On Sunday, two days before the election, a full page advocacy ad in The Washington Post featured a huge picture of the Rev. Billy Graham, along with a signed statement by the world-famous evangelist advising readers to  ”VOTE BIBLICAL VALUES TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6.”

Of all the sad things that have happened during this year’s seemingly endless, divisive and vitriolic campaign, this ad was the saddest.

It read: “The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren, and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, [which was Nov. 7] I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots 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 and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God. “

Billy Graham has been admired as the pastor to presidents and has prided himself on never endorsing any one politician. He is a man of God and ministers  to everyone, becoming more and more accepting and pluralistic as he has has aged.

So how did it happen that he virtually endorsed Mitt Romney the weekend before the election?

On Oct. 11, Billy Graham and his son,  the Rev.Franklin Graham, who is head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,  met with Romney. The photo op and the meeting were seen as a virtual endorsement of Romney at that time.

What was so surprising was that the Billy Graham Evangelical Association Web site at that time considered Mormonism  a “cult.” Graham had once described cult members as those who “reject what Christians have believed for 2,000 years, and substitute instead their own beliefs for the clear teachings of the Bible.”  Shortly after the meeting, that listing disappeared.  According to Ken Barun, the Association’s chief of staff, “we removed the (cult) information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

So calling Mormonism a cult is a “theological debate that has become politicized” while the debate over abortion and same sex marriage is not?

I ask this because just last spring the association bought 14 full-page ads in North Carolina newspapers from Billy Graham for North Carolina Amendment 1, recognizing  marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal domestic union. Franklin Graham has made his position on that issue very clear. “It grieves me, “ he said, “that our president would now affirm same sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more.”

Franklin  also said in Decision Magazine, “there is no place for compromise or straight forward moral issues such as abortion and same sex marriage.  God has given us clear biblical direction that we must follow and obey. “

Billy Graham has not escaped controversy. He had a very bad moment in 2002 when tapes of conversations from 1973 with Richard Nixon became public. In the tapes, Nixon railed against Jews and Graham responded  that Jews befriended him  but “they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.” The rest of the conversation was decidedly anti-Semitic. When the tapes came to light, Graham said he didn’t remember the conversation but apologized profusely.

 Graham also was  rejected by some  fundamentalist Christians as a legitimate evangelical voice when he gave this interview in 1997. “I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations,” he said. They had never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, had never heard of Jesus “but they’ve believed in their hearts that there is a God….” In fact , he was accused of being a heretic by many of these fundamentalists for suggesting that Jesus is not the only way to salvation and for his willingness to work with liberals and Catholics.

But Franklin Graham is no Billy Graham. Where Billy Graham has always been a voice for inclusion, even of religions other than his own, Franklin has not. In fact, in April 2010 the Pentagon rescinded an invitation for Franklin to attend their National Day of Prayer service because, after Sept. 11 he had referred to Islam as a “very evil and wicked religion” and said that Muslims are “enslaved” by their own religion.

Franklin has always leaned toward being more political than his father. He owns a house in Alaska and befriended Sarah Palin. He invited Palin to come visit his father in North Carolina. Shortly afterward, his father issued a statement saying that “Sarah and her family will always be welcome in the Graham family home.”

Today, at 94, Billy Graham is feeble, has hearing, vision and other health problems, and uses walkers and wheelchairs. He spends most of his day watching television. He has never been as active in the Association as has Franklin. He is a revered figure around the world, particularly because he has stayed above the fray, never using his religion for political purposes or personal gain. 

I do not believe that Billy Graham would have instigated the ad essentially endorsing Romney. I wouldn’t be surprised if Billy Graham didn’t even know about it.  I think that he is being exploited by his son to further Franklin’s political objectives. I also believe that it is a travesty because it is not the legacy he would have left behind, had it not been for Franklin using his father’s name and taking advantage of his father’s popularity.

Billy Graham was and is a great man. 

Franklin should stop this exploitation now.

On the outcome of the election, the Rev. Gary Hall, the new dean of the National Cathedral, had this to say: “This year’s election has proven to be as divisive as any in recent history, which is all the more reason that we must move through the challenge of political partisanship and come together as Americans.”

I believe that’s what the real Billy Graham would have said.

More on On Faith:

Anne Graham Lotz: Does God hear our cries?

Lisa Miller: A time to compromise      

Compassion in chief: Why Obama won

Figuring Faith: Examining the election results

What lies ahead for the Mormons?