(Photo: Reuters / Shannon Stapleton)
If you happened to learn about Harold Camping’s May 21 rapture prediction from a placard on a subway car or bus shelter in New York City, the ad was probably funded by Robert Fitzpatrick – a 60-year-old, retired transit worker from Staten Island who invested his entire life savings of $140,000 into the campaign.
“I’m trying to warn people about what’s coming,” Fitzpatrick told the New York Daily News. “People who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone.”
Fitzpatrick isn’t the only person to empty his bank account to warn others based on Camping’s prediction.
NPR recently reported on another one of Camping’s followers, 27-year-old Adrienne Martinez, as saying, “Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans.”
So, instead of going to medical school like she planned, she gave up that idea. She and her husband, Joel, quit their jobs and moved from New York City to Orlando, where they rented a home and are currently passing out tracts. Joel says they are spending the last of their savings because they don’t see a need for one more dollar.
“You know, you think about retirement and stuff like that,” he said. “What’s the point of having some money just sitting there?”
“We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left,” Adrienne added.
As sincere as Camping’s followers are when it comes to warning the world about the rapture, and ultimately Judgment Day, several Christian leaders are issuing a different sort of warning.
“The Christian church has seen this kind of false teaching before,” said Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on his blog. “William Miller and his Adventist followers (known, surely enough, as Millerites) believed that Christ would return on March 21, 1844. In the 1970s, popular Christian preachers and writers predicted that Christ would return on various dates now long in the past. All this is embarrassing enough, but now we have the teachings of Harold Camping to deal with. Given the public controversy, many people are wondering how Christians should think about his claims.”
Mohler went on to say Christ specifically admonished his disciples not to claim such knowledge. And, he said, the Bible does not contain hidden codes that we are to find and decipher. Instead, he said, while Christians are indeed to be looking for Christ to return and seeking to be found faithful when Christ comes, we are not to draw a line in history and set a date.
“We are not to sit on rooftops like the Millerites,” Mohler said, “waiting for Christ’s return. We are to be busy doing what Christ has commanded us to do.”
W. Robert Godfrey, president and professor of church history at Westminster Seminary California, pointed out on the seminary’s blog, Valiant for Truth, a glaring omission from Camping’s prediction.
“Camping’s teaching reaches the status of heresy in his recent appeal to the world, ‘Judgment Day,’ an eight page statement online,” Godfrey said. “The saddest and most distressing element of Camping’s latest theological statement is that it is Christless. He does not write about Christ’s return, but about judgment day. In his eight pages of warning and call for repentance he writes only this of Christ: ‘Because God is so great and glorious He calls Himself by many different names. Each name tells us something about the glorious character and nature of God. Thus in the Bible we find such names as God, Jehovah, Christ, Jesus, Lord, Allah, Holy Spirit, Savior, etc. Names such as Jehovah, Jesus, Savior, and Christ particularly point to God as the only means by which forgiveness from all of our sins and eternal life can be obtained by God’s merciful and glorious actions.’”
Slightly differing versions of the document can now be found on the Family Radio website. One includes the quoted material mentioned by Godfrey. Another, the .pdf version, includes another paragraph directly below the one above, about the forgiveness of Christ.
Also joining the debate, Cal Thomas took on Camping in his recent column, saying the prophesized events of Matthew 24 haven’t been completely fulfilled yet. He concluded by saying, “I’m not expecting the end on May 21. That’s because of something else Jesus said. He said he would return when people “least expect it” (Luke 12:40). By that standard, Mr. Camping is wrong because he expects the end to come this Saturday. And so it won’t.”
Camping was recently interviewed by New York Magazine which pointed out that he was wrong about his first end of the world prediction in 1994, and wondered if he had any reservations about his ability to predict such things.
“In 1992, two years earlier than that, I had already begun to see that there was a good likelihood that 2011 would be the end,” Camping said, “but at that time when my research in the Bible was not nearly complete – there were whole books of the Bible that I had not gone through yet very carefully – I thought that at that time that there was a possibility it might be 1994, and so I wrote a book, '1994?' but I put a big question mark after it, and in the book it also indicated that 2011 was also a good possibility. And so it was just a preliminary study that I've been able to complete during the last fifteen years.”
Camping believes the rapture will occur May 21 and that God will destroy the earth on October 21.