He Gets Us Super Bowl Ad Ignites Controversy: ‘Jesus Didn’t Teach Hate. Jesus Washed Feet.’

Michael Foust

CrosswalkHeadlines Contributor
Published Feb 13, 2024
He Gets Us Super Bowl Ad Ignites Controversy: ‘Jesus Didn’t Teach Hate. Jesus Washed Feet.’

One year after ads by the He Gets Us campaign ignited a social media debate, a new round of Jesus-centric Super Bowl commercials on Sunday night found believers divided once again.

One year after ads by the He Gets Us campaign ignited a social media debate, a new round of Jesus-centric Super Bowl commercials on Sunday night found believers divided once again.

This year’s He Gets Us ads led with a 60-second commercial that included 12 successive depictions of individuals washing the feet of others. In the ad’s final moments, viewers saw words on the screen reading: “Jesus Didn’t Teach Hate. Jesus Washed Feet. He Gets Us. All of Us.” A solo voice singing the INXS tune Never Tear Us Apart played in the background.

The ad guided viewers to a website, HeGetsUs.com/LoveYourNeighbor, where they can learn about Jesus’ ministry. The website calls foot washing the “perfect example of how we should treat one another, even those people with whom we don’t see eye to eye.”

It was one of the most-viewed Super Bowl ads on YouTube, with 225,000 views some 12 hours after it aired.

“Jesus had washed Peter’s feet, a loyal friend who would publicly deny that he knew Jesus later that very night,” its website says. “And even more astoundingly, Jesus washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, the one who would betray him for 30 pieces of silver,” the website says, before it explains the significance of feet washing in ancient times.

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“How would our contentious world change if we washed one another’s feet, not literally, but figuratively?” it asks. “Figurative foot washing can be as simple as giving a compliment to a co-worker or paying for a stranger’s lunch. It can also be as difficult as not responding to someone who’s criticizing you or reaching out to an estranged family member. Acts of kindness done out of humility and respect for another person could be considered the equivalent of foot washing.”

The website didn’t provide details of the 12 pictures but said they were intended to show foot washing interactions between people of “opposing ideologies.” The images include pictures of a police officer washing the feet of a black man, a woman washing the feet of what appears to be an immigrant, and a woman washing the feet of another woman outside a family planning clinic (an abortion clinic). 

The He Gets Us website includes three Bible passages: John 13:1-17, Matthew 23:11-12 and Luke 7:37-50. Visitors can then learn more about Jesus through YouVersion Bible reading plans that are linked from the website. There, in the reading plans, the gospel is presented. (“The Bible tells us that our sins separate us from God, both now and in eternity,” one of the reading plans says. “Gratefully, Jesus makes a way for us to live through his death. He says boldly that he is the only way to be rescued from sin’s consequence (John 14:6).” Supporters have described the ads as a funnel to the gospel.  

He Gets Us is an initiative of Come Near Inc., which the website describes as a nonprofit organization “committed to sharing the life and love of Jesus, that believes Jesus was human and divine, he rose from the dead, and more.”

Later in the Super Bowl, a 15-second He Gets Us ad included a message about loving your neighbor.  

On X (formerly Twitter), the ads received criticism from the Left and Right. The ads also split Christians. 

“Let's go @HeGetsUs. Powerful commercial,” wrote Derwin L. Gray, pastor of Transformation Church.

“I’m going to be a glass half full guy,” wrote radio host Mark Davis. “I hear the criticism that the #HeGetsUs #SuperBowlAds #Jesus is all buddy and no rules. But in this Increasingly unchurched age, if people pick up Bibles or start going to church, they’ll be exposed to the real Christ. I’ll take it.”

“That's the strongest play I've ever seen!!! JESUS DIDN'T TEACH US TO HATE!!! I'm here for this commercial!!! That was so good!!!” sports commentator Ron Slay wrote. 

“Last year I got lambasted by some for criticizing He Gets Us, but my concerns stand,” podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey said. “‘Shouldn’t we just be happy Jesus’s name is getting to millions of people?’ If it’s not the Biblical Jesus, then no. If you’ve got the money and opportunity to buy a Super Bowl ad slot, share the gospel. Don’t waste it on some ambiguous mumbo jumbo that makes Jesus into our image rather than depicting Him as the King and Savior He is.”

“The He Gets Us ads message isn’t that you should worship Jesus. Their message is that Jesus worships you,” blogger Samuel Sey wrote.

Justin Giboney, president of the And Campaign, defended the ads.

“Some Christians hated the @HeGetsUs ad because they think it’s an insult to show us humbling ourselves to serve people with whom we disagree. Or they think serving = affirming sin. Reread the Sermon on the Mount. The culture war taught you to focus on fighting them, not Jesus. The point of @HeGetsUs is to spark the interest of non-believers, not to present a treatise on Christology in a matter of seconds,” Giboney wrote. “No sin was affirmed in that commercial, but the human dignity of all people was affirmed. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.”

Some pro-lifers criticized the ad for depicting feet washing outside an abortion clinic. In the background of the image, pro-life protesters can be seen, holding signs. 

March for Life’s official social media accounts said the ad promoted the forgiveness of Christ. 

“There’s forgiveness and healing after abortion, and @hegetsus’ Super Bowl ad showed that,” March for Life said on X (formerly Twitter). “The ad went through multiple images of followers of Jesus washing the feet of our neighbors: the criminal, elderly, classmate, parent, and yes -- the abortion worker, post-abortive, and/or abortion-minded woman. It’s unclear as to why the woman is sitting outside an abortion facility, but it serves as a reminder to us all that there’s forgiveness, healing, and support after an abortion, for those considering an abortion, and for those who work at an abortion facility. Abortion hurts everyone. It’s okay to ask for help. There’s hope, healing, and support for those who need it, and that’s why the pro-life movement exists, to walk through life with ALL people and through all its vulnerabilities.”

The He Gets Us campaign also aired two commercials during last year’s Super Bowl. One, “Be Childlike,” included photographs of children displaying acts of kindness and ended with the tagline, “Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults. He gets us. All of us.” The second ad, “Love your Enemies,” showed pictures of adults arguing and fighting. It ended with the words, “Jesus loved the people we hate. He gets us. All of us.” 

Photo credit: He Gets Us / YouTube.com

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist PressChristianity TodayThe Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.