Opinion: How that controversial foot-washing ‘He Gets Us’ commercial won the Super Bowl

Photo/Julia Fullerton-Batten and Scott Mayo/He Gets Us LLC via AP / This image provided by He Gets Us LLC shows a scene from “Foot Washing," the 60-second commercial from "He Gets Us" that debuted at the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. Two commercials shown Sunday night centered Jesus' message to love your neighbors — even across ideological divides. (Julia Fullerton-Batten and Scott Mayo/He Gets Us LLC via AP)
Photo/Julia Fullerton-Batten and Scott Mayo/He Gets Us LLC via AP / This image provided by He Gets Us LLC shows a scene from “Foot Washing," the 60-second commercial from "He Gets Us" that debuted at the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. Two commercials shown Sunday night centered Jesus' message to love your neighbors — even across ideological divides. (Julia Fullerton-Batten and Scott Mayo/He Gets Us LLC via AP)

Even if you did not watch the Super Bowl last Sunday, you have probably seen or at least heard about one of the evening's more controversial ads.

It featured still photographs of unlikely pairings: a pro-life protester and a woman presumably entering an abortion clinic; two young women who appear to be on opposite sides of a political protest; a woman in a hijab and a suburban white woman; a cop and a young Black man; a gay man and a priest.

In each photo, one of the pair is lovingly washing the feet of his or her perceived antagonist, completely unfazed by whatever action is taking place around them.

As the images flash, a soulful cover of the INXS power ballad "Never Tear Us Apart" plays and crescendos at the phrase, "two worlds collided, and they could never tear us apart."

Then the screen flashes with the words, "Jesus didn't teach hate," followed by, "He washed feet."

The ad was clearly intended to evoke emotion.

It did that.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, it has also fomented all kinds of hostility and criticism, or at least intense reactions, on both ends of the political spectrum.

Politically progressive detractors are attacking the sponsors of the group behind the commercial, which in the past have included the family behind Hobby Lobby, an overtly Christian business.

Hobby Lobbys are closed on Sunday, an homage to the Christian sabbath.

The politically astute will recall that the company also won a Supreme Court challenge to the Obamacare requirements that cover abortifacients for employees on account of its pro-life stance.

Beyond its sponsorship, left-leaning critics have criticized the group for spending money on a pricey commercial that could have better been used supporting social services.

Then there is the expected but illiterate mockery of the ad's portrayal of foot washing as a "foot fetish."

Meanwhile, the ad's very conservative detractors have called it "too woke," taking issue with the largely progressive tropes it portrays.

They also note that in many of the pairings, it is the person assumed to be on the ideological right who is doing the foot-washing, and not the other way around.

Many people (Christians, in particular) will recognize the washing of his disciples' feet as one of the last things Jesus did before his crucifixion. It was an act of humility and pure, unadulterated love.

The event is re-created in churches around the world every year on Holy Thursday, the day that Christians memorialize the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus before his death.

It's powerful imagery, to say the least.

Which is perhaps why some conservative critics have called it shallow.

"Jesus's interaction with sinners ... is loving but also firm," noted Taylor Marshall, a Catholic personality who devoted a podcast episode to discussion about the ad. Jesus did more than just wash feet, Marshall said; he challenged sinners to "go and sin no more."

The ad perhaps oversimplifies people into stereotypes where there is need for much nuance. That's almost certainly intended to help people appreciate how easy it is to caricature others in an effort to justify our own ends.

And yes, a Super Bowl ad slot carries an insanely high price tag. But it also brings a massive, diverse and effectively captive audience.

The "He Gets Us" campaign is currently supported by the charitable organization Come Near and has an unabashed agenda: "To move beyond the mess of our current cultural moment to a place where all of us are invited to rediscover the love story of Jesus. Christians, non-Christians, and everybody in between. All of us."

There was probably a secondary agenda, too: getting people talking.

In that sense, the commercial was worth every penny.

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