Family Radio, the Christian Group That Wrongly Predicted the Rapture in 2011, is Slowly Going Under

You remember Harold Camping.

He’s the preacher who said the world was going to end on May 21, 2011 — and promoted the hell out of his prediction:

Family Radio, the Oakland-based evangelical network run by Harold Camping, had already spent more than $5 million on 5,000 billboards announcing Judgment Day — May 21, 2011 — according to tax documents.

Sounds like a lot but this is an organization that was worth well over $100,000,000.

Still, it turns out Family Radio is leaking money now that their biggest prediction has been shown to be totally wrong (let’s hope Sylvia Browne suffers the same fate)… but it’s not completely dissolved just yet:

Former and current insiders allege the situation may be even worse than it appears, claiming donations have dropped almost 70 percent since the Rapture prediction proved incorrect, leading to numerous layoffs of longtime Family Radio staff members.

Not everyone predicts Family Radio’s demise, however. Board member Tom Evans, who has taken over day-to-day operations since Camping suffered a stroke in June 2011, said Family Radio is hurting like any other nonprofit in this slow-to-rebound economy. But it is not closing, and the financial problems aren’t nearly as serious as some allege, said the trustee, who instead envisions a downsized, more efficient ministry emerging.

“Sufficient funds were in the bank and, thankfully, we didn’t spend everything (on May 21, 2011),” he said. “But it did force us to make quick changes.”

They do owe a lot of money in loans, too, but the point remains that they were severely hit by the combination of the recession plus putting most of their eggs into a basket that the rest of us knew always had an expiration date.

They deserve it, though. They lied to people and they were caught. Their mistake was being too specific — church pastors know you have to be vague about your predictions: God will answer your prayers… in the future. Stuff like that.

The 91-year-old Camping apologized for his bad prediction last year, but tried to find a silver lining by saying the event had gotten more people to hear about Christianity.

That might be true, but we also mocked it like crazy. While Family Radio raked in millions of dollars in donations at the time, it’s arguable that atheists got much more out of Camping’s prediction than Christians ever did.

Camping probably didn’t see this ending coming, either.

(via Christian Nightmares)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ragarth

    So, they were predicting the end of the world, but kept some money stashed away? Sounds like someone wasn’t as sure that there’d be no need for money after May, 21st than they let on.

    • r.holmgren

      Ya, my thought exactly. My understanding is that Camping kept almost nothing but living expenses from the money raised, but that doesn’t seem true for everyone there. Humans, what are you gonna do? Right from the first century, people have seen religion as a means “to make money.”

  • Pulse

    How is it that a nonprofit organization can be worth well over $100 million? Isn’t one of the defining elements of a nonprofit organization, y’know, not to make profit?

    • SecularPatriot

      Meh. Capital.
      Buildings, operating licenses, value of pensions.

    • Lt_Uhura

      No the defining element is to not pay taxes.

    • Freak

      The defining feature is that money raised by a nonprofit go back into the organization, instead of into the pockets of the operators.

    • ortcutt

      Non-profits don’t have owners and they don’t distribute profits to the owners. That doesn’t mean that non-profits can’t have assets or income. Harvard University is a non-profit and it has $30 billion in endowment. They operate a management company just to invest their endowment.

      • Pulse

        Thank you for the clarification. I suppose the point I was implying was that the term demands clarification in the first place. Calling something nonprofit is fairly misleading.

        • ortcutt

          I don’t see what’s misleading about it. It’s fairly standard terminology.

          • guest

            “It’s fairly standard terminology.”

            That is misleading because they do make profits. Very large ones at that.

            • Lt_Uhura

              A business can not remain in operation if it does not make a profit or cover its expenses. Non-profits are required to re-invest the profits in the misson of the organization, as opposed to investors.

  • GeraardSpergen

    From the link – Camping may be purposefully bankrupting the org because he doesn’t want it to continue after he dies… because it’s all about him.

  • archatheist

    The fact that they have lots of loans is interesting. Did he take the loans out thinking that they would not have to repay them due to the rapture (and thereby perhaps an unethical action) or did he expect to repay them (and thereby an indictment of his belief in the rapture)? Either way, good riddance.

    • David S.

      I don’t see it as unethical to take out loans not expected to pay them due to the end of the world. Maybe if you’re working on hidden information, that would be one thing, but but transferring risk to someone who interprets the odds differently then you is one of the standards of our economic system.

