A former Harold Camping student who abandoned “Campingism,” shared with The Christian Post what the 89-year-old broadcaster was like before he began prophesying about the end of the world and what ex-followers think of him now.
Pastor Trevor Hammack, from Victory Baptist Church in Ovalo, Texas, spoke with CP on Tuesday, retracing his journey from the beginning, when he was attracted to Family Radio, to the end, when he chose to leave after he saw Camping’s first doomsday prediction fail.
It never occurred to the 42-year-old pastor that Camping would move away from the very first thing that drew him to his teachings – orthodox historical Christianity. When he was getting ready to go to his first base in the military, he hoped to find a Christian sponsor to help him settle in the new town in Nebraska.
His prayer was answered; the family that had taken him was not only Christian but they also showed devotion to their faith by listening to a radio station that had conservative music, Bible readings and Bible teachings that were very in-depth.
“So that attracted me to them and then starting from 1990 and early on I contacted Family Radio to join their school of the Bible and I became a student and I was part of that school up to 1994 prediction that did not come to pass. And so that’s why I was drawn to Family Radio and I made contact with them,” he shared.
He stopped attending their school a few years later but continued to listen and follow the development of Camping’s doctrine and theology, and receive books in which Camping – president of Family Radio – predicted that the world would end in 2011.
“I was very aware of the 2011 date, which kind of made all of the media go crazy about it. Something interesting is that he has been talking about 2011 since 1992.”
According to Hammack, before any end of the world prediction theology, Camping was very appealing in the sense that he would go in depth, verse by verse through the books in the Bible, not in any “shallow or irreverent manner,” and would always stick to the Bible and treated it as the final authority.
But everything began to change in subtle ways and gradually when Camping began to develop a hermeneutic or a principle of Bible interpretation based on Mark 4, where it says that Jesus spoke in parables. “He took that to mean that everything in your Bible is a parable. Everything.”
For example, “so when Jesus gets on a boat to cross the sea, well the sea represents one thing, the boat represents something, people in the boat represent something and so he began to use this to interpret the Bible,” Hammack illustrated. “Once you go in that direction everything is open for anybody to interpret it the way they want and he left [out] any type of historical context and it just becomes a spiritual parable which he can kind of mold into what he thinks it says. And that's what happened.”
While Camping still stressed that the Bible was a historical account, he also stressed that there was a spiritual principle behind its history and eventually started to focus on the end of the world.
“It was shocking the first time I heard him predict that the world would come to end in 1994 because it seemed out of character of him from what you heard or studied in the school,” said Hammack.
There were mixed emotions among his students, he recalled. Some stuck by Camping, after all, everything he had taught them before had been Bible-based. But some students thought the whole idea was simply crazy.
“Some would sort of start buying into the whole 'the Bible is a parable' cut mentality and others were like 'oh this is crazy, I’m getting away from this.’ It was pretty much divided into how people were going to handle the situation.”
When Camping’s book, 1994?, appeared it was the question mark that Camping a sort of safety net. After all, if the end of the world didn’t come that year, then his followers would be more forgiving, Hammack noted. And they were. But after that year, that’s when Camping’s teachings took a dramatic turn.
When he wrote the book, The End of the Church Age and began to teach that Satan was now in control of all the local congregations, that’s when people realized his move away from orthodox historical Christianity and toward his own interpretation of the Scriptures, the Ovalo pastor recounted.
“People at Family Radio started leaving, everything fell apart and lots of people left the ministry and left everything associated with that."
“Some of them were very very bothered and discouraged and upset with themselves, and felt that there were very few voices warning them about the teaching of Camping,” said Hammack. “And everyone was just kind of ignoring this ministry that is worth millions upon millions of dollars, that has radio stations everywhere but no one was saying anything about it.”
Hammack continued his studies outside the Family Radio school and went to various seminaries. In 2009, he started a program, News in Focus, on Sermonaudio.com, where he looks at what’s happening in the world from a biblical perspective. He focuses on biblical errors found in books, such as The Da Vinci Code, as well as Camping’s theology.
It was during the program when he began getting emails from Camping’s followers describing their disappointment over something they not only believed in but invested in.
While none of the people that have contacted him reported abandoning their faith or renouncing Christianity, they were very confused, and upset at themselves for not being able to see the other side of the Bible because all they were listening to was Camping.
“They wish they could've seen the other side. If there is no other material out there, you are only listening to one person and it's easy to think that they are right.”
“So they were a little bothered by that and wished people were trying to tell them. Especially those, who I talked to who are followers all the way up to the May 21st date, some of them felt absolutely confused not knowing what happened. They had given money.”
Hammack doesn’t know exactly how much money people had given; they only spoke of “thousand” but didn’t give any specifics.
“So they felt that they were giving their money to something that the Bible really taught and then they were very confused. So most of them, when I told them that he has used Mark 4, about turning everything into a parable, for some of them, they began to realize 'well, that's true and I never thought about that' and was thankful to hear that maybe they had been mishandling the scriptures.”
The whole situation can only be used as a great opportunity for the church to take responsibility and equip people to handle scriptures correctly, he highlighted.
“Biblical illiteracy is the womb in which deception is conceived. The church today is very illiterate when it comes to church history, when it comes to the Bible. Most Christians don’t really know how to handle it.”
He continued, “Hopefully people will stop and say 'man, if all those followers of Camping got so confused, maybe we should relook how a) As a pastor, am I equipping my people? and b) As a church member, how well do I know the Bible and how well do I know how to study and interpret it?”
There are still people who believe in Camping and whose second failed prophesy (that the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011) did not deter them from his teachings. Hammack believes that this has much to do with people’s inability and refusal to accept that they have invested in false theology.
“I really have a burden for those people – not to mock them but to reach out to them and say 'hey let's sit down and study this carefully and see if there is a different way to look at this and maybe you can see that you have been misled and there is nothing wrong with admitting that.'”
To him, it is obvious that October 21, Camping’s third prediction for the rapture and the apocalypse, will not happen. But he views it as an opportunity to reach his followers, and Christians in general, to equip them with Bible literacy.
He personally assumes that leaders at Family Radio are beginning to have a power struggle. He conjectured that when he noticed all of Camping’s books and recordings on the end of the world were removed from the Family Radio website following the May 21 rapture dud.
The radio network, he noticed, is now using his older recordings, before Camping began talking about the apocalypse. That was the time when the broadcaster seemed like “a genuine person who truly believes the Bible and truly wants to teach the Bible,” and when Hammack “would never question his sincerity” because it seemed he truly wanted to teach the Bible.
Now, however, “he's mishandling the scriptures,” he concluded.
On the Web: News in Focus with Pastor Trevor Hammack