1921 (July 19) Harold Egbert Camping was born.
1958 Camping and several other evangelical Christians established a San Francisco FM radio station, Family Radio, intended to broadcast to a conservative Christian audience.
1961 Family Radio began Camping’s call-in program, the Open Forum, in which he answered questions pertaining to biblical passages.
1970 Camping published The Biblical Calendar of History, which proposed 11,013 BCE as the date of the creation of the world and dating the Flood to 4990 BCE.
1992 Camping published 1994?, speculating that Christ would return in September of 1994.
2010 Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011. Family Radio launched a public campaign in support of his 2011 End Times prediction.
2011(June) Camping revised his eschatological prediction, anticipating October 21, 2011 as the correct date for the destruction of the world.
Harold Camping was born on July 19, 1921 in Colorado and subsequently moved to California. He obtained a Civil Engineering degree from University of California, Berkeley in 1942 but never had any formal religious education. He married his wife, Shirley, in 1943, and the couple raised six children. During the 1940s he worked for Kaiser Corporation and for a construction business in Oakland. In 1958 he established Family Radio in Oakland, California with Lloyd Lindquist and Richard H. Palmquist under the name Family Stations; the station’s first broadcast took place on February 4, 1959 over radio station KEAR-FM in San Francisco. Camping assumed presidency of the station and operated a call-in program, called the Open Forum, during which he interpreted Biblical scripture for listeners. Camping was an active member of the Christian Reformed Church through the 1980s. However, he resigned from Alameda Bible Fellowship in 1988 after church elders ordered him to stop his Endtime predictions (Kaleem 2011). He then left the church along with over 100 members to form a new congregation. However, he soon dissociated from the new congregation, declaring that the "church age" over (Boyett 2011).
In 1970, Camping published his book The Biblical Calendar of History, in which he offered the mathematical calculations and scriptural interpretations from which he derived his Biblical chronology. Similar calculations informed Camping’s eschatological predictions. The book asserts the date of Creation to be 11,013 BCE and the date of the Flood to 4990 BCE. In 1988, Camping declared the church age to be over, as on May 21 “Satan entered the pews,” initiating the “Great Tribulation” (Ravitz 2011:21). In 1992, Camping published 1994?, which prophesied the Second Coming would occur in September, 1994. This book also associated the year 2011 with the end of the world. In 2010 Camping issued his prediction that the Day of Judgment would be May 21, 2011. In October of that year Family Radio financed a multi-million dollar campaign in support of Camping’s prophecy, dispatching missionaries in RVs throughout the U.S. to broadcast the message that the end was imminent. When the Rapture did not occur on the appointed date, Camping revised his predictions, claiming that May 21, 2011 had been a “spiritual, rather than physical event” (Tenety 2011) and that the world will in fact end on October 21, 2011. Camping suffered a stroke in June 2011 and subsequently took up residence in a nursing home facility.
Family Radio conceives of the Bible as “a divine document passed directly from God to his followers, without human revisions or interventions” (McQuigge 2011). However, Family Radio president Camping does not advocate that the Bible be read literally; rather, he has insisted that the scripture must be interpreted according to its spiritual meaning. He has espousee the belief that the biblical texts contain clues concerning the timing of the Second Coming, the Rapture and the End Times. The former civil engineer paired mathematical calculations with his biblical interpretations in order to support his predictions. For instance, Camping’s predictions concerning the hour of Christ’s return stem from the Jewish feast days of the Hebrew Bible, the lunar month calendar and the Gregorian calendar tropical year, all of which were combined with clues from the Bible and interpreted in a modern light.
Camping’s Biblical chronology as proposed in his book, The Biblical Calendar of History, set the date of the Flood of Noah’s ark at 4990 BCE. This, along with a “calculation...derived from a bible verse equating 24 hours in God’s life with a thousand years on earth” (McQuigge 2011) led to Camping’s prediction that the end of the world would occur on May 21, 2011, exactly 7,000 years after the Flood. Similar biblical computations had previously led Camping to predict the end of the world in 1994, though he accounted for this inaccuracy on the basis that his “research was incomplete at that time” (Epstein 2011). In his more recent doomsday prophecy, Camping offered a precise, detailed forecast of the Rapture as it would occur on May 21, replete with sinister visions of a catastrophic earthquake beginning at six o’clock p.m. (drawn from Revelation 16:18), graves cracking open, the transformation of believers into “glorified spiritual bodies” (Epstein 2011), and the suffering and destruction of the rest of humanity over a span of several months. All of this would culminate in God’s obliteration of the planet on October 21, 2011. Family Radio urged believers to prepare for the end, and newspapers described adherents’ unswerving confidence in Camping’s prediction. When the expected events did not occur in the manner predicted on May 21, Family Radio issued an apology on its website. Camping has since modified his teachings: Christ’s coming on the May 21 date was “an invisible judgment day” of a purely spiritual nature, and the world will still be destroyed on October 21, 2011 (Tenety 2011).