      • archatheist

        I would suggest that taking loans with an expectation of not repaying them, could be construed as unethical and fraudulent. I would compare that to a consumer funding an extravagant lifestyle with debt and a planned bankruptcy. Economic risk transference that you refer to (ex. derivative markets) is not the same as fraudulent behavior. Thanks!

        • David S.

          Is it unethical to make a bet you fully believe you’ll win? The loan officer presumably knew Camping was the guy who believed the world would end before the termination date of the loan, and gave him the loan despite that. Since they don’t seem to be failing to pay back the loans, I’m not sure where you can find fraud.

          • archatheist

            Making a formal agreement with someone and having no intention of fulfilling your commitments laid out that agreement could be (perhaps) an unethical action … per my first comment. You suggest that taking a loan from a lender with no belief that you would repay is ethical and just risk transference. That’s okay but I don’t wanna lend you money.

            • David S.

              People make formal agreements having no plans of having to fulfill certain commitments all the time. People sign agreements that say “should your business go bankrupt, such and such” all the times not believing they will ever have to fulfill that clause. I’d say that it’s entirely reasonable not to want to lend Camping money, but apparently there were people who did. I don’t see why Camping was unethical for taking money from someone who believed he would repay, so long as when the conditions came up that obliged him to do so (how ever unlikely he believed them to be) he did.

  • Camorris

    It’s discouraging that they have even one person still contributing money.

    With having deceived so many followers into destitution, they should dissolve the ministry and refund their contributions. Surely they know how to locate these followers, or has God made their membership database mysteriously disappear!

    • The Other Weirdo

      The Mormons still exist, and they were wrong so many times in the end-of-the-world prediction business that they passed a new rule forbidding themselves from predicting the end of the world again. People still donate. I think you’re underestimating the power of True Belief&tradem;.

  • Atheist for human rights

    Greenwald absolutely destroyed maher on his last show when he tried to claim Islam was uniquely evil:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EYG7GR13DnU

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

      How did you make your connection between this story about Harold Camping and Greenwald? I’m not trying to flame you I am just curious about your process of reasoning.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    when Camping finally packs up his tent and moves on to the Great RV Park in the sky, so too will his church.

  • http://twitter.com/UAJamie Jamie Bernstein

    I don’t know if it is fair to call their doomsday predictions “lying” when they seemed to believe in it enough themselves to risk to entire future of their organization on it.

    • Charles Honeycutt

      They didn’t risk their organization, though; they spent roughly 5% of their net worth. All that means is one or two lean years, really.

      That they didn’t spend more is part of what makes it clear that they weren’t honest in their advertised beliefs.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    “… tried to find a silver lining by saying the event had gotten more people to hear about Christianity.”

    How does one live in this country without hearing about Christianity almost daily?

    • Artor

      What is this Christianity you speak of? Is it a YouTube channel, or a reality show? I don’t watch those, so I’ve never heard of it before. What? It’s an insane death cult that thinks the world is ending in a few days? LOL!!! What kind of idiot would ever fall for a load of crap like that?!?

    • allein

      Seriously, do these people honestly think that anyone has not heard the Good News™? (Apart from young children in non-religious households, perhaps, but even they will hear about it once they get into school, at least.)

      • The Other Weirdo

        Whey they get into school? Really? Turn on Sunday TV and you’re inundated with it. “Mom? Why’s that guy curled into foetal position and crying?” “Well, son, that’s what using religion to bilk people out of their hard-earned money does to you.” “What’s religion, Mom?” “You know how I always make you clean up after yourself and learn about responsibilities? Well, religion is nothing like that at all. It makes you all uncaring about anything but the imaginary life to come after this one.” There. Exposure to Christianity complete.

        • allein

          I didn’t watch those channels when I was a kid. I was busy watching cartoons. (Though I was not raised in a non-religious household so on most Sundays we did go to church. Then we came home and went outside to play, or read a book, or whatever else we would do on any other day with a free afternoon.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1220871538 Alan Eckert

    Has it been 2 years already? Time flies when the world is over!

    • The Other Weirdo

      Another group claimed that world did get destroyed, but on another spiritual plane.

      • Fargofan

        That doesn’t surprise me. Another weasel’s way out is to claim that the world was kept from ending by believers’ prayers. They can always find a way to make it unfalsifiable.

  • pagansister

    No tears being shed for the possible demise of this organization—-no loss to anyone at all if it finally “dies”.

  • Stev84

    Who are these idiots still giving them money?

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Pointless nitpick: The prediction was that Judgement Day (with earthquakes, wars, chaos, and I think a rapture) would be May 21. The Actual End of the World was to be on October 21st of the same year.

