Harold Camping, the 89-year-old founder of the Family Radio Network, used his broadcast empire, thousands of billboards, and an apocalyptic flood of tracts and posters to warn the world that Judgment Day would arrive on May 21. He expected 2 percent of the world's population to be raptured to heaven while the rest would be left behind for tribulations.
Camping had prophesied the end of the world before. Hundreds of his followers gathered at an auditorium in Alameda, Calif., in September 1994. This time, he said, we could be certain that Judgment Day will arrive on May 21 because it will be 722,500 days since the crucifixion of Christ. The number is significant because it is a multiple of sacred numbers 5, 10, and 17. "When I found this out," he said, "I tell you, it blew my mind."
Media gave extraordinary attention to Camping's prediction, and atheist groups planned sarcastic "rapture parties." As Matthew Paul Turner wrote in The Washington Post, there was nothing funny about the manufactured fears, dashed hopes, and river of ridicule that Camping and his prophecy brought about. We are called, Albert Mohler wrote, to be "eagerly waiting" for Christ's return, not "arrogantly setting dates." Christ warned against claiming to know when the end would come, and the Scriptures give us the truth plainly, not concealed for a few illuminati in secret codes and mathematical formulae.
When May 21 passed without incident, Camping did not apologize for his contribution to parties for atheists and embarrassment for Christians. Instead, he made a new prediction: October 21 is the day the world will end.
John McCandlish Phillips, a New York Times reporter from the 1950s to the 1970s, left full-time journalism at age 46 to do church work. Phillips, who became legendary both for his superb reporting and his conspicuous placing of a Bible on his newsroom desk ("a statement I made of who I was and where I stood"), has watched Camping for years. He sent WORLD his analysis (see below).
Camping's even larger blunder
Millions were made aware of Harold Camping's declaration that May 21 would bring believers the joy of the rapture, with fierce judgments falling upon all others, as the media picked this up massively in the week preceding its failure, and followed through immediately after.
But relatively few, even among Bible-honoring Christians, are aware of another date that Camping gave out, attaching to it an astounding conclusion.
May 21, 1988, he had declared, was the day on which God, utterly weary of the lapsing of the churches from revealed truth, handed them all over to Satan.
As a consequence of that act, all organized churches on the face of the earth, he declared, came under direct Satanic dominance, and all true believers were obliged to depart from them. He set out this delusional dogma formally and at length in his 2002 book, The End of the Church Age . . . and After.
That means that all pastors in all churches everywhere became, even if unwittingly, servants of Satan.
"Satan is ruling in all the churches and those dear people and those pastors are emissaries of Satan," Mr. Camping intones in a voice clip on his Family Radio website: "All the elect will come out of the church. Those that remain in the churches are under the wrath of God."
This sweeping promulgation leaves multiplied millions of believers out of any valid expectation of heaven, and it comes perilously close to making obeying his self-generated edict a condition of salvation.
This is also why, after he discovered this, he took off the air a good many excellent Bible broadcasters who had long been featured on his Family Radio, bringing on a few others who agreed with him, and featuring such notables as the late Robert A. Cook and Duane E. Spencer, whose saving virtue was that they had died before Camping had declared all churches to be apostate, and were therefore still safe to be heard.
In his first major statement concerning the rather quiet arrival and departure of May 21, aired on Family Radio's "Open Forum" program on May 23, Camping resoundingly reaffirmed the accuracy of his prediction, saying that much of what he had set forth had actually occurred, though not as evidently as he had earlier expected.
"We had," he amazingly asserted, "all our dates correct. On May 21, 2011, God again brought judgment day on the whole world. . . ."
And Camping had the temerity to declare yet another date, not an entirely new one in his scheme of things, for the calamitous final judgment of this world and its incineration by fervent heat.
"On Oct. 21, 2011," he said, "the Bible clearly warns that the world will be destroyed."
"This is what the Bible says," he asserted, "It all comes from the Bible, the Bible, the Bible, the Bible." He failed to add that it all comes exclusively to him, and to those who pick it up from him. This meets the classic definition of "private interpretation" of which the Scriptures plainly warn in 2 Peter 1:20.
Asked about the damage done to individuals who, accepting his prediction, acted on it by changing plans, giving money away, or spending it on furthering Camping's campaign of public warning, he chiefly brushed this aside.
"People cope," he said, remarking that the damage done to individuals by this nation's economic collapse was very much greater than any done by his utterances, and that people had survived that, as they will this.
Camping, whose earlier achievements as an executive managing Family Radio, which he co-founded, were notable, resulting in broadcasting of exceedingly high quality for decades, would appear to meet all the tests of a false prophet.
That he is now permitted to continue airing his astonishing absurdities-and declaring his Oct. 21, 2011, date for ultimate judgment and the end of the world-represents a gross failure by others in responsible positions at Family Radio, including its board of corporate directors, to act to curb him.
Could this failure be the fruit, not of love for the man, but of a fear of him as the chief executive? On what is this unceasing tolerance of utter doctrinal falsity, and his declaring of epochal dispensational changes, based?