Super Bowl Jesus Ad funded by groups fostering "hateful Christian Nationalism"

Jesus returned to the Super Bowl to wash some more feet. If you saw the game, you no doubt saw this year's version of the "He Gets Us" ad campaign that debuted at the 2023 Super Bowl. USA Today describes the first of two ads that aired at during the 2024 Super Bowl:

The first 2024 ad, entitled "Foot Washing" aired during the first quarter of the game. It showed various still images of people – including a woman outside a family planning clinic – having their feet washed and ended with the slogan: "Jesus didn't teach hate. He washed feet."

"The thing that's different about this year is 2024 is a presidential election year, and all of that divisiveness and hostility is amplified in the presidential election," Jason Vanderground, president of BrandHaven marketing agency, told Crain's Grand Rapids Business.

"We're trying to be very intentional to build off of last year's message and instead of showing people fighting, showing people demonstrating what it looks like to love your neighbor." 

The Super Bowl Jesus ad wasn't cheap. Sporting News explains that a 30-second ad for Super Bowl 2024 cost about $7 million, not counting the costs of creating the ad. The "He Gets Us" campaign ran two ads: a 60-second ad during the first quarter, and a 15-second ad in the second half. 

Despite the "love your neighbor" message of the ads, the people and organizations funding the ads, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have a record of fostering "hateful Christian Nationalism." The Super Bowl Jesus ad was part of a larger campaign that, up until this year, had been funded by the Servant Foundation, also known as the Signatry, which spent 20 million dollars on the 2023 Super Bowl ad. According to research conducted by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as of last year, the Servant Foundation had planned to spend a billion dollars over the course of three years on the "He Gets Us" public relations campaign. Americans United explains:

They've hired a PR firm to address, in the firm's words, the problem of "How did the world's greatest love story in Jesus become known as a hate group?"

Of course, they're the cause of their own problem – not only has the Servant Foundation funded hate groups, but the PR firm, Haven, has represented these organizations. Key Shadow Network members Focus on the Family and Alliance Defending Freedom are in their portfolio. ADF is a noted anti-LGBTQ hate group that has argued repeatedly in courts that religion, and specifically Christianity, is a license to discriminate; they have one such case pending before the Supreme Court right now. 

Rolling Stone also explains that the Servant Foundation:

has been a major funder of the Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF is a conservative Christian litigation shop that has led fights to ban abortion and allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers. This spring, ADF lawyers will be at the Supreme Court pushing to limit access to the abortion pill and to allow states to bar hospitals from performing emergency abortion care.

This report by Americans United provides more details about the religious extremists supported by the Servant Foundation, including the $1 million dollars donated to the anti-LGBTQ Campus Crusade for Christ and the $8 million dollars donated to Answers in Genesis, "creationist Ken Ham's fundamenetalist ministry behind the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter."

According to Rolling Stone, the "He Gets Us" campaign is no longer part of the Servant Foundation but is now being run by a nonprofit organization called "Come Near" and is being financially supported by "the billionaire family behind Hobby Lobby"—"the arts and crafts chain infamous for its crusades to deny its employees birth control coverage and use of bathrooms associated with their gender identity." Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green has provided funding for the campaign, and his eldest son Matt is on the board at Come Near. Rolling Stone continues:

The Green family, worth an estimated $15.2 billion, has long committed to operating its crafts store empire on "Biblical principles." The family and Hobby Lobby previously led a successful fight at the Supreme Court opposing the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, citing "their sincere religious objections to facilitating the provision of abortifacients." The case led to a 2014 ruling finding that closely held corporations do not have to comply with the mandate if their owners express religious objections.

Hobby Lobby separately led an unsuccessful 11-year legal fight to block a transgender employee from using the women's restroom at a crafts store in Illinois . . . 

While He Gets Us is no longer part of the Servant Foundation, the Green family has ties to the National Christian Foundation, a top financier of ADF, as Salon first documented a decade ago. In 2022, Mart Green sat on the board of the Illuminations Foundation as it donated $23 million to NCF; that same year, NCF contributed $14 million to ADF.

To read more about the "He Gets Us" campaign and its funders, here are some great resources: Rolling Stone and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.