The end of the world

Already, 2011 is shaping up to be a busy year for the Ross family. In mid-May, my son Brady will graduate from high school. Just a few days later, the end of the world will start.

Graduation Day. Then Judgment Day. Unfortunately, doesn’t look like there’ll be a long Memorial Day weekend this year. At least not for the saved.

The Associated Press has the scoop:

RALEIGH, N.C. — If there had been time, Marie Exley would have liked to start a family. Instead, the 32-year-old Army veteran has less than six months left, which she’ll spend spreading a stark warning: Judgment Day is almost here.

Exley is part of a movement of Christians loosely organized by radio broadcasts and websites, independent of churches and convinced by their reading of the Bible that the end of the world will begin on May 21, 2011.

To get the word out, they’re using billboards and bus stop benches, traveling caravans of RVs and volunteers passing out pamphlets on street corners. Cities from Bridgeport, Conn., to Little Rock, Ark., now have billboards with the ominous message, and mission groups are traveling in countries from Latin America to Africa to spread the news outside the U.S.

“A lot of people might think, ‘The end’s coming, let’s go party,’” said Exley, a veteran of two deployments in Iraq. “But we’re commanded by God to warn people. I wish I could just be like everybody else, but it’s so much better to know that when the end comes, you’ll be safe.”

AP’s report is written by Tom Breen, whose excellent work on the Godbeat has drawn praise from your GetReligionistas.

In this case, I found much to like — as always — about Breen’s story. For example, the writer provides good background on why most Christians will probably go ahead and make summer vacation plans:

The belief that Christ will return to earth and bring an end to history has been a basic element of Christian belief since the first century. The Book of Revelation, which comes last in the New Testament, describes this conclusion in vivid language that has inspired Christians for centuries.

But few churches are willing to set a date for the end of the world, heeding Jesus’ words in the gospels of Mark and Matthew that no one can know the day or hour it will happen. Predictions like Camping’s, though, aren’t new. One of the most famous in history was by the Baptist leader William Miller, who predicted the end for Oct. 22, 1844, which came to be known as the Great Disappointment among his followers, some of who subsequently founded the Seventh Day Adventist church.

Regrettably, though, there’s also a major hole in this report.

Yes, readers find out the source of this latest end-of-the-world pronouncement:

In August, Exley left her home in Colorado Springs, Colo., to work with Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio Worldwide, the independent Christian ministry whose leader, Harold Camping, has calculated the May 21 date based on his reading of the Bible.

But here’s the hole: No mention is made of the fact that Camping himself has made similar predictions before. And, as you probably guessed, been wrong. That’s relevant background, right?

From a New Jersey newspaper report last month:

Camping had speculated that the world would end in 1994. He has written several books, including one that encourages Christians to eschew church in favor of studying the Bible at home, and another that states that gays expressing pride are a sign from God that the world is coming to an end.

In reading the AP story, I also found myself with many unanswered questions about the “loose Christian movement” involved in getting out the word about the world ending. The second paragraph mentions that the movement is “independent of churches,” but never really explains why that is or what it means. Christianity Today reported in 2002 that Camping had roiled churches “by saying that Christians are in the Great Tribulation and should depart from their congregations.” Does that mean that the people involved in this end-of-world movement do not attend church or claim allegiances to any particular denomination?

Anyway, I apologize if this post missed any key points or questions. I typed it in a hurry, while there was still time.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Kell Brigan

    Great link. Also recommended is Great Big Sea’s rock & reel version:

  • Jerry

    Oh boy, oh boy. One of my favorite topics: the end of the world, judgment day, the birth of a new humanity or call it what you will. :-)

    external events like the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 are signs confirming the date.

    I’ve posted this before, but at least one translation of the Quran, Sura 17:100-104, says the same thing: Then We [Allah] said to the Israelites: ‘Dwell in this land [the Land of Israel]. When the promise of the hereafter [End of Days] comes to be fulfilled, We [Allah] shall assemble you [the Israelites] all together [in the Land of Israel].”

