To the Audience of “He Gets Us”

Because I didn’t study Communications, the field I currently work in, I have had to learn on the fly. Although I believe I have some natural gifts, particularly with the written word, it has still been a steep learning curve. From strategic concepts, like timing and specificity of messaging, to technical skills, like managing an email database with over ten thousand contacts, I learn new things every day. I still have a long way to go, but I’m beginning to see myself as a “Communications Professional.” However, there is one foundational question in the work that I don’t think I’ll ever stop cringing over whenever I hear it. I assume it is one of the first questions students in Mass Comm 101 (which I never took) learn to ask.

Who is the audience?

I cringe at the question because I usually don’t know how to answer it. Any time I’ve ever created “content”, which has mostly been in the form of writing, I have never given much intentional consideration into who I am writing to or for. My “audience” is whoever wants to be my audience.

But it is a good question, and I’ve learned to ask it when I receive information more than I typically do when I create information.

I’ve considered the question a lot lately when thinking about the “He Gets Us” campaign that is getting a lot of attention for its upcoming $20M Super Bowl ad buy. I first heard about the campaign when I noticed a tweet linking to a story in Christianity Today about the campaign. The headline read something along the lines of “Inside the campaign everyone is talking about!” I didn’t click on the link at first, but I saw it again and again, day after day. So I finally read it and realized that the only reason any one is talking about it is because there have been sponsored advertisements talking about how everyone is talking about it.

The campaign tells the story of a Jesus who empathizes with the refugee, the wronged, the marginalized and the outcast, because he has been all those things. It aims, according to the website, to “reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness. On the surface, it seems incredible and needed. But the question remains, “What is under the surface?”

I believe the answer to that is found in the answer to that Mass Comm 101 question, “Who is the audience?”

The campaign appears to be an attempt at evangelism, reaching those with little to no experience with Christianity, and I assume its organizers would be overjoyed if a new generation of believers arises from the ads. But this isn’t their primary audience. (While I admit this is pure speculation, it is speculation based on 48 years of experience with American Christianity.) This campaign is targeting the generations of people, young and old, who are leaving Conservative, American, Evangelical churches in droves. And here’s what they want this audience to do: Forget.

They want them to forget the abuse of power, the sexual assault scandals, and the hoarding of wealth.

They want them to forget that women have been treated as second class citizens in churches.

They want them to forget about the American Church’s complicity– whether through outright support, knowing nods, or silence when it mattered– in the damaging results of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Family separation, “Shithole Countries,” the dehumanization of LGBTQIA individuals and refugees, Qanon, “Good people on both sides”, January 6: Forget, Forget, Forget, Forget, Forget, Forget.

This is a last, desperate attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of churches caused by powerful (mostly) white (mostly) men. It is a pivot in rhetoric, if not substance. It is telling those with one foot out the door, “Wait! What if we told you we really think you’ll like the Jesus we are about to start talking about now, not the one we’ve been talking about for the past 40 years? Give us another chance!”

If this is you, then I want you to know: Jesus does get us. The story of Jesus is a story of God With Us. God as us. And Jesus is acquainted with our grief, our sorrow, and our concerns. God loves the refugee. God loves LGBTQ individuals. God loves women. God loves the innocent and the guilty.

But, when someone tells you those things, you deserve clear answers to all the implications of God’s love that they claim to believe in.

God loves the refugee? Ok. Then what does God believe about how refugees should be treated by the powers of this world? Will you, a purported follower of this God, advocate for policies that make it easier for immigrants to immigrate? Will you work to help create conditions for them to stay where they are?

God loves LGBTQ individuals? Great! Now, please tell me: Do you believe God blesses their marriages? Would you be open to an out gay individual pastoring your church? Will you speak up when the dehumanizing language about trans youth and adults makes its way into your friend groups? Will you respect people’s preferred pronouns?

God is radically forgiving? Pro-life? Ok. What do you believe about the death penalty?

Whether you have one foot out of American Christianity or are intrigued by the “He Gets Us” campaign, you have a right to ask these questions. And if they aren’t answered clearly, and quickly, you have a right to call out the campaign for what it just might be: A slick rebranding effort designed to make you forget.

Don’t forget.

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