Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Sunday, February 5, 2023
Why the ‘He Gets Us.’ Jesus ads get Jews nervous (TOI)
Get ready for a Super Bowl Jesus Blitz that just might put the December Dilemma to shame. The “He Gets Us.” ads have been around for several months now, and on the surface, a little proselytizing is expected and inoffensive. It comes with coexisting with neighbors professing an evangelizing religion. I’ve always felt Judaism can hold its own quite nicely in the marketplace of religious ideas. Christian proselytizing has most often – and most vociferously – been directed toward Jews; this pitch is no exception. As usual, It has been cleverly cloaked in the language of inclusiveness and love.
What’s different this time is the scope.
The “He Gets Us.” campaign looks tospend a billion dollars to reach the broadest possible swath of Americans. TheGreatest Story Ever Told meets TheGreatest Ad-Buy Ever Sold. Two Jesus ads will be shown during the Super Bowl, which means that the Good News will officially be in-our-face.
Jason Vanderground, a spokesperson for the campaign, stated in an interview on CNN, “We are trying to unify the American people around the confounding love and forgiveness of Jesus.”
No offense to Jesus, or to campaign sponsors like the Servant Foundation, but on Super Bowl Sunday, I’d rather be unified under the flings and dashes of Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. I would think that a truly “confounding love” would include respecting the views of those who choose not to accept your truths. Notice that Vanderground did not say “unify American Christians.” He wants to unify all Americans under the banner of the cross. That includes me.
Unity is admirable and needed. That’s what the Super Bowl, at its best, accomplishes, with a hundred million Americans watching the same thing at the same time. But as a recent Pew survey demonstrates, unity under a Christian banner is a fleeting dream. America’s Christian majority is in steep decline. If the sponsors are looking to recapture lapsed Christians, there are a number of places they can look where Jews may not be as prevalent. But no, if you look at the content of the ads, the prey here is not exclusively lapsed or young Christians, but all progressives, among whom are the approximately three-quarters of America’s Jews who voted on the left and center-left side of the spectrum in 2020. Just look at the ads themselves, and see the hashtagged topics featured on the campaign’s home page:
The hashtags could not be more baldly geared toward piquing the interest of progressives, and in particular, Jews. I half-expected the next hashtags to be #Wokiest, #Vegan-but-can’t-resist-lox-&-a-schmear and #taking-a-knee-during-the-national-anthem. I have no proof that those designing this campaign are specifically targeting Jews, but only recently, Ric Worshill executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, expressed concern over the rise of antisemitism, and his suggested response was not to support Jews unequivocally, but to love-bomb them with scripture. “There needs to be an urgency in us to share the Gospel with every single person we meet,” he said.
This hashtag pandering is insulting not only because it is so obvious, but also because there are also many seriously committed Christians who also happen to be progressive. Presumably, most of them have sufficient respect for the Other to resist the urge to show their Jewish friends the Way of the Lord. I have many cherished Christian colleagues who are deeply loyal to their faith, but who have not shown the slightest interest in trying to “complete” me. And most, by the way, are not impressed by the “He Gets Us.” campaign.
So we must understand that those behind this campaign are not looking for a real unity based on tolerance and mutual respect. A “unity” that excludes over a third of the country is not unity. A “unity” that threatens an already jittery minority at a very precarious time is not unity.
It’s more like the old Beatles’ lyric, “Come together, right now…over me.” Yes, we want everyone to join together, but only under our banner, on our terms. Whatever happened to #Pluralism?
Hey, we get it. Jews have also prayed for a come-together-over-me distortion of unity. But that’s the key. We prayed, in the privacy of our own synagogues, that people would ultimately come around to believing in the One God. We don’t buy Super Bowl ads, spending a billion dollars that dredge up old nightmares of Torquemada. Notably, the medieval prayer that promoted this chauvinistic, false “unity,” Alenu, which trumpeted God’s ultimate defeat of those who “bow to vanity and emptiness,” was softened considerably in subsequent versions.
What would Jesus say about that, or about the synagogue in New Jersey that was firebombed last week? Maybe his marketers could add the hashtag #endantisemitism-homophobia-and-racism to the home page. I bet Jesus would be okay with that.
Hey, Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green and the rest of the campaign’s big-ticket sponsors. Is your intent truly just to reach out to lapsed Christians from Gen-Z? Or is it to make a religious minority feel like we are being targeted yet again, insidiously love bombing us on the one hand while simultaneously isolating us, evicting us from the tent of “unity?”
Face it, we’re just not that into him. Deal with it and accept us as we are. We’re fine with being a minority. Our kids are proud of who they are (I hope). We know how to stand up to bullies who want to make us feel that we are strangers in our own land. We can stand up to the powerful and the wealthy.