Editor’s Note: This essay was delivered as the Braver Angels Member Newsletter on February 19th, 2023. -LNP
What will it take for us to embrace a culture of goodwill in American life and American politics? What will it take for us to heal the wounds of our society?
There are many ideas and solutions on offer. Some say it will take electoral reform. Some say it will take a change in institutional incentives. Some argue that we need to abandon the left/right paradigm. And some will say we need the work of groups like Braver Angels.
But… maybe we need Jesus?
This is the message of the He Gets Us campaign, which has launched a massive, one-hundred-million-dollar ad campaign to “rebrand” Jesus in America.
With beautifully-produced commercials that aired to an audience of nearly one-hundred-million viewers during the Super Bowl, the people behind He Gets Us presented a Jesus whose teachings and example, they stressed, are the answer to America’s deep-seated polarization.
“Jesus loved the people we hate,” declared the ending text of one of the two Super Bowl advertisements, after a montage of images depicting bitter social conflict in the United States rolled.
“He gets us. All of us.” The ad calls upon us, in the words of the Bible, to “Love your enemies.”
For many people, religious and non-religious, it was an uplifting message.
Yet there was serious backlash to the commercial, and the backlash itself came from remarkably far across the spectrum.
Superstar progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took issue with the ad on Twitter, stating “Something tells me Jesus would not spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign.”
AOC was preceded, however, by leading conservative activist and founder of Turning Point USA Charlie Kirk, who declared “The marketing group behind ‘He Gets Us’ has done one of the worst services to Christianity in the modern era. The Green family are decent and wonderful people who have been taken for a ride by these woke tricksters!”
The Green family refers to the family of David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts corporation known by many for their tremendous financial support of socially conservative causes, including pro-life activism and efforts opposing the redefinition of marriage.
For the many Americans who simply thought the commercials to be positive or well-meaning, both Kirk’s and AOC’s reactions were confusing. The financial connection to the Green Family and other conservative interests does, however, give context to Ocasio-Cortez’s reaction.
Yet many conservative Christians such as Kirk were just as offended by a portrayal of Jesus that made no mention of Jesus as messiah, no mention of Jesus as the enemy of sin, no mention of Jesus as the only path to salvation, no mention of Jesus as “the way, and the truth, and the life.”
I can understand these views. But I wonder if our insistence on purity of political association and purity of theology alike both do not stand in the way of our building a trust between each other as Americans that can allow us to overcome the political bitterness that really is undoing the fabric of American life?
A cultural moment like the Super Bowl brings together the very broadest collection of Americans imaginable. As we watch the game (not to mention the halftime show and the commercials) we sit alongside each other, with all our political and religious differences, bound up together in this unofficial but very real American ritual. It is remarkable how popular culture affords a moment for us to tap, however perfectly or imperfectly, into the timeless teachings of a figure in Jesus of Nazareth, who speaks to us as if from beyond time.
To many, it is dangerous to mix popular culture with the realm of the holy, but maybe there is promise for healing in precisely this mix.
(That is certainly the view of Chloe Valdary, innovator of the Theory of Enchantment and my most recent guest on Uniting America, whose invitational approach to diversity, equity and inclusion shines light on the human condition by recognizing the transcendent truths that connect pop-culture and ancient wisdom. For those interested in fixing DEI, the Kingdom of God, and the spiritual dimensions of our political and racial divides, it is not a conversation to miss.)
For myself, I am a Christian. I am a Christian who believes in the separation of church and state, one who believes that we ought to be able to hear a message from a person or organization even if we do not agree with all of their politics, and I am certainly a Christian who believes that Jesus cannot quite be captured by a 60-second commercial, no matter how much money is spent on it.
But if I want to see Jesus in the political conversation a bit more, it is only because I, like many Christians and many non-Christians, believe that loving one’s neighbor and loving one’s enemies is the way to a better world.
This belief that love can transcend our differences is a belief that yet binds many Christians and non-Christians alike. We need love if we are to heal America. And we need the teachings and exemplars of love to come forth from our heritage to show us the way to mend.
We do need love and forgiveness in America.
Is it wrong therefore to say that we need Jesus too?
-John Wood Jr., National Ambassador, Braver Angels