Harold Camping was a Christian radio evangelist whose brimstone-ridden sermons stoked an international media frenzy after his Armageddon prophecies coursed through the internet. That life on Earth continued after 21 May 2011 was a crushing disappointment to Camping, his followers and millions of listeners on his Family Radio network.
He was a self-taught Bible scholar who came to his prophecies through complex mathematical calculations and “clues sprinkled throughout the Bible.” In early May 2011 he warned, “It is going to happen. There is no Plan B.” He spent tens of millions of dollars to spread his doomsday message, his 21 May prediction plastered on more than 5,000 billboards across the country. He had 100m pamphlets printed in 61 languages, including one that read, “The End of the World is Almost Here!” His volunteers canvassed the country, including dozens who walked Washington’s Mall handing out fliers that reminded passers-by to “Save the Date.”
Camping told listeners that Judgment Day would begin with an earthquake. True Christians would experience a rapture and 200 million would ascend to heaven. Many followers sold their homes, quit their jobs and emptied their savings accounts to help finance his end-of-the-world campaign. After 21 May came and went, Camping emerged from his home “flabbergasted.” He called 21 May an “invisible Judgment Day” and said his calculations had been off by six months. “On October 21 of this year, the whole world is going to be annihilated, and never be remembered.” When that did not come true either, Camping retired.
He was born in 1921 in Colorado, and was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, a Protestant denomination. In the 1980s he split from the church to form his own congregation. He worked as an engineer for a government contractor during the Second World War, then started a construction business but sold it to pursue his religious calling. He began radio-preaching in the late 1950s. He opened his first station in the San Francisco area, he said, because there was no competition. He dominated the market, buying more radio stations, and Family Radio became a $100m dynasty.
He ventured into prediction in the early 1990s, saying that the rapture would arrive on 6 September 1994. When his first prophecy did not come to fruition, he said his revised calculations pointed to 2011. After that deadline he apologised to his listeners for misleading them. “Let’s pray more than ever for God’s mercy,” he said. “God is in charge, and we must always keep that in mind.” µ T
Harold Egbert Camping, preacher: born Boulder, Colorado 19 July 1921; married 1942 Shirley Vander Schuur; died Alameda, California 15 December 2013.
© The Washington Post