CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The teachings of Jesus advocate pure compassion: Help underdogs, aid the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe and shelter the homeless, tend "the least of these," seek peace -- that's the overwhelming message. Mainline Protestant churches call it the "social gospel."
But many white evangelicals focus on punitive Old Testament strictures. They denounce gays as wicked. They rebuke women and girls who end pregnancies. They question birth control, claiming that it promotes promiscuity. They rail against sexuality on television and in magazines and movies.
This Puritanism is flaring in the final hours of the 2012 presidential campaign. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed its "cult" label from Mormonism and backed Mormon Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The 93-year-old preacher vowed to help Romney "any way I can."
The evangelist's son, Franklin -- who previously raised suspicion that President Obama is a secret Muslim -- said he voted early for Romney because of his "moral values." The son said Obama's support of gay marriage violates "God's standard" and leads Americans to think "it's OK for people to sin."
Full-page Billy Graham ads in large U.S. newspapers told believers to vote for candidates who "base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this Nov. 6."
This tacit political ad for Romney is causing a backlash. NAACP leaders protested because the Graham ministry used believer "funds to buy expensive full-page ads in major newspapers ... to further arouse unwarranted suspicion about the president's personal faith."
One NAACP leader noted that Obama is the only Protestant on either major national ticket in Tuesday's election.
Political campaigns can be grotesque circuses. For the old evangelist to jump on the GOP bandwagon merely adds to the chaos.