    Either way nothing happened

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The Millerites, a 19th century sect, also fell apart after their end of the world prophecies failed. Out of the remnants of the Millerites, two groups formed which are still around today: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.

    • Stev84

      The fucked up thing with the Millerites is that they didn’t fall apart because everyone stopped believing. They split based on differing interpretations of why the prophecy failed and how to explain it away.

    • decathelite

      And we have the Seventh Day Adventists to thank for young earth creationism.

  • busterggi

    you know that if he did make another specific prediction, say October 30, 2015, the same old donors would start ponying up their money again just as they did the previous two times he did this.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Man, that is not a nice picture. It looks like he’s terribly constipated from disappointment over the fact that he can’t fire lightning bolts like Emperor Palpatine did in Return of the Jedi, and he really really thought he should be able to.

  • guest

    Why do bigoted Christian groups insist on soiling the word “family” by including it in their organization’s names?

    • The Other Weirdo

      For the same reason that they keep reminding us that God is good. Otherwise, we’d just forget it, given the things God actually according to the Bible.

  • Bdole

    “donations have dropped almost 70 percent”

    MERELY 70%?!

    sigh…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

    You never pin down a specific date for this sort of thing. Its always “Soon” or “Nigh” or “close at hand”. For being in the Eschatology game for as long as Camping has you think he would have at least picked up a few tricks.

  • Renshia

    Some days a guy almost wants to give up caring about other people, start your own religion and make millions just screwing people over. You gotta think that people just deserve it some days, not today mind ya, but some days….

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    $100,000,000?

    /boggles

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Emilia-Liz/599523318 Emilia Liz

    To be fair, doomsday scenarios aren’t the exclusive domain of religious nuts. Remember author Paul Ehrlich, who predicted that England would not exist by 2000 and that life expectancy in the US would fall to 42 years in 1980?

    It’s also true that some mainstream Christian groups came out against Camping’s predictions. On the other hand, Ehrlich’s still a hero to much of the environmental movement (which I admit is a worthy cause).

    So I’m not sure how some people can (rightly) laugh at Camping but take Ehrlich and his ilk seriously.

    • The Other Weirdo

      If memory serves, then the mainstream Christian groups that came out against Camping’s predictions all basically said that he had the wrong of it, that no man knows the day or the hour. Not, “don’t be foolish, God’s not gonna destroy the world.” No, they all basically agreed with him, they just thought he was a fool for putting a falsifiable date on his prediction.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Emilia-Liz/599523318 Emilia Liz

        I guess the thing is that relatively few people, religious or non-religious, really took Harold Camping too seriously. People still do take Ehrlich seriously, despite his history of failed predictions. It’s somewhat ironic to note that despite Ehrlich’s vision of the President dissolving Congress because of food riots, one of the most pressing problems in the US and many other countries (including developing ones like Mexico) today is obesity.

        • The Other Weirdo

          Enough people took Camping seriously to give him hundreds of millions in donations.

          • Emilia Liz

            Yes, but while a number of religious groups spoke out against Camping and his philosophy even before his predicted ‘rapture’ failed to occur, Ehrlich is still treated with great deference by many in the mainstream environmentalist movement.

            Look, I’m not defending Camping or his followers or even the religious groups who spoke out against him. I just think it’s inconsistent to view him much differently from people like Paul Ehrlich.

            With respect to both Ehrlich and Camping, we should heed the old warning attributed (rightly or wrongly) to P.T. Barnum: There’s a sucker born every minute.

  • billfromthebronx

    Thats right, Friendly Atheist, atheists did get more traction out of Harold Camping than Christian did. So be grateful for Family radio, after all misguided christian prophecy and fortune telling gives nonbelievers like yourself something to gawk at and be amused, like a car crash. And an opportunity for you to appear so smart and sane standing next to these foolish, anxiety ridden apocalyptic Christians. Its like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • The Watchman

    God is good. All the time.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Is it necessary to repeat that mantra lest thou forgetest?

  • Oscar

    Imagine what an organisation like Oxfam or Doctors without borders could do with $5 million. Imagine the lives that could have been saved.

  • Ian

    thankfully, we didn’t spend everything (on May 21, 2011)

    Why the hell not? You were certain this was the end, the last possible date on which anyone could be rescued from unimaginable suffering, the ultimate last chance for all of humanity, and you left some money in the back unspent? Money that could have been spent reaching a few more people, giving them the last chance to come to Christ!

    That, right there, tells you everything you need to know about this group.


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