Controversial Details About The Groups Behind The 'He Gets Us' Campaign

On Sunday, February 11, 2024, an estimated 123.4 million Americans tuned in for the spectacle of the Kansas City Chiefs coming from behind to stun the San Francisco 49ers 25 to 22 at Super Bowl LVIII (per People). The Super Bowl is always a big draw, but this year's event goes down as the most-watched broadcast in television history, beating the previous year's total of 115.1 million. And as always, the broadcast was also a festival of advertising, with some of the biggest brands on the planet vying for the attention of the nation's eyeballs.

But among the countless ads for snacks, luxury brands, and online services, viewers also encountered an unusual ad featuring vignettes of people from different walks of life washing each other's feet. "Jesus didn't teach hate. He washed feet," the ad states, adding: "He gets us. All of us." It was the second year that such ads aired for American audiences during major sporting events, and one of two aired during the Super Bowl. The campaign, with its strapline "He Gets Us," is also a hit on YouTube, where their videos have millions of views. But the ads, which are known as the "He Gets Us" campaign — which claims to be apolitical — have proved controversial, with critics highlighting several controversies attached to its donors and organizers. Here's what we know.

The campaign's anti-LGBTQ links

As its appearance during Super Bowl LVII and LVIII suggests, the "He Gets Us" campaign has major money behind it. A Rolling Stone article from February 2024 describes "He Gets Us" as a "billion-dollar campaign" to promote and modernize Christianity.

As critics have noted, many of the images used in the recent ad feature apparent members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the campaign's official website is open in its messaging that it intends to promote the belief that Jesus loves everyone. "Jesus loves gay people and Jesus loves trans people," states the "He Gets Us" FAQ page. "The LGBTQ+ community, like all people, is invited to explore the story of Jesus and consider his example of unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness of others."

However, when ads started appearing in 2022, "He Gets Us" was a subsidiary of The Servant Foundation. This evangelical non-profit critics have noted is a backer of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, pictured). The ADF is a group with a record of funding legislation described as anti-gay and anti-trans, such as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (via Vox). The group has also funded legal challenges to same-sex marriage.

The group has also pushed for anti-abortion legislation

The Servant Foundation has also been instrumental in pushing legislators to enact measures that curb Americans' access to family planning services, particularly abortion. The foundation enjoyed a seismic victory in June 2022 with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a legal precedent that ensured the availability of abortion across the United States. At the time of writing, 21 states have since put limits on abortion or banned it outright, according to The New York Times.

Such revelations are especially jarring considering one "He Gets Us" ad features an image of a woman having her feet washed outside a family planning clinic. But it appears that those attached to the "He Gets Us" campaign eventually came to realize that the involvement of The Servant Foundation was at odds with the core message of the campaign, which claims to be above the political fray and all-embracing in its scope. 

In February 2024, it was announced that the Servant Foundation's involvement in the "He Gets Us" campaign had officially come to an end. Instead, it passed to a new charity, "Come Near," according to the Associated Press.

The Hobby Lobby's pushback against birth control

The exceptionally well-funded "He Gets Us" campaign is backed by a bevy of wealthy donors, many of whom have chosen to remain anonymous. One prominent family that has been open about their involvement in funding the blockbuster Christian ads, however, is the Greens, the billionaire owners of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts retail chain.

The patriarch of the family, David Green, who is believed to have a personal net worth of around $14 billion, has spoken publicly about his support of the campaign, echoing its central messages. As he told political commentator Glenn Beck in 2022: "You're going to see it at the Super Bowl, he gets us. We're wanting to say 'we' being a lot of different people that he gets us. He understands all of us. He hates who, he loves who we hate so I think we have to let the public know and create a movement, really."

But while the "He Gets Us" campaign suggests overtly that it is premised on the belief that Christians ought to react charitably to everyone regardless of their background or beliefs, Green has been criticized for thrusting his evangelical values on his own employees. In 2012, Hobby Lobby launched legal action against the Affordable Care Act which ensured access to the morning-after pill, claiming that it constituted a form of abortion, according to State Impact Oklahoma.

The Museum of the Bible's illegal collections

The Hobby Lobby's billionaire owners the Green family also has another outlet for their Christian beliefs: the Museum of the Bible, a $500 million Washington D.C. complex designed to offer visitors the ultimate experience of the book which remains a cornerstone of Western civilization. Established as a non-profit back in 2010, its chairman is Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who personally sourced artifacts to be exhibited, according to NPR. The museum finally opened its doors in 2017, but before long found itself mired in controversy.

Historically, museums and collections such as that founded by Green have attracted an aura of respectability. But in recent years even national museums have attracted criticism for cultural colonialism: think, for example, of calls for the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles — which were stolen by the British diplomat Lord Elgin from the Acropolis in Athens in the early 19th century — to Greece. And the Museum of the Bible is no exception. By 2020, the museum had in its possession around 40,000 artifacts, many of which were believed to have been stolen from the Middle East and to have been brought to the U.S. illegally. When the scandal came to light, the museum was forced to return thousands of objects such as papyrus scrolls and clay tablets, to Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere.

The Museum of the Bible took PPP loans despite the Greens' billions

The Green family also received criticism in 2020 when it emerged that their non-profit Museum of the Bible had claimed millions in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The PPP scheme was set up as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to keep jobs in place during the COVID-19 pandemic when many public places were required to shut their doors and cease trading. Per Forbes, the museum claimed between $2 million and $5 million in loans to sustain 249 jobs at the institution. After legal challenges as a result of a lack of transparency around PPP, critics questioned the practice of using public funds to prop up institutions with billionaire backers.

Despite the many controversies attached to the Green family and their business, outlets have also reported positive stories about Hobby Lobby, including the fact that all employees get Sundays off, and that at $18.50 an hour (as of 2022) the lowest wages at the company are far above those required by law (via Forbes). In 2022, David Green (pictured) also announced that he was planning to give 90% of his net worth to charity. "Wealth is a curse," he has claimed, according to Fortune.