Photograph by Nina Strehl via Unsplash

Do we get him?

February 22, 2024

In the days immediately following the Super Bowl, several “hot takes” emerged regarding the “He Gets Us” advertising campaign.

If you don’t know the ad, it opens with an image of a foot washing. A son washes his father’s feet, then a cop washes a young black man’s feet. A “popular” girl in high school washes her “alternative” classmate’s feet. A white cowboy washes the feet of an indigenous person; abortion opponents and supporters wash each other’s feet outside of a clinic. Images continue in this vein; a white woman, presumably Christian, washing the feet of a woman in a Muslim headscarf, a priest washing the feet of a young person showing visible signs of queerness. Other videos in the series ask the question, “who is my neighbor,” then show images of people from all walks of life: queer, straight, immigrant, indigenous, and more.

The mood of the ads is decidedly progressive. And yet many progressives—and I include myself as a progressive—have rushed to condemn these advertisements.

This rush is because, regrettably, the funders of this campaign have spent millions doing very, very little to be of service to any of the communities being “served” in this advertisement. They have struggled to end abortion rights, pouring heat on the fire instead of mutual service. They have sought to ban unions and forms of family structures that sustain queer people in a world that is often (and increasingly) hostile. This hits me particularly hard: they have fought to limit my right to healthcare as a trans woman.

I have every reason not to trust them.

In this rush from “my side” of the conversation to remind people where the big money behind this comes from, I cannot stop thinking about the person who sees this campaign. Specifically, I am thinking of the women I have met in my own trans journey, women whose spiritual journeys are rich and varied, some Christian, some not, some mourning the loss of the Christian faith that sometimes held them and often hurt them. I can’t stop thinking about a young woman I imagine seeing this campaign, deciding to give it one more shot, then taking a deep breath, and then stepping through the door of a church she thinks might be safe.

And then a greeter sees her, smiles wide, reaches out her hand, and says “Welcome! Can I help you find your seat, sir?”

And with that one word, “sir,” spoken innocently enough to a new face, a trans woman’s heart is shattered. Her soul is wounded. Her hope, blossoming for the first time in a long time, evaporates into despair.

I raise this story because it happened. Not in one of those “bad churches.” Not in one that hates. Not in one that preaches bigotry from the pulpit and conspiracy behind every Democrat.

I raise this story because it happened in mine.

We may have lost a potential friend forever, because we, for all our talk of love and grace and justice, made a mistake in ignorance that we accuse our enemies of making in malice.

Not in this way — I’m changing many details to protect all involved — but close enough to matter. This happened in my church, this church I love — this church that has watched and held me as I’ve come out as a trans woman, as I’ve claimed my birthright and my need and my hope and my happiness, this church that has watched me cry and seen me grow. This happened on my watch. It happened in my own little outpost of the kingdom.

We may have lost a potential friend forever, because we, for all our talk of love and grace and justice, made a mistake in ignorance that we accuse our enemies of making in malice.

I can’t change that it happened. But I can remember that tomorrow, next week, the week after, someone is going to walk through that door hoping to find the Jesus of this ad campaign. Maybe they’ll have seen the ads, maybe they won’t.

But we won’t show the world that the kind of Christian who pays for this ad campaign is wrong. We won’t overcome their painfully hateful engine of deceit by pointing out their hypocrisy.

The way for Christians to defeat the Christian nationalists who paid for that ad campaign is simple. Do something today to make your church like the Jesus in those ads. That Jesus — and that Jesus alone — has the irresistible loving power to destroy the hate that they peddle when they think no one is looking.

So stop it, right now. Stop sharing news stories about how such-and-such foundation paid for this or that ad, and that they also paid for the Alliance Defending Freedom. It’s true, but stop it.

Dedicate yourself instead to living into the reality of the Jesus that showed himself to us in love, in gentleness, in power, and in compassion. Because that Jesus will liberate us. That Jesus sets us free.

Madison McClendon obtained her M.Div. from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2012. She is the Moderator of North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois, and serves on the board of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz, in addition to previous service on the board of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and BJC. She lives in Chicago with her queer family, most especially Todd, and a sweet pit bull terrier, Moira.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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