In a way, you have to feel for Old Spice.

A recent effort meant to reinforce the Procter and Gamble men’s product line’s ruggedly macho image backfired in a big way. Old Spice sponsored the Art of Manliness‘ 2008 Man of the Year poll, which existed to crown a paragon of masculinity, a regular guy who, among other traits, “is loyal to his friends and family… does the right thing, even when it’ not convenient… serves and gives back to his community… [and] sacrifices for the good of others.”

Nominations were submitted by the public and P&G whittled the list down to 10 finalists. Voting in the unscientific poll took place between Oct. 20 and Nov. 9, and roughly 10,000 votes were cast.

The winner announced Dec. 15 was: Matthew L. Chancey, a sharp-dressed Christian missionary and lawyer who works to save lives and souls in Africa. Chancey received roughly 30 percent of readers’ votes, largely on the back of a loving testimonial from his wife Jennie.

Mrs. Chancey’s nominating essay on her man’s manliness is truly touching. It speaks of his kindness and strength, lauds his perilous work in Darfur, and describes him as a churchgoing John Wayne-style Rennaisance man who can “read G.A. Henty’ historical fiction aloud to our [eight] children at the dinner table and fix the brakes on a 1964 Ford pickup.” And never, never let you forget he’s the man. “He’d never sing his own praises, but, as his wife, I never tire of doing so,” she writes.

Her words are very moving and obviously persuasive to many. What’s more compelling, however, is what Mrs. Chancey did not share. Her reference to the writer G.A. Henty hints that there is more to the story: Henty was a writer in Victorian England who specialized in youth-focused adventure tales that supported his racist, classist, imperialist worldview and who is beloved by many archconservative Christian evangelicals.

Turns out Old Spice’s 2008 Art of Manliness Man of the Year is deeply involved with Vision Forum, a ministry so reputedly racist and radically right-wing it couldn’t support Sarah Palin for vice-president. On his Web site, Chancey praises pastor Doug Phillips as his “patriarch par excellence.” Check out what Vision Forum thinks of LGBT people:

Homosexuality is not a victimless crime. It is a cruel moral perversion that wreaks moral, physical and spiritual havoc on men, women, children, families and institutions. The Bible makes no distinction between homosexuals, pedophiles, bestials and rapists. All are criminals, the toleration of which brings judgment on the land and devastation to children.

… It is the mission of the Christian, and is no contradiction, that we lovingly preach repentance to sodomites, even as we seek to drive from the land every manifestation of homosexuality. Furthermore, Sodomy was a punishable crime at common law and should remain such. Any politician who supports same sex marriage or civil marriage for sodomites is complicit in a moral crime against God and should be actively opposed.

He’s a state leader of the Family Policy Network, a right-wing political group that works the same turf as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. He’s also a politician — Chancey recently lost a bid to become Alabama’s public service commissioner. and though he ran as a Republican, he was endorsed by the ultra-right Alabama Constitution Party. He even gained some notoriety in 2005 when the Washington Post discovered communications specialist Chancey — apparently no bastion of manly ethics — playing fast and loose with Gov. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) Internet domain name. And he’s earned quite the reputation for ruthlessness in evangelical Christian circles.

His Biblically inspired views on marriage, gender roles, and family are ultra-traditional. Men are meant to be in the world and to serve as heads of households. Women, from birth, are groomed for service in the home, as the following photo from the Vision Forum Father-Daughter Discipleship Retreat shows.

Vision Forum girls compete to see who can do the best job at grooming, shaving, and tying a tie on their dads.

Vision Forum girls compete to see who can do the best job at grooming, shaving, and tying a tie on their dads.

Matt Chancey’s daughters don’t get to go to college — they don’t even get a Rumspringa. And Chancey — his wife also doesn’t divulge that she runs the Ladies Against Feminism Web site — believes women should not vote.

That’s right. He’s a real man’s man, a regular guy.

Art of Manliness and Old Spice say their hands are clean and that the vote is a win for diversity:

It was not possible, or even desirable to quiz each candidate about their political, religious, and social views. While we selected the finalists, the winner will be determined by you, the reader. If you don’t support a particular candidate’ message, you should vote for those you do believe in and spread the word about that candidate. The contest is not about who AoM or Old Spice believes should be the winner, but who the public determines should be the 2008 Man of the Year.

Matt will be receiving the $2,000 cash prize sponsored by Old Spice along with a manly assortment of Old Spice products. Congratulations, Matt. Right now Matt’ in Africa working for his non-profit. … His $2,000 prize will be going to Darfur to help refugees from the genocide.

Chancey works for the Persecution Project Foundation, which is run by Vision Forum leader Doug Phillips’ brother Brad. The group’s mission is to “take the gospel message of Jesus Christ to the people of Africa, simultaneously bringing them physical supplies and food.”

Whatever one’s views of its captive-audience evangelizing, PPF helps people in desperate need That, of course is an admirable thing, no question. But if P&G knew the whole story, would it be so blithely accepting of having Chancey serve as the epitome of “good, clean, wholesome manliness?” Is this the role model they were seeking? And now that the announcement is out there and the boycott-threatening complaints by outraged customers are coming in, can you imagine how P&G execs must feel about the whole once-avoidable mess? Chances are, they are praying this controversy just goes away — and fast.