The Anti-Gay, Anti-Trans and Anti-Abortion Groups Behind Those ‘He Gets Us’ Super Bowl Commercials

The commercials’ claim of love and acceptance is directly undercut by the campaign’s connections to a far-right anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion groups. 

(YouTube screengrab / He Gets Us)

Super Bowl 2024 has come and gone, hopefully taking with it some of the eccentric surrounding controversies—including the right-wing conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift was part of a plot between the NFL and the Democratic Party aimed at getting boyfriend Travis Kelce to the Super Bowl. There, as the “poster child for [Biden’s] pro-abortion” platform, she would publicly endorse his candidacy.

But before the news cycle moves on, we must discuss the right-wing He Gets Us campaign’s two religious ads during the Super Bowl, which highlighted that “Jesus loved and cared for anyone and everyone” and which the Washington Post voted “the most controversial” of the game.

The group is hoping the buzz generated by their ads will bring skeptics home to Jesus. For those like myself who might wonder why a religious organization would spend an estimated $17.5 million dollars for 75 seconds of advertising aimed at “revamping the reputation of Jesus,” the Post explained: “Within the NFL, Christianity has long permeated the culture, and regular fans are familiar with expressions of faith, from locker-room prayers to Hail Mary passes to players pointing skyward after touchdowns.” So why not try to persuade the viewers of one of the most viewed TV broadcasts that Jesus understands them?

Last year, the campaign was under the direction of The Signatry, self-described as “a Christian ministry seeking to build the Kingdom of God by inspiring world-changing generosity.” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, has been a major beneficiary of The Signatry’s generosity: ADF received about $50 million in donations from The Signatry between 2018-2020 to support its anti-gay, anti-trans and anti-abortion impact litigation caseload. 

He Gets Us is now under the direction of Come Near, a nonprofit dedicated to “sharing the life and love of Jesus in new and thought-provoking ways.”  

A common denominator between these two leadership teams is the vital contribution of the wealthy Green family, founders of the privately-owned Hobby Lobby arts and crafts retail chain run in accordance with biblical principles. Hobby Lobby has contributed generously to far-right candidates and issues and ultraconservative organizations, including the ADF.

It also brought a successful legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate based on the religious view that some contraceptives, such as the IUD or the morning after pill, are abortifacients because they abort a fertilized embryo. This view is at direct odds with scientific evidence showing they work by “preventing pregnancy before fertilization, rather than disrupting an existing pregnancy.”

Hobby Lobby also waged an 11-year unsuccessful legal battle to block a trans woman employed by the company from using the woman’s bathroom.

Today, the founders’ son Mart Green, the ministry investment officer at Hobby Lobby, serves as one of the three board members of Come Near. 

The overlapping ties of both groups to extreme right causes, at extreme odds with the inclusive and loving messaging of He Gets Us, has given rise to considerable criticism. In one of the most biting critiques, the American Society for Separation of Church and State argued, “What’s really being sold here is an attempt to suck even more Americans down the rabbit hole of hateful Christian nationalism.”

The longer of the two ads, which has been the primary focus of much of the buzz, shows unlikely pairings of people in which one is washing the other’s feet just as “Jesus washed the feet of his friends and enemies” the night before he died. One pairing is of white police officer washing the feet of a Black man in a rather foreboding alleyway. Another is of an oil worker washing the feet of an environmental protester, as indicated by her “clean air now” sign. Another is of a woman washing the feet of a presumably undocumented migrant who has been dropped off by bus in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Let’s zero in on two slides that perhaps most vividly embody the contradictions in the inclusive humanity messaging of the He Gets Us campaign.

In one, a white priest is washing the feet of a Black man who is clearly intended to be presented as gay. This welcoming gesture is underscored by the claim on the He Gets Us website that “Jesus loves gay people and Jesus loves trans people.”

But this claim of love and acceptance is directly undercut by the campaign’s connections to groups like the ADF.  In 2014, an ADF senior legal counsel declared at the conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage that “[t]he end game of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent.” This animus is woven into the ADF’s legal docket, which includes the defense of bans on marriages between same-sex partners and of vendors who refuse to provide wedding-related services to gay couples.

The other slide depicts an anti-abortion protester, who one can assume has momentarily stepped away from the “save the unborn” sign-holding group, washing the feet of a young woman outside of a family planning clinic. Like the other images, this one showcases, as explained on the He Gets Us website, “humility on the part of both parties: the one willing to wash another’s feet and also the one willing to have their feet washed.” 

Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom (left), an anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion hate group, with her client Lorie Smith, a Christian website designer in Colorado who refused to create websites for same-sex weddings despite a state anti-discrimination law, on Dec. 5, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

But in today’s highly charged environment following Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022—an effort that the ADF proudly boasts it had a hand in—humility hardly captures the stance of protesters outside of reproductive health clinics who often act in the name of Jesus. Instead, there has been sharply spiked levels of violence and hostility. According to the National Abortion Federation, clinics in abortion-protective states experienced a 133 percent increase in bomb threats and a 913 percent increase in stalking incidents post-Roe.

This hardly suggests the loving acceptance of people opting for abortions, which may well have been the decision of the young woman in the He Gets You ad.

In the end, the question remains: Who exactly is the “us” in He Get Us?

Up next:

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Shoshanna Ehrlich is professor emerita of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her books include Who Decides: The Abortion Rights of Teens and the co-authored Abortion Regret: The New Attack on Reproductive Freedom. She is currently collaborating with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts’ ASPIRE Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health on a minors’ abortion rights and access project.