Photo: Robert Upton via Facebook
With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, Herman Cain is quietly expanding his efforts to reach out the GOP’s conservative Christian base.To spearhead this effort, the Cain campaign has looked beyond the traditional ranks of the Religious Right, to the fringes of American Christianity. Business Insider has learned that the Cain campaign recently tapped Pentecostal pastor Robert Upton, a former Bush administration liaison with strong ties to the Oneness and Christian Zionist movements.
Upton is a very strange pick to lead the Cain campaign’s faith outreach — although this is perhaps unsurprising, given the former pizza titan’s penchant for finding weird campaign staffers.
Not much information is available about Upton beyond his work with the Bush administration. But the information that is out there indicates that he grew up in Pennsylvania coal country, and spent several years travelling the country singing gospel with his wife and children before settling down as a Pentecostal pastor in Clarksville, Tenn. Apart from an appearance at a prayer rally in the DMZ between North and South Korea in 2007, Upton appears to have dipped out of political and religious life for the past several years. An online resume suggests he has been working in construction near Nashville.
As a Oneness, or Apostolic, Pentecostal, Upton’s apocalyptic beliefs and worship style are fairly radical, even among other Pentecostals and fundamentalist Evangelicals. Oneness Pentecostals make up a tiny percentage of American born-again Christians, and their emphasis on End Times, speaking in tongues, and adhering to strict standards of dress have resulted in a prejudice against Oneness churches in evangelical circles. Politically active Apostolic Pentecostals have typically taken on behind-the-scenes roles in past Republican presidential campaigns while more mainstream evangelicals take the lead in mobilizing voters.
Cain’s communications director JD Gordon confirms that Upton, or “Pastor Bob” as he called him, joined the campaign staff “within the past month” as an outreach coordinator to faith-based communities nationwide. Gordon did not respond to repeated requests for details and confirmation regarding Upton’s biography and how he wound up working for the Cain campaign.
Like many of Cain’s staffers, Upton does not appear to have any experience working on a national campaign, and has primarily operated on the fringes of politics. The bulk of his political work appears to have been during a 2001-2005 stint as Executive Director of the Apostolic Congress, a political organisation that represented the interests of Oneness Pentecostals in Washington.
In this role, Upton served as the “apostolic liaison” to the White House during President George W. Bush’s first term, and was responsible for arranging several secret in-person briefings between Oneness pastors and senior Bush administration officials, including Karl Rove and deputy national security advisor James Wilkinson, among others. Accounts of the briefings suggest that they focused largely on the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East, and particularly toward Israel.
“We’re in constant contact with the White House,” Upton told the Village Voice in 2004. “I’m briefed at least once a week via telephone briefings.” He also told the Voice that the Apostolic Congress existed to bring a “theocratical perspective” to the federal government.
Although the Apostolic Congress appears to have since disbanded (and its website no longer exists), news reports from the time indicate that the organisation was largely rooted in Christian Zionism, a movement that sees the establishment of the state of Israel — and Jewish occupation of all of Palestine — as a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus. Upton appears to be a vocal opponent of any kind of two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has even sponsored national billboard and bumper sticker campaigns to oppose policies that would lead to some kind of Palestinian state.
In light of these beliefs, Upton’s involvement on the Cain campaign could have significant implications for the candidate’s woefully underdeveloped foreign policy positions.
Upton’s relationship with the Bush administration seems to have been centered around senior administration officials trying to convince Apostolic leaders that the President’s policies dovetailed with Oneness theology, not the other way around. But with a candidate like Cain, who apparently doesn’t even understand the right of return, Upton has a blank slate.
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