Of the many strange, embarrassing or confusing ads that ran at the Super Bowl on Sunday, one stood out as especially eye-catching: a foot-washing ad from the “He Gets Us” campaign. The commercial showed a series of images of people washing someone else’s feet, and most offered a striking reversal of the roles of oppressor and oppressed: a police officer washing the feet of a young black man, a white woman serving a migrant, and, for the one who made me laugh out loud, an anti-abortion protester kneeling before an alleged patient at a family planning clinic. “Jesus did not teach hate,” reads the slogan while an INXS cover plays. “He washed His feet.”

The funders of the ad were unclear to the audience, leaving the question open: Are the people behind this simply naïve? Are they the last remaining liberal Christians, trying to convince Donald Trump-obsessed evangelicals to stem the tide of hate? Or is this ad a bait and switch, attempting to lure unchurched people with a false message of love and acceptance, only to push them into joining the MAGA movement?

False suspense makes no sense here: it is option number three. Jesus may have been against lying, but his wealthiest self-proclaimed defenders of American society do not hesitate to use deception to strengthen their army of MAGA Christianity.

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As many journalists have carefully detailed, the “He Gets Us” campaign is funded in large part by the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby. His life’s mission, besides getting rich selling cheap trinkets, is to push his brand of far-right Christianity in the country. The Greens-funded group that ran the “He Gets Us” ads last year has waded into anti-LGBTQ hate groups and organizations that oppose women’s rights. The family has funded efforts to put religious propaganda in public school classrooms, demanded the right to fire people for being gay, passed off forgeries like the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” stolen antiquities from Iraq and, of course, refused to comply with the COVID law. -19 pandemic restrictions for fear of losing profits. They also successfully sued to prevent their employees from using their own health insurance to cover contraception.

However, despite its opposition to birth control, Hobby Lobby is also not very interested in women having babies. When a Hobby Lobby employee became pregnant in 2010, she alleges she was fired for taking time off to have the baby. Losing your job is the Christian “compassion” offered by the people behind the Super Bowl ads.

The Greens have been candid about their donations to the “He Gets Us” campaign, but other donors remain anonymous. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the layers of deception the campaign is using to lure unsuspecting people with the alluring but false promise of love and acceptance offered in the ads. The group behind the ads, for example, is the newly formed Come Near. The far-right Servant Foundation ran it last year. This change in management not-so-coincidentally allows the campaign to further conceal its funding and leadership because its tax documents are not yet publicly available.

The sleaze gets even worse if one goes to the “He Gets Us” website. On the FAQ sheet, they state that “Jesus loves gay people and Jesus loves trans people.” That could lead queer people to falsely believe they will find affirmation in this group. In reality, as the history of anti-LGBTQ donations suggests, this is the game that right-wing Christians play where they say that “loving” queer people means telling them that they are sinners who need to give up their “lifestyle.”

The site also offers the opportunity to be “connected with someone close to you who can help you learn more about Jesus and his life or connect to a group where you can ask your questions about life and faith.” But when I clicked on the link, there was no searchable list of churches or Bible study groups that a person could research on their own before reaching out. Instead, the user is asked to fill out a form and told someone will contact them. That’s a giant red flag. There is no way for a user to know who this information is intended for. Instead, they will be contacted by a person whose affiliations and agenda are hidden and who will likely use high-pressure sales techniques to manipulate a person who felt alone enough to click on these links in the first place.

This has all the hallmarks of what psychology experts call “spiritual abuse,” which is when a person’s longing for faith or higher meaning is used as a weapon to control them. I’ve been interviewing experts on this topic for an upcoming research report, and they repeatedly emphasize that high-control religions often use bait-and-switch techniques to deceive vulnerable people. First, the person is subjected to a “love bombing”, where he is repeatedly told that he is safe and cared for now that he has joined this community. However, once they become emotionally dependent on the church or group, they are bullied and degraded. If they are queer, they are told they will go to hell unless they try (and invariably fail) to change who they fundamentally are. If they are women, they are told that their duty is to give up their ambitions and even their self-esteem, in order to be a “helpmeet” to a man.

There is no doubt that that is exactly the change that is happening here, which is why there are so many layers of confusion surrounding who is behind the “He Gets Us” campaign. For someone who sees the ads and is unaware of the malicious policies of the people behind them, the packaging is quite attractive. It’s easy to see how queer people, young women, or progressives might think this is the faith community for them, only to discover, long after they’ve been recruited, that no, it’s actually the same right-wing Christianity they have. . been avoiding. The tactic is to involve them so deeply that, by the time they realize it, they are too afraid of losing the community to leave.

Evangelicals claim to believe in “truth and light” and yet here they are, using deceptive techniques borrowed from the world of con artists. But sadly, this is not surprising, in an era when white evangelicals have become convinced that they are at war with the culture at large. The “holy war” framework allows for the violation of all types of moral codes. More than 60% of white evangelicals back Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election, and nearly a third say they believe political violence is justified to get his way. (The true figure is most likely much higher, but there is a reluctance to admit this to a pollster.) White evangelicals feel entitled to use lies and violence to gain political power. So of course they don’t mind using deception to deceive more people into MAGA Christ warriors.

By Sam