropriate use of resources, and I don’t know their hearts.
Some are bothered by who is funding the ad. The identities of most of the funders are not public knowledge. The one name that is known is David Green, the controversial founder of Hobby Lobby. Green is known most recently for funding the Museum of the Bible which has had significant issues with illegally acquired antiquities. Prior to that, he was well known for winning a lawsuit that allowed Hobby Lobby to deny contraception tho their employees on their medical insurance.
Others are bothered by the organization that produces the commercials. He Gets Us is a subsidiary of the Servant’s Foundation which donated $50 million to The Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF has a good reputation in some Christian circles but has also been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2016 because they support the criminalization of LGBTQ+ identity and have supported forced sterilization laws.
Jesus and PR
What troubled me, though, came clear as I was reading a USA Today article. In that article, the author wrote, “Why does Jesus need a PR guy? In short, like anyone else – to trump up interest in a brand some see diminishing.”
This ad campaign really is a PR campaign for Jesus.
Why does Jesus need a PR campaign? Certainly, the USA Today author is correct that the Christian brand is diminishing.
I don’t really like that wording. I don’t like to think of Christianity as a brand. We already do that too much in our big glossy mega-churches. A more Biblical way to say it is that our Christian witness is failing.
Jesus needs a PR campaign because we as his followers have represented Him so poorly that a nation that has historically identified as massively Christian is becoming repulsed by that identification.
We have to run ads reminding the world that “Jesus loved the people we hate” because we as the body of Christ have demonstrated that hate to the world rather than His love.
So while some see these commercials as a witness to the world, I see them as a call to repentance.
Christ said we should be known by our love.
So we run expensive commercials to cover our failures rather than repenting.