$100M Jesus Ads Point to Exploitable Weakness in Religious Right

Christianity has a brand problem. If it were a corporation, brand managers would be scrambling to scrub public image—maybe by greenwashing or with corporate diversity trainings or by renaming their product, say natural gas instead of methane, or by coming up with a new catchy slogan.  Or they might actually do something substantive, like ceasing to “gift” baby formula to poor moms or to use child labor in their factories. There are many ways to polish brand.

Christianity’s recently launched He Gets US campaign—millions of people got a dose during the Superbowl—tells us two things: 1. Conservative Evangelical Christians care about their brand problem.  2. Some major Christian donors have decided, to the tune of $100 million apparently, to go with the greenwashing strategy rather than substantive change.  And that combination provides a possible avenue for fighting back against some of the ugly objectives and tactics of the Religious Right.

The people paying for this ad campaign are the same ones promoting homophobia, advocating against reproductive healthcare for women, and funding politicians to protect the good old pecking orders: rich over poor, men over women, pale people over everyone with more melanin.

Losing customers
Back when the world and I were young, Evangelical Christians were a politically diverse group. But Republican strategists recognized them as a potential political voting block. Hierarchical social structures within churches meant the strategists had to recruit only Church leaders, and those leaders would bring along their congregations. It worked for the Republican party, but at an enormous cost to Christianity as an institution. That is because right wing operatives were spending down Christianity’s good name by merging its brand with their own.  The more Christianity came to be associated with ugly political priorities—and then crass power grab-‘em-by-the-pussies—the more young people fled the Church. By the millions.  (Tangentially, Islam faces a similar brand problem and deconversion pattern wherever the Mullahs wield political force. Almost half of Iranians say they used to be religious.)

Losing money
Losing customers by the millions would be a problem for any corporate body—especially one with a product that people realize they don’t need when they actually take a good look.  When there are better options, in this case secularism, people rarely go back to the same-old-same-old.  The financial impact of deconversion is potentially huge. The Mormon Church may coerce tithes with visits from elders who review a family’s finances, but most protestant and Catholic sects rely on more subtle social and emotional pressures. Either way, market share requires mindshare. You have to get people in the door before you can pass the basket.

Losing prospects
But this isn’t merely a financial calculus. At some point, brand damage becomes a threat to identity. Evangelicals are evangelical.  It’s part of the ideology.  Go into all the world and make disciples of every creature. Unlike Judaism or Hinduism, Christianity is a proselytizing religion. Proselytizing (ok, coupled with colonization and holy wars) has been the strategy that allowed Christianity to spread across the planet. Missionaries may not explicitly recognize that they are recruiting paying customers who will trade cash for club benefits and afterlife services, but they do recognize that “harvesting souls” is a central commandment of their faith. For many, this mandate—called the Great Commission—is their version of praying five times facing Mecca. For some, it becomes an underlying feature in virtually every relationship: All non-Christians are potential converts; friendliness becomes friendship missions; feeding the poor becomes first-and-foremost a path to winning their souls. Evangelicals are a sales force, and as their brand becomes more and more soiled, it gets harder to do their job.

In need of a savior
Having spent down Christianity’s brand, the patriarchs of the religious right are uncomfortable with how far that has gone—the image, that is, not the substance. Most Americans used to think of the Bible as The Good Book, but not anymore.  Most Americans used to think of Christianity (and religion more broadly) as benign, but not anymore.  Jesus, though—the image of Jesus is relatively untainted. Even those who don’t buy into the idea of him being the perfect human sacrifice who saves our souls (Are you washed in the blood?) tend to believe that he was a good, wise, loving man.  They think we know a lot more about him than we do, and what they think we know is positive.  So, it totally makes sense that a $100 million rebranding and recruiting effort would center on the person of Jesus.  Much of Christian theology is nasty, and the Iron Age texts in the Bible contradict what we now know about science, anthropology and—well, pretty much every other field of modern scholarship. This iconic personal Jesus is all they have left.

The fact that conservative Christians are spending $100 million on marketing Jesus means they are bad off and know it. It means they recognize the deterioration in their brand, and they feel desperate to turn it around.  They have made the mistake of letting that desperation slip out, and those of us who would rather not return to the good old dark ages when the Church ruled the world can exploit that vulnerability.  Their product sucks, and we need to keep saying so in every way possible. We need to make sure the general public keeps associating Christianity with what Christians are doing, not what they are saying:  Those anti-abortion centers that dupe women into keeping pregnancies aren’t Crisis Pregnancy Centers, they are Church Pregnancy Centers.  Fetal personhood isn’t a philosophical debate, it’s theology.  Denying rights to queer folks and women isn’t conservative, it’s theocracy. 