    And, of course, we have the resetting of the Mayan long count calendar in 2012 which has excited a number of people and made some money for filmmakers.

    And there are various prophecies of Native Americans including the ones “No Eyes” made as chronicled by Mary Summer Rain.

    I could go on and on and on. But my point is that such stories ignore the wider perspective and perhaps that’s understandable but I really do wish the reporter had mentioned the theological problems with the concept of the rapture and that end times predictions extends beyond a certain segment of Protestants.

  • Don S.

    I am glad someone finally addressed this somewhere. I have been seeing these all over the Philadelphia area and shaking my head in disbelief that no one was addressing this cult–one who unfortunately are leading folks down a dangerous road. Thank you for doing so—

  • bob smietana

    The “We Can Know” folks had Christmas-themed billboards here in Nashville—with the Wise Men following the star, and saying “The Wise Men Knew” and “He is coming again” –

    Their rationale for the date is pretty interesting. Here’s what they told the Tennessean, back in December.

    “Tom Evans, a spokesman for Family Radio, insisted the predictions are true, and he and other Family Radio supporters want to save their friends and neighbors from God’s judgments. The billboards are also up in Louisville, St. Louis, Detroit, Little Rock, Omaha, Kansas City, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Bridgeport, Conn. In cities with Family Radio-affiliated stations, the message is on the air.

    The latest prediction comes from a verse in Luke 17: “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man.”

    It’s a matter of simple math, said Evans.

    Calculation of the date

    According to Camping’s prediction, the Rapture will happen exactly 7,000 years from the date that God first warned people about the flood. He said the flood happened in 4990 B.C., on what would have been May 21 in the modern calendar. God gave Noah one week of warning.

    Since one day equals 1,000 years for God, that means there was a 7,000-year interval between the flood and rapture.

    “We hope that anyone would get a Bible out and try and prove that this is wrong,” he said.”

  • Bobby

    That 7,000-year figure and explanation is interesting. I know the AP has space constraints, but I would have loved to have seen that detail in there.

    Here’s a link to The Tennessean story referenced by Bob. (I was having trouble getting the link to open just now, which may be why Bob didn’t include it.)

  • joye

    Anyone know about any stories regarding how much money is being spent in advertising this effort, and how that money is being raised?

    I too have seen billboards here in Vancouver, BC. There’s one near my favorite bakery that says “Joy to the world, the Lord is coming!” with the URL. How was that billboard paid for? How about the story’s “caravan of RVs”? How many people have quit jobs to devote themselves to this full time, or are using their savings, or taking loans?

  • Bobby

    Great questions, joye.

  • Theresa K.

    I was a member of a larger Evangelical Covenant church (300) back in 1988. The majority of the church believed in a popular apocalypse date (September 88?) and the pastor made no effort to educate his flock in scripture regarding such date setting.

  • Adam Bradley

    I think Theresa’s referring to 88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988 by Edgar Whisenant, which was actually the first thing I thought of when I came across this story. I was in Jr. High school in Nashville at the time and Whisenant’s book was Big News and talked about all over.

    As I recall, the first reason was essentially an explanation about why he wasn’t contradicting Matthew 24:36 (“But of that day and hour knoweth no [man]…”): Whisenant wasn’t claiming to know the day or hour, just the weekend.

  • Will

    Stephen Cox has an extensive article on Camping and Family Radio in the December LIBERTY.

  • Theresa K.

    Adam, yes! I had a copy of his manifesto. I was so stood to believe even a shred of it. It want until mt catechism at age 44 that I learned the better way to interpret scripture: in light of other scripture.

  • Ben

    Yeah, I seriously wish people would quit predicting end times, because i my opinion it reflects really bad on Christianity as a whole.

    For crying out loud, Jesus didn’t even know when the end would be. Who are all of these people going around as if they “know” when it will happen.

    And all the people who believe that some pagan Mayans knew more than Jesus is just absurd.