(Photo: AP Images / Maura Lynch)
Looking beyond Saturday, May 21, one Texas Christian says many of Harold Camping's followers who quit jobs, left their homes and spent their money will be spiritually devastated to the point where they will likely fall away from the faith. How does he know? Because he had a similar experience with an end of the world prediction nearly 23 years ago.
At a young age, Christian author and blogger Jason Boyett and his boyhood friends believed they would be swept up by the September 1988 rapture, predicted by former NASA engineer Edgar Whisenant. Looking back on the experience, he says, "I think that rapture experience played a really real role in a skeptical mindset that began to develop."
In his book, O Me of Little of Faith, he wrote how he pursued faith in the midst of skepticism and doubt.
Boyett predicts things will be no different for Camping's impressionable followers.
"You're going to find a lot people leaving the faith and losing their faith," he told The Christian Post.
Boyett said those who volunteered so much of their time and resources to spread this judgment day message will feel betrayed by their own sense of faith and hope, in a way that will make it hard for them to continue to believe.
"The hopes that they put in this event will be dashed," he said.
Camping, a self-described Bible scholar, has been teaching his followers that May 21, 2011, is the date of rapture, the time when Jesus Christ will return and take believers up with him to heaven. His prediction is based on his own interpretation of numbers stemming from biblical metaphors and events such as the flood in Noah’s time.
The rapture will begin at 6 p.m., says Camping, with an earthquake (one so great that “all the tombs are going to be thrown open”) in each time zone. He also believes that the world will be completely destroyed on Oct. 21.
There are many similarities between Camping and Whisenant.
Both were engineers by trade – Camping holds a BS in civil engineering from University of California Berkeley. Both were not formally trained in interpreting and teaching the Bible. Whisenant was said to be a Bible student, but there is little public knowledge about which seminary, if any, he attended or if he graduated. Camping said of his training in an interview, "For the last 50 years, I've made the Bible my university."
Both men created a massive stir with their predictions. Whisenant sold 4.8 million copies of his pamphlet, "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988" and gave away several thousand copies for free to pastors throughout the United States. (Boyett's boyhood pastor received one of those free copies and preached a series of sermons based off of the pamphlet.)
Both Whisenant and Camping gave wrong predictions. Camping wrongly predicted Jesus' return in 1994. Lastly, both men predicted another doomsday date despite their initial failures. In fact, Whisenant continued to make predictions for 1989, 1993, 1994 through to 1997, four years before he died in 2001.
"The difference is not the prediction itself, it’s just the culture it emerged in," noted Boyett.
Camping's Family Radio was simply a non-profit radio network with 65 stations the U.S. in 1958. Now it is a multimillion dollar organization in the digital age where there are many more outlets to reach the public.
CNN reported the ministry received $80 million in contributions between 2005 and 2009 – $18 million of those contributions were received in 2009 alone.
Family Radio has used its finances to advertise the May 21 prediction all over the world with billboards, bench signs, and four caravan buses rooming the 50 states.
The network’s efforts have drawn a dedicated core group of people who believe in the prediction and have abandoned everything and everyone to join Family Radio's campaign.
Abby Haddad-Carson told the New York Times that she quit her job as a Maryland nurse nearly two years ago to "sound the trumpet" with her husband Robert and three teenage children Joseph, Faith and Grace Haddard. Carson reportedly also stopped paying the children's college fund and focused her resources on the rapture.
Haddard and her husband believe in Camping's May 21 prediction. Her children are not so sure.
Grace, 16, told the newspaper, "My mom has told me directly that I'm not going to get into heaven. At first it was really upsetting, but it's what she honestly believes."
Adrienne Martinez, and her husband, Joel, also quit their jobs and moved to a rented home in Orlando where they passed out tracts. The couple told the radio program that they are spending the last of their savings because they do not see a need to hold on to one more dollar.
"We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won't have anything left," said Adrienne.
Boyett said these people and their families are victims.
"It is easy for us to sit here and to poke fun at Harold Camping ... he'll get past it," he said. "But what we got to remember is that he has a whole lot of people whose lives and faith will be devastated."
He continued, "As a result, many of them will have lost money; many of them who quit their jobs will be in a tough spot."
Like him, he expects children whose parents made decisions based on the prediction to grow up thinking, "I can't trust what my parents tell me, what the preacher tells me and what the Bible tells me."
Additionally, Camping's prediction will likely feed negative perceptions about Christians.
"What Harold Camping does, he gives people on the outside ... it gives them ammunition to say 'This man is a nut job; he's a Christian. Christians are nut jobs. If you're Christian, why should I listen to what you're saying," he lamented.
Boyett warned Christians, "My advice would be anytime you put too much faith in a fellow human, you're going to be let down."
He also hopes those disappointed by Camping will realize "what Harold Camping said and what Harold Camping has taught is not the essence of Christianity."