When people do ugly things that are motivated by religious dogma, we should name what’s going on. Conservative Christians are telling us that they can’t afford more brand damage.  And maybe if their bad works keep getting exposed they will realize that the answer isn’t Jesus-washing; it’s substantive change. 


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Quillette, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.   

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
This entry was posted in Christianity in the Public Square and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to $100M Jesus Ads Point to Exploitable Weakness in Religious Right

  1. Paul Douglas says:

    Bravo! Well written and thought-provoking. Secularists need to remind our families, friends and neighbors every day about the persistent hypocritical behavior of fundagelical christianists. We can only know the love and power of their godling by how they consistently demonstrate it to the rest of us. That would be 2000 years of a big fail.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Doug Wadeson says:

    I noticed in one of their ads they say something like, “Jesus loved the people we hate.” I think that was an unwitting confession!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You miss what may be the most important aspect financially; the linking of evangelical Christianity, especially Young Earth creationism, to climate change denial: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2022/10/13/creationism-and-climate-birth-of-a-new-pseudoscience/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Ruis says:

    They would be more honest if instead of “he gets you” they would claim “Republican Jesus gets you.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Bill Mathis says:

    Excellent!! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brian Bixler says:

    Brava, Valerie! You are right on point!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. rankin2366 says:

    “Pasty white people…” ??? I agree with almost all of this article except for the quote…if I were part of a recognized oppressed class I would be publicly justified (and perhaps celebrated) to objecting to the use of this word to describe all white people. It sounds a bit pejorative. If it were objected to on a conservative media source, would the person objecting be considered a ‘white supremacist’? I like this lady, Ms. Tarico, and agree with her 80% of the time. I just wish she would be a little more careful the her terms. In my opinion, it feeds white supremacist-type people. Starve their psyche and they will eventually go away by attrition.


    • Hi Bill – Please tell me more. It is a bit perjorative as a reference to white supremacists, as you note, but how do you think it might feed them?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Counter-effective, us-versus-them language. Not even referring to the point at issue. And it’s not a good idea to insult the people you need to win over (ask Hillary).

        Liked by 1 person

      • rankin2366 says:

        It did not appear to me to be a reference for only white supremacists, but all white people as a group.

        Let me be more precise with the phrase. Instead of ‘feeds white supremacist-type people’, I should have said, it may push some people (white) away who already feel threatened (with good reason or not) by the big cultural change that is occurring, making them even more sympathetic to radical views such as white supremacy. When defenses go up, a person reasoning and clear-minded thoughtfulness goes down (or away) especially with less education and world experience. Also, it just assists in the idea that people like you (educated, Phd, etc) think less of white people outside your group.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Good point. I’ll change it. It’s harmful enough I think that the word “White” itself has become a racial slur, a term of disparagement.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Neil is great–very articulate and insightful.


  8. pameakes says:

    Valerie — YOU always zero in on the real key to this issue — thank you so much. I’m sharing far and wide.

    BetterTogether, Pamela Eakes “I want an Earth that is healthy, a World at PEACE and a heart filled with LOVE.”


    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kenneth Eakes says:

    Religious fundamentalism is the most harmful force in the our country and christian fundamentalism is our most practiced form of religious fundamentalism, You might have noticed I did not capitalize the c in christian, there is nothing of Christ in today’s christian fundamentalism. To the contrary, today’s christians follow and support the dictates of a man that by his own actions and words emulates the immoral, lustful, greedy, self-serving, narcissistic, hate filled and evil entity Christians call Satan. How is that for a brand change?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. BOOKS: Sexual Assault, Loss says:

    “We need to make sure the general public keeps associating Christianity with what Christians are doing, not what they are saying: Those anti-abortion centers that dupe women into keeping pregnancies aren’t Crisis Pregnancy Centers, they are Church Pregnancy Centers.”
    They are Hypocrites!


  11. Infidel753 says:

    Excellent points. When you see evangelical Christianity as a marketing operation with a dud product to sell, the lines of attack become apparent.

    One that occurs to me is: Is this how the “good, wise, loving”, sell-all-you-have-and-give-to-the-poor Jesus would have wanted them to spend a hundred million dollars?


    • Yes, can you picture the Jesus of the Bible stories running the ad campaign? Whether or not these stories are actually true, Evangelical Christians think they are, and the Jesus of the stories is pretty explicit about what rich people should do with their money.

      Liked by 1 person

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