The foundation behind a $20 million Super Bowl advertising campaign to promote “the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love” has also bankrolled a conservative nonprofit leading efforts to roll back abortion rights and allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers.
During the Super Bowl next weekend, viewers around the country will watch two Christianity-themed messages from a company called He Gets Us. Underneath the inclusive-sounding ad campaign is a little-known money machine quietly helping drive US policy far to the right.
Between 2018 and 2020, the Servant Foundation donated more than $50 million to the Alliance Defending Freedom — a nonprofit that’s led big policy fights over abortion and nondiscrimination laws at the Supreme Court and in states around the country. The nonprofit is designated as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Alliance Defending Freedom says it helped draft the 2018 Mississippi abortion law at the heart of the Supreme Court decision last year allowing states to ban the procedure — and also helped argue that case before the high court. This term, the Alliance Defending Freedom is leading a new Supreme Court case arguing that businesses should be able to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers.
While the Servant Foundation reported having nearly $1 billion in assets and making $390 million in grants in its 2020 tax return, its contributions to the Alliance Defending Freedom were among the five largest donations given out by the foundation in each of those three years, according to our review.
“He Gets Us is a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness,” said a spokesperson for the company. “The campaign is governed by the Servant Foundation, a 501(c)(3) [charity] with a 100/100 Charity Navigator rating.”
“Openness to People That Others Might Have Excluded”
He Gets Us says it wants to help people “understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love.” The company has aired three different ads during the National Football League playoffs, and plans to run two more ads during the Super Bowl on February 12.
In one ad, the company says, “Jesus struggled to make ends meet, too.” A family-focused video says, “Jesus disagreed with loved ones. But didn’t disown them.” Another ad describes Jesus as “an influencer who became insanely popular” — before he “was canceled.”
The company presents its campaign as inclusive, writing on its website that it has “included many voices in our work here — welcoming diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences to help us address the many concerns and issues we all face.”
“We are also about sharing Jesus’ openness to people that others might have excluded. His message went out to all,” the group adds. “And though you may see religious people as often hypocritical or judgmental, know that Jesus saw that too — and didn’t like it either. Instead, Jesus taught and offered radical compassion and stood up for the marginalized.”
Elsewhere on the website, the group also discusses how “Jesus promoted women’s equality.”
Jason Vanderground, a consultant involved with He Gets Us, told Christianity News that the company’s “goal is to invest about a billion dollars over the next three years” toward its branding campaign.
“Funding for He Gets Us comes from a diverse group of individuals and entities with a common goal of sharing Jesus’ story authentically,” said the company’s spokesperson.
Some of the money has come from billionaire David Green, the devout Christian cofounder of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby.
Green and Hobby Lobby fought the Obama administration’s contraception mandate all the way to the Supreme Court, leading to a 2014 ruling finding that closely held corporations do not have to comply with the mandate if their owners voice religious objections.
Last fall, Green spoke with conservative pundit Glenn Beck about his involvement with He Gets Us.
“You’re going to see it at the Super Bowl — ‘He Gets Us,’” said Green. “We are wanting to say — we being a lot of people — that he gets us. He understands us. He loves who we hate. I think we have to let the public know and create a movement.”
Fighting to Limit Abortion Rights and Allow Discrimination
As He Gets Us works to build Jesus’s brand, the company’s parent nonprofit, the Servant Foundation, has been funding the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization fighting to limit abortion access and allow businesses to refuse to serve LGBTQ+ customers.
The Alliance Defending Freedom says it helped draft Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law and helped defend it in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case before the Supreme Court last year.
In its Dobbs ruling, the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, invalidating federal protections for abortion rights.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is now leading a federal court case in Texas seeking to end the long-standing federal regulatory approval for the drug mifepristone, which is used in more than half of abortions performed in the United States. If the effort succeeds, it could result in a “nationwide ban on medication abortion,” one abortion rights advocate told NPR.
At the Supreme Court this term, the Alliance Defending Freedom is arguing a new case pressing justices to overturn Colorado’s antidiscrimination law. The case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, involves a Colorado-based web designer who refuses to make websites promoting the marriages of same-sex couples.
The Alliance Defending Freedom previously argued a similar Supreme Court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, involving a baker who refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.
Erin Hawley, the wife of Republican Missouri senator Josh Hawley, works as a senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, and has helped spearhead its efforts to restrict abortion rights and permit anti-LQBTQ+ discrimination.
Before he was elected to the Senate, Josh Hawley was part of the legal team that represented Hobby Lobby and Green at the Supreme Court in their fight against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate — arguing that companies should not have to pay for health insurance plans that include birth control.