With a $100-million budget and television ads ready to roll in the upcoming Super Bowl, the He Gets Us campaign is introducing a Jesus to America that is, well, relevant.
The expertly produced, compelling commercials contend, among other things, that Jesus was bullied and judged; they also state Jesus was an immigrant and a refugee. While these things might be inferred from Scripture, He Get Us has employed slick Madison Avenue marketing techniques to present us with a greatly nuanced Jesus they hope will be relevant to a certain sector of the American public.
I’ll talk about being bullied, judged and having immigrant/refugee status in a moment, but first I would like to point out that there is nothing in the Bible that would lead us to be concerned with relevance. Too often Christians who are trying to be relevant to non-believers are attempting to be liked, or they are embarrassed by the actions and statements of certain other Christians (i.e., conservative political activists, pro-lifers, those who callout sexual sin and others who believe there is a literal Great White Seat of Judgement for non-believers).
Relevancy has produced too many congregations that steer so clear of the moral issues of our day it would appear they are tolerant of everything. Many of these same churches are quick to ask newbies to “Say, yes” to Jesus, but incapable of quoting Jesus’ explanation of what one is actually saying “yes” to:
“The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned,” (Mark 16:16).
Truth is, followers of Jesus are told that being a Christian is hardly like winning a popularity contest. In fact, Jesus warns, “And you will be hated by all because of My name,” (Matthew 10:22). He even goes further saying, “…they will hand you over to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name,” (Matthew 24:9).
In an interview with the Catholic News Service, He Gets Us spokesman Jason Vanderground said he and his team found that while many people remain unconvinced about the benefits of Christianity, they still like Jesus. Vanderground is hoping these ads can reflect the relevance of what Jesus said and how he lived for modern viewers.
“The skeptic told us are three main things they see within the Church and Christianity. One is judgmentalism. That’s great, because we don’t have to judge. That’s totally God’s job to figure out. The other would be hypocrisy; that we just say one thing, but we do another. That’s human behavior. That happens. And then third is the discrimination that Christianity has become known for being against women, against minorities, etc. And certainly God said everybody is welcome to come to me, and I think that’s how we’re trying to reframe things.”
On the surface, Vanderground sounds reasonable, but it would seem the rhetoric his campaign has chosen is dancing on a razor thin edge of error, or even apostasy.
Merriam-Webster defines refugee as “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.” Refugees are typically forced to leave their country or suffer dire consequences. Under that broad definition, it may seem that Jesus and His parents might have been refugees, however, the term refugee has taken on political status these days.
Jesus was not a “refugee” in any sense meaningful to today’s world. Jesus and His parents left Israel and moved to Egypt in order to escape King Herod’s intention to kill him. Joseph and Mary had a plan and support; their trip was entirely self-funded due to the gifts of the magi. Their time in Egypt, which was still within the Roman Empire (it would be like traveling to a different state in the U.S.) was short. The family remained there until the death of Herod, at which time they returned home. Given these facts, there is no parallel to today’s indigent refugee who asks permission to enter a new country to avoid danger back home.
In the interest of truth, Jesus was not a “refugee,” either then or now (and, by the way, this is not to say we should turn a cold shoulder to refugees).
As for bullied and judged, these two terms also are loaded. These days “bullied” commonly describes actions and behavior aimed at attacking those of a particular sexual orientation and members of certain ethnic/racial groups. “Judged” implies criticizing someone from a moral standpoint that is rooted in Biblical righteousness. Certainly Jesus was viciously beaten and killed, and he was judged by a kangaroo court, but I think the language in the He Gets Us ads is clever rhetoric designed to attract eyeballs to their website.
As my friends at GotQuestions.com wrote, “There are many positive aspects to the He Gets Us campaign. Uncomfortable implications fit the pattern of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The chosen topics are likely to challenge those inclined to dismiss—or embrace—stereotypical Christianity. Christ’s own pattern for evangelism started with relationship and worked up to formal doctrine. However, the campaign itself doesn’t anchor into specific beliefs or truths.”