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He Gets Us: Advertising Jesus Instead of Following His Teachings

he gets us

By Benjamin Cremer via Facebook

Have you noticed the varied reactions to the “He Gets Us” campaign?

I just wanted to add a few thoughts for consideration as the conversation continues.

As followers of Jesus, I think it is important to find out why so much money is spent on Super Bowl ads, who is spending that money, and their reasons for doing so. Especially when that money could be used to for so many other humanitarian needs and whether we like it or not, their actions shape our collective reputation as Christians.

As followers of Jesus, I also think it is important not to use commercials about Jesus, which at face value do promote a good and needed message in and of themselves, and our possible skepticism about them to cause more public lashing out against each other in an already divided world. Our culture sees enough of that division within the church as it is already. It would be to disregard the message the commercial was trying to convey. A message we Christians in America need to hear more than anyone else.

With that said, after thinking about this for a long while, I just had some personal thoughts to share about why the reactions might be so varied and tenuous among Christians.

My heart is so weary of how we have commercialized Jesus, so often at the expense of embodying the way of Jesus ourselves.

As a millennial, I came of age in the world of religious tracts, street preachers, people holding signs that read “repent or burn” in heavily trafficked areas, paintings of Jesus with presidents, Christian t-shirts, music, and entire industries that attempted to advertise Jesus in every possible way, with a seemingly willful disregard for how it might impact our public witness as Christians.

I also worked food service throughout my entire academic journey. From 2001 to 2013, I worked at Dairy Queen, Smokey Mountain Pizza Co., Olive Garden, and then Starbucks. Looking back, this experience profoundly changed my perspective of “Christian evangelism.” I was studying to be a pastor then and got a front-row seat to how Christians interacted with food service workers.

There wasn’t a week that went by where I wouldn’t get several Christian tracts thrust in my face as I handed food through the drive-through, before the driver abruptly drove away.

There wasn’t a week that I wouldn’t get a religious tract disguised as a $100 bill left on the table with their check, often with no actual tip left. When I turned the tract over, it would say, “Disappointed? Well, you’ll never be disappointed with Jesus.” I was a student in desperate need of money, and this is how they chose to share “the gospel” with me.

There wasn’t a week that I wouldn’t hear my non-Christian coworkers complain about the “after church” crowd because of how poorly they would be treated and how low the tips would be.

There wasn’t a week that I wouldn’t be mistreated myself, yelled at over something silly like ranch dressing or a soda refill by people who had just prayed over their meal before they ate.

As a pastor in training, I couldn’t help but be really challenged by this and ask why this was happening?

Meanwhile, as I continued to study theology and ministry, I saw churches all over the nation try different methods to try to “attract” the younger generation. Being a millennial, at the time, I was considered the “younger generation.”

We saw the influx of new technology, smoke machines, well-polished music, and worship settings that appealed to modern fashion and style. And of course, the coffee bar. As much as I even enjoyed some of these things, I still felt “advertised” to.

Especially now with the advent of social media, we are advertised to more than ever. Is advertising and marketing really the most important and effective strategy for us Christians to undertake right now?

At the core of this are two elements for me.

First, so many in our culture are so tired of having Jesus advertised to them rather than people who claim to follow him imitating Jesus to them. People both inside and outside the church desperately want people who claim to follow Jesus to actually live out his teachings in the world around us.

Quite frankly, whether it is handing out religious tracts on the street as people pass by or making a million-dollar commercial, it is a really clever way of putting the responsibility to represent Jesus on something else, other than yourself. It is so deeply impersonal. You don’t even know the names of the people you are giving those tracts to or the lived experiences of those who are seeing your commercials, yet you are assuming their relationship with God and telling them “You obviously need this, sinner.” Like leaving it on the table for a pastor in training you don’t even know after you yelled at him about your ranch dressing.

It’s passive, drive-by evangelism. It feels deeply insincere and lazy, especially to the people it is being directed towards.

Secondly, this also plays into how we’ve reduced the gospel of Jesus to what people believe in their heads. I will often hear “If just one person had a change of mind because of that tract or commercial, it was worth it!” Why? Because we’ve made our religion all about getting to heaven and getting to heaven is simply about believing the right things, rather than imitating Jesus with our lives and working to embody God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” Again, this can easily lead to really callous situations where we don’t even care if our waitstaff has bills to pay or a family to care for. If stiffing them causes them to read about Jesus, even for just a moment, “it will be worth it.”

This kind of evangelism just seems so deeply out of touch with the actual world we live in.

When I think of all this, I hear James, the brother of Jesus, screaming in my ears:

“If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:16-17

Our world is crying out for faith in action, not faith advertised.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Even when I was an Evangelical Christian, I was i upset by the way some of my fellow Evangelicals—and other church-goers—treated others, especially those who were, or were perceived to be, lower on the socio-economic ladder.

    I think such behavior is a result of smugness borne of the certainty that they will go to Heaven, no matter what, because they are “saved.” That leads to the attitude they can do no wrong if they are carrying out “God’s will.”

    Leaving a tract disguised as a $100 bill next to a check? I worked briefly at a restaurant/event space. If a customer skipped out on paying, it was deducted from the server’s pay. I heard that was á standard practice at the time (about 45 years ago).

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    Yep, I 100% agree. I spent my whole life in food service, and with very, very few exceptions, Christians are the worst customers ever. Loud, obnoxious, rude. Leaving filthy tables and floors. Letting their kids run amok. And the fake tips? Happens all the time. Ash Wednesday and Easter were the 2 most dreaded days to work. Nothing like Christians pumped up with the Holy Spirit who believe they can do no wrong. And a few were genuinely surprised why no one accepted their invitations to church. 🙄

  3. Avatar

    Yes. This is well written.

    I remember the days when I went knocking on doors and handing out tracts. For what? We inconvenienced so many people. Yes, we thought we were saving souls, but mostly we were just trying to prove we were right.

    Several years ago my wife saw a waitress had a real need and left a $20 tip on a breakfast. The waitress came back and thanked her profusely. It turns out she had just served a large table and they had left no tip. And she was doing all she could to try to make the rent payment. She was in tears as she thanked my wife again. My wife gave her another $20. It is little things like that, caring for those with real needs, that is so often absent in religion.

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    I’ve seen so many social media semester condemning these ads, commenting on spending millions on ads instead of actually helping people, making fun of the foot washing one where “nice Christian people” were washing the feet of people portraying marginalized caricatures. The truth is that Christianity has a huge branding problem, mostly due to mean evangelical MAGAs. No amount of ads is going to negate MAGA Uncle Ron or Aunt Sue who treat LGBTQ people like second class citizens, who treat people of color like inferiors, who complain about “illegals” as if they were viruses instead of real, hurting humans, who are misogynistic and think all women should be incubators for fetuses regardless of the situation. When MAGA Uncle Ron comes to wash my feet and treat me like an equal, maybe I will listen……but I won’t hold my breath.

  5. Avatar

    I was stunned to see the Jesus commercial during the Super Bowl. It was obviously aimed at non Christians but clearly did not represent the Christ church as it exists today. The theme of love and acceptance couldn’t be further from the hate filled knuckle draggers who blindly follow Trump and his gospel of bigotry and corruption.

  6. Avatar

    This article brings up some good point. BUt here is a minor issue I have. The article says,
    “As a millennial, I came of age…”
    But then says the author is 66 years old. That would make the author a Baby Boomer.
    Is that a contradiction or what?

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