At church Sunday, I watched a baby being baptized. I listened to a Gospel reading and a homily. I filled out a survey about youth group schedules.
I didn’t hear a word about Judgment Day coming this week.
Do you know about this? Are you concerned?
For months, a California-based Christian radio network has been forecasting — very precisely — the end of the world. According to the Family Radio website, www.familyradio.com, “Holy God will bring Judgment Day on May 21, 2011.”
The website credits 89-year-old Harold Camping, president and general manager of Family Stations, Inc., with what it purports are biblical signs and proofs that Saturday is Judgment Day.
Camping says several things will happen: The first is a terrible earthquake, which is to be followed by what many Christians call the Rapture — the bodily ascent to heaven of all believers. Then, according to Camping, months of “horror and chaos” will end when God destroys the earth Oct. 21.
Interviewed for a CNN blog Tuesday, Camping said much information points to 6 p.m. as the time the earthquake will occur “in any city of in the world,” although he didn’t say for sure that a doomsday clock is set that hour.
I don’t mean to cause alarm. And this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this prediction. I first learned about it a few weeks ago on a radio talk show. Online I found lots of coverage of Camping’s claims, including in The Washington Post and other major newspapers.
If you attended the Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade at Seattle’s KeyArena last fall, you might have seen an RV nearby with Family Radio’s Judgment Day announcement painted on the side. To spread its message, the network put up billboards and sent caravans to cities around the country. In downtown Seattle, Family Radio representatives handed out religious tracts last Halloween.
The Rev. Erik Samuelson, campus pastor of Trinity Lutheran College in Everett, said Tuesday that throughout Christian history people have predicted the world’s end. Especially in times of war and turmoil, he said, “people get scared.”
“It comes up any time there is widespread cultural panic,” said Samuelson, adding that Camping has predicted the world’s end before, in the 1990s.
“As the world seems more and more uncertain, people who buy into it are really looking for certainty,” he said. Samuelson also said that in mainline Christian traditions, “there’s a mysteriousness about how God works in the world.”
“We don’t get to know exactly,” he said.
Samuelson is troubled to see people finding ways to profit from others’ fears. “A lot of people use fear to make money and gain fame,” said Samuelson, who has heard and read about people draining their savings in advance of the supposed Judgment Day.
Camping, a native of Boulder, Colo., was featured in a recent Denver Post article that included statistics about Americans’ beliefs about whether we are living in end times. A 2010 Pew Research poll, quoted in the article, found 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus will return within the next 40 years.
“Every generation since the first century of the church has had those who try to calculate the end,” said Jan Fekkes, a professor of biblical studies at Everett’s Trinity Lutheran College. Fekkes, who earned a doctoral degree with his studies of the Book of Revelation, saw Judgment Day billboards on a recent trip to California.
“Probably the most similar example would be the predictions of William Miller in the 1840s, who twice predicted the end using complicated calculations of the books of Daniel and Revelation,” Fekkes said. The “Millerite movement,” he said, was a precursor to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Not the least of the problems with the May 21 prediction are Jesus’ own words that “no one knows the day or hour,” Fekkes said.
Samuelson sees trust and caring, not doom, as Christianity’s central messages.
“Jesus said don’t be afraid,” the college pastor said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.