Reaction to Super Bowl ads shows how Christian nationalism has poisoned Christianity
Ad spread Jesus’ message of love, but right and left weren’t buying it
Social-media reaction to the “He Gets Us” ads airing on the Super Bowl yesterday — reaction that was almost entirely negative from both the sociopolitical right and the sociopolitical left — shows how much the rise of Christian nationalism1 has corrupted American Christianity.
Most of the ire was directed at the one-minute ad called “Foot Washing,” which features a dozen still scenes of people washing others’ feet. Most of the people whose feet are being washed appeared to be among the marginalized, such as racial and religious minorities and the destitute. One of them appears as if she is on the way to or from having an abortion; at least one of them appears to be of ambiguous gender. The images are followed by these words: “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet. He gets us. All of us. Jesus. HeGetsUs.com/Love Your Neighbor.”
It’s an emotionally powerful ad.
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The second ad, a 15-second spot, answers a Biblical question like this:
Who is my neighbor?
The one you don't notice
The one you don't value
The one you don't welcome.
It would be tough to come up with a message that would be more Christian than these ads; after all, Jesus’ ministry was all about love, the topic he preached about most often. And his best-known parable is that of the Good Samaritan, in which an enemy of Jesus’ audience becomes the hero in the way he cares for someone in need.
But prominent Christians of the nationalist movement were anything but pleased with the ad.
I hesitate here to amplify the vulgar voice of Matt Walsh, a Christian nationalist provocateur, but as one who has 2.7 million followers on the social platform X, he is too influential to be ignored. His rant against the video shows just how much “Christian” hate was directed at the ad:
This organization has millions of dollars to spend on Super Bowl ads pushing heretical bullshit to a mass audience. Who are their funders? Where are they getting the money for this?
Another of his tweets:
Putting out an ad that invites narcissistic, prideful, unrepentant sinners to come and get their feet washed is bad, actually. And also completely un-Biblical.
And he wasn’t the only nationalist with those views. Harrison H. Smith, an Infowars host with 52,000 followers, tweeted:
The actual story from the Bible was Jesus washing his apostles’ feet, it was an inversion of the master-follower relationship. Rings pretty hollow when it’s American Christians washing the feet of the people who walk all over them constantly.
Technically, Smith is right about whose feet Jesus washed in the story of the Last Supper. But Smith is missing the point of the four Gospels, which have Jesus dining and otherwise associating with sinners and those who might be perceived as his enemies. And Jesus showed love even to those who “walked all over him,” particularly those who nailed him to the cross.
And unless you wonder what people such as Walsh and Smith would like to see in a Christian TV ad, here are excerpts of another Smith tweet:
Something like a leftist surrounded by filth and chaos, covered in hideous makeup and piercings, in a state of paranoia as they engage in a feedback loop where they commit sins to deaden the feelings of despair and guilt always festering in their hearts. They look around, suddenly disgusted with it all. They pull away from the freaks trying to grasp them. They wash themselves clean of the filth. They break the cycle of desperation and walk through the door of a church ... [where kneeling] before the altar, they are bathed in the multicolored sunlight filtering through the stained-glass visage of a gently smiling Christ.
Even when he “welcomes” a leftist to church, it’s hard to see love.
The reaction from the left wasn’t much better. In my hour spent spent reading reactions on X and Threads, I didn’t come across any well-known liberals commenting on the ad (although that doesn’t mean none did). But the tweets and threads from everyday liberal users were resoundingly negative. They generally didn’t comment on the content of the ads, but on those who paid for them. The money would have been better spent to help the poor, they said. They often criticized the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame, which had helped fund ads last year. (It is not publicly known who paid for this year’s ads, which were funded by a new nonprofit.) And many saw the ad as a bait-and switch, the idea being that those who responded to the ad would end up being directed to an anti-LGBTQ or other type of unwelcoming church.
A few samples2:
There is nothing Christlike about that billionaire-funded group. They would have nothing to do with the people portrayed in that commercial.
Hobby Lobby Christian evangelical money ... there are some seriously scary power broker White Christian Nationalists on that team ... they’re not washing anyone’s feet.
I don’t trust them when they continue to also fund bigoted messaging and action. Great ad, I hope that they are targeting evangelicals, but can’t help but assume its window dressing targeted towards the general public to whitewash their efforts.
Conservative Christians don’t worship Jesus. They worship Satan.
In total, the commenters from the left made clear they wanted nothing to do with Christianity. Even if they liked the message, nearly all of them doubted there was sincerity behind them.
And this is the state of the most visibly influential expression of Christianity in the country today. The nationalists have become so far removed from Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere that they don’t even hear Jesus’ radical message of love and inclusion. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country has come to think that the nationalist message is Christianity, and all they see is hate.
Heaven help us.
I’m using “Christian nationalism” in a broad sense here, to refer to both the type of white evangelical Christianity that conflates faith with the quest for political power and the type of Christianity that emphasizes conservative culture wars. Although technically the concepts are different, there’s a huge overlap among those who hold those two views.
Edited for spelling and punctuation.