It’s not the first time religious ads have appeared on TV, billboards, and digital media. But the recent "He Gets Us Campaign" is gaining attention like no other. And opinion is divided: some are questioning the ad’s style, messaging and funders.
The "He Gets Us" website says "funding comes from a diverse group of individuals." It also says "donors choose to remain anonymous because the story isn't about them."
The reverend Jim Burklo is associate dean of Religious Life at USC. He’s also executive director for Progressive Christians Uniting.
"David Green said that he donated to this dark money outfit called 'The Signatry.' The rest of the donors remain anonymous. Why are they anonymous?" Burklo said.
He’s referring to Hobby Lobby CEO David Green, who in 2014 used religious grounds to win a U.S. Supreme Court battle over a federal requirement that employers carry insurance covering the cost of contraception.
Burklo’s also referring to 'The Signatry,' the Kansas-based non profit spearheading the ad campaign.
Burklo says one thing he likes about the campaign is the human-focused portrayal of Jesus.
But he knows that’s upsetting to some conservative Christians, with the campaign’s references to hot-button issues like immigration and aid to the poor.
"And they’re afraid that that’s going to lead into a slippery slope right into progressive Christianity," Burklo said.
Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point U.S.A., which describes itself as a conservative grassroots movement, calls the campaign "one of the worst services to Christianity" and says it panders to liberals.
In a tweet, he claims it was developed by "woke tricksters," but He Gets Us spokesman Jason Vanderground says the campaign’s goal is simple.
"We’re just looking for some kind of connection some kind of commonality that would create a spark, that would create a little step toward what it means to follow Jesus," Vanderground said.
Expect the ads to be around for a while. Vanderground tells Scripps News that ads airing during live sports increased web traffic significantly. Sponsorship with select NBA teams and NASCAR is also on the docket, along with ads within arts and entertainment projects.
Vanderground stands by the money spent on the ads and the positive and negative feedback received across the board.
"No one’s saying that about potato chip and light beer ads — no one says 'wow, that was a lot of money to spend.' We have people reaching out all the time through chat and text and local connection and we’re seeing people’s lives affected for the positive," Vanderground said.
And Christian progressives like Burklo find hope in any kind of religious dialogue taking place.
"People will see through who's behind it. They'll see what their real agenda is, set that aside, and we can have a deeper conversation about who Jesus was, what he was about and what we’re about as his followers today," Burklo said.