There’s a delightful denseness to the current rash of ads trying to rebrand Jesus. It’s another sign of what I refer to as Late Stage Christianity, which like Late Stage Capitalism, is clearly not working for anyone outside of a privileged few. So, for those of you who don’t know, He Gets Us is this billion dollar (not an exaggeration, a cool billion over three years) advertisement push to “rebrand Jesus.” You know, that famous corporate sponsor Jesus. Why does Jesus need a rebrand? Isn’t he still pretty popular among at least three or four of the big religions? Yep! So, what gives? Why is Jesus every other ad on Facebook and getting multiple, minute long ads during the Super Bowl? Let’s dive in!
What is going on that Jesus needs a 14 million dollar rebrand during the Super Bowl? Well, turns out that Christianity has taken a nose-dive in popularity. Church attendance went way down, even pre-pandemic, and is in dire straits now. Church buildings are up for sale, and Gen Z is looking to be the least religious generation ever in America. So, the He Gets Us people are thinking that like, the problem is clearly Jesus, right? Like, people don’t know his story, so we gotta hit some highlights for people to make him more relatable. The great irony here, of course, is that Jesus needs a rebrand in the first place because so many of his adherents are acting nothing like he told them to. Jesus said to give all your money away! Jesus said not to defend your property, and to turn the other cheek if someone attacks you! Jesus said to clothe the poor, feed the hungry, and support the immigrant! But then, his followers got swindled by giant corporations and the gun lobby, and they led a violent insurrection and have called for all sorts of violence and vitriol against minorities, and just generally not been real cool with the Jesus is love vibe. For a few decades now, honestly. So, christianity needs a rebrand, and instead they’re going to try to get young people (who naturally tend to be more progressive) to see Jesus as this counterculture rebel who is all about love. And it’s so transparently obvious that this messaging needs to be directed at christians, and how they are not giving their god the glory he wants by being pretty opposite what he teaches. So, for a religion that has shown a penchant for hiring and protecting abusers, for defending hypocrisy, and for just generally preaching hate, the idea is to rebrand their main character rather than change any of the institutional issues they are facing. Sounds like a winning strategy.
Now, not only could this money be used in nearly any other way for a better societal impact, and not only does this messaging need to be directed at christians rather than the nonreligious folks, but it is also incredibly disingenuous of the people dropping the big bucks on this push. The people who ran multiple Super Bowl ads highlighting Jesus’ role as a refuge and referencing the parable of the good samaritan are also supporting the politicians who are lying to immigrants to ship them across the country for political stunts, sometimes in unsafe conditions, and certainly not in honest and helpful ways. So, the predictable backlash against this campaign hit swiftly, and they have rolled out a new tone deaf response. They went with sarcasm, classic Jesus style, to be like “You got us! We do indeed have an agenda! It’s to love everyone!” Which, no its not, but also that wasn’t the criticism anyone was leveling against the ad. The criticism was, hmm, how to put it, oh, don’t talk about the speck in someone else’s eye while you have a plank in your own (get it, cuz that’s in the bible?)
Ultimately, this will backfire completely, and is likely covertly working to move money around since churches still some crazy how are untaxed in this country. But it is another way to throw money around in a virtue signaling way that helps no one, is imperialistic in a shoving-religion-into-people’s-face-without-their-consent sort of way, and it addresses none of the valid criticism people have raised with christianity itself. So, we will continue to see church attendance decline, we will continue to see the major churches have scandal after scandal, and we will continue to see that the people talking most about Jesus have the least interest in what he actually said. It’s crazy to see it play out on such a public stage, but is a nice little microcosm of why so many people have left and will continue to leave the church.