The end is near!
Critics lament radio personality’s prophecy about the Rapture and its affect on the reputation of the Christian religion
Judgment Day and the end of the world are coming. Exactly when hasn’t been decided. Or has it?
Harold Camping, an 89-year-old Christian fundamentalist and radio and television host based in Oakland, says Saturday, May 21, 2011, will mark the beginning of the end of times. This is when he predicts the Rapture will occur; Christians will be gathered in the air to meet Christ. Then, five months later, on Oct. 21, 2011, God will destroy the Earth and the universe.
Camping promotes his prediction on his Family Radio media outlets as well as on 2,000 billboards across the country, a few of which are scattered around Chico.
Is Harold Camping crazy?
No, say those who know him best.
Richard Palmquist partnered with Camping, establishing numerous Christian media outlets from 1958 through 1965, forming Family Stations Inc., but Palmquist broke off their relationship after seven years because of the financial strain of expanding into New York City.
“He was one of the most sincere and intelligent students of the Bible I’ve ever met,” said Palmquist, adding that he thinks his old friend is sincere yet misguided in his prediction that the world is about to end. And while Palmquist, who now lives near San Luis Obispo, is careful not to insult his former partner, he is heartsick at how Camping’s predictions have altered people’s lives.
As of 2007, Family Stations Inc. was valued at $122 million, according to Ministry Watchers, a Christian donor-support organization that tracks ministries’ financing.
Some followers of Family Radio, which is funded through listener donations, take Camping’s “Judgment Day” prediction to heart and to the wallet.
Palmquist has heard about listeners quitting their jobs, canceling plans to attend medical school and clearing out their 401Ks. The Orlando Post reported that a family will be flat broke by May 21 because “we don’t have a need for one more dollar.”
Camping believes there is a hidden calendar inside biblical scriptures, and through a complicated mathematical formula he determined the date of the Rapture.
“He’s a former civil engineer,” Palmquist noted. “Math is the skill that brings him to his art.”
Palmquist was the original host of Open Forum, an interactive Christian radio program that went on the air in 1961. He regrets turning the reins over to Camping, who has since used the show to preach what he calls the true gospel and make his infamous predictions.
“How was it that I let him in?” lamented Palmquist during a recent phone conversation. “I’m deeply embarrassed that I put him in the position he is in.”
Ken Boone, who lives in Paradise, worked for Harold Camping’s Family Stations for 15 years. He began as a board operator and quickly climbed the ladder to become one of the network’s announcers. “I left because I could smell trouble,” he said.
Boone resigned in 1990 and formed his own Christian production company called Family Programs, which produces and airs Christian programming for radio stations nationwide and is in no way affiliated with Camping’s Family Stations.
Like Palmquist, Boone says Camping is sincere in his doomsday prophesy but adds that his former boss has “a personality twist.”
“He was difficult to get along with,” said Boone. “He thinks he’s never wrong.”
Adding that Camping hates to lose even at board games, Boone concedes that Camping is very intelligent and is an excellent businessman. He also calls him “an arrogant and egotistical man.”
For another acquaintance, Norm Gardner, it was Camping’s aloofness that was more bothersome. Gardner worked as a program director for Family Radio’s flagship station KEAR in San Francisco from 1968 to 1972.
“He seemed indifferent to people,” said Gardner, who is now the pastor of Discover the Rock Fellowship church in Paradise. “He was never joyful anytime I saw him.
“He was absorbed by things that were not going on around him,” he said. “I was glad when I left.”
Gardner is worried that Christianity’s brand name will be diminished in the eyes of nonbelievers come May 21. “We’ll all be looked upon as the guy holding a doomsday sign with yesterday’s date on it,” he said.
Palmquist and Boone are flush with embarrassment for mainstream Christianity because of their former co-worker. “We’re giving ammunition to the mockers,” lamented Boone.
Camping’s most severe critics call him a false prophet, guilty of twisting the word of God. They point out that’s an act for which the Bible says there are severe consequences. In quoting parts of Revelation and Deuteronomy, Boone says Camping “may be playing with eternal fire.”
Calls to Camping were not returned by press time.
Locally, a group known as the Chico Skeptics—some of whom are atheists—will hold a meeting to discuss the May 21 prediction and other end-time prophecies at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Thursday, May 19) at Mountain Mike’s Pizza on West Fifth Street.
“It is easy to joke about any claim that predicts the end of the world, but there are people who really believe end-time prophecies,” cautioned Harold Baize, president of the group. “It is this belief that can lead some of the faithful to everything from a mild case of anxiety to life-changing decisions.”
But Harold Camping’s theory—if not the man—is supported by many people, including some in Chico.
Steve Michaels, a former Chico disc jockey, is convinced that Camping’s calculations are correct. Michaels is spending what he thinks will be his final days on earth playing the Top 40 hits of the 20th century and trying to convince others on Facebook that they should be prepared for the Rapture.
“I have no doubt about it,” he told this reporter. Michaels’ refrigerator has enough food to last him only through May 21. His says his financial worries are gone, as is all apprehension about the cares of earthly life.
“I’m at peace, [and] it’s a great feeling,” he said.
“Wisdom to understand is given by God,” continued Michaels, who referenced Old and New Testament scriptures. “I am humbled beyond words to understand God’s warning.”
Camping has been down this road before, having previously predicted the world’s demise would occur on Sept. 6, 1994. He subsequently explained away his miscalculation by saying he hadn’t fully researched all parts of the Bible carefully at the time.
Michaels said there has been a lot of new information.
If May 21 comes and goes without so much as a tremor, many Christians will still believe that the end of the world is coming eventually and that the time will come pretty soon. That’s according to the Pew Research Center, which reports that 41 percent of American Christians believe that the Second Coming will take place before 2050.
Of course, it’s not only certain Christians who are promoting gloom and doom. The Mayans predicted the world will undergo a major transformation beginning on December 21, 2012.
Many in the Christian community argue that Jesus Christ taught that no one knows the day or the hour of his return—not even Christ himself. In Mark 13:32, Christ says, “But as for the day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son; no one but the Father.”