Last Sunday ended with the best Super Bowl in many years, perhaps since the Steelers defeated the Cardinals in 2009. That was the game James Harrison intercepted a pass and ran the length of the field on the last play of the first half. Then, to end the game, MVP Santonio Holmes caught a TD pass of the most improbable sort. Final score was eerily like Sunday night, 27-23.

What that game 14 years ago did not have was two commercials selling Jesus.

One was 30 seconds, and the other was 60 seconds, and some are reporting it cost $20 million: not to design or produce but simply to broadcast.

Too much, say some critics, much like they do when congregations build multi-million-dollar cathedrals. But remember: the new stadiums for our Sunday sports gatherings now cost in the billions and the teams themselves even more.

Some griping has been about where the money comes from. It has been traced to conservative Evangelical types, like David Green of Hobby Lobby fame. Up to a billion dollars has, and will be, poured into this effort to portray Jesus in a favorable light.

Public relations firms and advertising operations were harnessed to create this campaign. Some people call it evangelism, and others prefer the term pre-evangelism. It is a response, we all know, to the data: millions of Christians are deconstructing their faith and losing their religion. Churches are empty, and buildings are selling.

What to do?

We Christians could pray for an awakening of traditional religion; surely many are doing that. We Christians could change our ways and stop embarrassing Jesus; but that is much too hard. Option three came down to this:  take a lot of money and imagination and try to sell Jesus. It is the most American of all options.

Marketing campaigns for Jesus are not new. The highways and byways of the American South are favorite places for billboards. “Forgive My Sins, Save My Soul” is one I remember. Here and there are giant aluminum crosses. Comic books, jewelry, banners, even parades have been used for centuries to spread the good word about Jesus, Church, and Religion.

I talked with a minister for two hours last week. We were at a Starbucks. He said, “Everybody who shows up at our worship tells me they came because of our church sign.” Even allowing for exaggeration, that is a powerful testimony to the task of deciding exactly what message to put on that sign each week. It sits between the sanctuary and a busy highway, and thousands of people see it and read it.

That local minister no doubt goes through the same creative process as those who designed all that constitutes the He Gets Us campaign. What will catch the attention of the passer-by, the curious and the critic, even the deconstructionist?

I am none of these, but I have watched most of the videos, posted on their website. I have to tell you I like what I see. The Jesus they present is an outsider, with compassion for the troubled and help for the weak. It is a Jesus that challenges the power structures and critiques all that pushes people apart. It is a Jesus as heals, and listens, and prays, and cares.

It is not the Jesus of doctrine and deity, of rosery and religion. It is not the Jesus of confessions, creeds, and church covenants. It is not the Jesus of politics and power.

That’s not all. Nowhere in these films is there a Jesus who carries a gun, uses a gun, or defends his right to own a gun. Guns do not solve the problems or heal the hurts of people portrayed in these vignettes.

Yes, I like this Jesus. He is very much like the Jesus I adore and imitate.

There are some things missing with this Jesus who gets us, like his birth, death, and resurrection, things that we celebrate in our Christian festivals, things that explain why Jesus has such a hold on the devotion of so many. Also, there is not much joy in this depiction of Jesus: no dancing, no laughing, no humor, no delight in the lilies of the field or children at play. This makes me sad.

But still, I have to say, I like this Jesus, the One who gets us. Even the partial Jesus depicted in these short scenes calls to my deepest self, captures my allegiance, and channels my energy into gospel work.

Yes, I like this Jesus, the One who gets us, the One who got me almost 60 years ago. Yes, He Gets Us! Thanks be to God!

Published On: February 15th, 2023 / Categories: Commentary /

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