The group’s primary ritual activity appears to be centered around preparation for the Rapture. This effort is embodied in Project Caravan, the movement’s costly campaign to spread the message that May 21, 2011 would be the Day of Judgment. Family Radio amassed millions of dollars to purchase “20,000 billboards around the world” and subsequently “launched a convoy of caravans to canvas the U.S. and Canada and warn of the impending disaster” (McQuigge 2011). Followers contributed generously to fund the project, which is financed exclusively by donations, and the group has reportedly spent millions on electronic billboards and RVs that have crisscrossed the country. Family radio spokesperson Gunther von Harringa revealed that the group members “believe this so strongly, not only are we putting our reputation on the lines, but we’re spending all our money like there is no tomorrow, because we don’t believer there will be a tomorrow” (McQuigge 2011). Members recounted pouring their savings into Family Radio’s End Times campaign, defaulting on mortgage payments, saying goodbyes to loved ones, parading through the streets with posters, and taking to the road in caravans to spread the message of the impending Day of Judgment.
Family Radio is an Oakland, California based radio network, which operates non-commercial FM radio stations, several AM stations and two television stations. The organization broadcasts in thirty-nine states and eleven languages. The network has been valued at $120 milliion and has employed over 300 people (Tenety 2011). Harold Camping serves as president of Family Radio, but without financial compensation, and there is also a board of directors. The radio network has no affiliation with any other religious organization or denomination and draws financial support exclusively from listeners’ donations. Camping maintains that Family Radio is not a church; in his eyes the religious institution became corrupted by Satan in the late eighties during the Great Tribulation. Camping does not consider himself a prophet, asserting that he has “no authority at all” (Epstein 2011).
Camping’s End Times predictions and Biblical chronology have generated great controversy (See video of a media report), especially within the broader Christian community, which has rejected his biblical reasoning. Camping’s predictions have also been repudiated by many of his six children and 28 grandchildren. As he commented, "Most do not understand at all," he said of his family. "They think I have lost it" (Kaleem 2011). A Bible teaching ministry, A Bible Answer, publicly reproached Camping and offered to purchase all of the Family Radio stations for one million dollars.There have been speculations that Camping’s apocalyptic predictions might the potential to encourage followers to commit suicide, but there has been no evidence to support such allegations. Camping has also been criticized for profiting financially from those who believed in his inaccurate doomsday prophecy, largely due to his assertion in a press interview that Family Radio would not return the donations generated in anticipation of the apocalypse. The New York Times quoted Camping as saying, “We’re not at the end. Why would we return it?” (McKinley 2011). Family Radio has been awarded a five star rating by the watchdog group, Charity Navigator. The future of Family Radio became unclear when in early June of 2011, Camping suffered a stroke following his broadcast of the Open Forum. He then entered a nursing home facility, which is financially supported by Family Radio’s board of directors, before partially resuming his work schedule. When Campings second predicted date for the world's end, October 21, passed with only minor earthquake tremors reported in California, Camping’s church announced that a “spiritual” judgment from God had occurred (
Members of the church focused on where the prediction had been in error and were waiting for the world's end on a day-by-day basis. Camping also released a statement in which he confessed that “after decades of falsely misleading his followers, that he was wrong and regrets his misdeeds” (
. Media coverage of Family Radio declined precipitously following the failure of Camping's October 21 predictions (Prado 2011). Subsequently, on March 12, 2012 Camping issued a statement that was posted on the Family Radio website in which he stated that he had made an “incorrect and sinful statement.” He said that “We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and he will end time in his time, not ours!” He concludedy saying that “We humbly recognize that God may not tell his people the date when Christ will return, any more than he tells anyone the date they will die physically” (Banks 2012).
Amira, Dan. 2011. "A Conversation With Harold Camping, Prophesier of Judgment Day." New York Magazine, May 2011. accessed from http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2011/05/a_conversation_with_harold_cam.html on 20 October 2011.
Banks, Adele. 2012. “Harold Camping says May 21 prediction was ‘incorrect and sinful’.” Washington Post 8 March 2012. Accessed from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/harold-camping-says-may-21-prediction-was-incorrect-and-sinful/2012/03/08/gIQAlsgezR_story.html on 15 March 2012.
Boyett, Jason. 2011. "21 Things You Should Know About Harold Camping." beliefnet, 19 May 2011. Accessed from http://blog.beliefnet.com/omeoflittlefaith/2011/05/21-things-you-should-know-about-harold-camping.html on 22 October 2011.
Brinkley, Leslie. 2011. "Rapture Billboards Make Millions for Non-profit." East Bay News, 19 May 2011. Accessed from http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/east_bay&id=8139534 on, 22 October 2011.
Epstein, Emily Anne. 2011. "May 21: Is the End Near?" Metro [ New York] 15 May 2011. Accessed from http://wwrn.org/articles/35453/?&place=united-states§ion=other-groups on 14 September 2011.
Kaleem, Jaweed. 2011. “Harold Camping: The Man Behind 'Judgment Day,” Huffington Post 21 May 2011. Accessed from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/20/harold-camping-judgment-day-may-21_n_864507.html
McKinley, Jesse. 2011. "An Autumn Date for the Apocalypse." The New York Times, 23 May 2011. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/us/24raptureweb.html on 14 September 2011.
McQuigge, Michelle. 2011. "Apocalypse How? Scholars Dismiss Judgment of May 21 'Judgment Day'" The Canadian Press, 14 May 2011. Accessed from http://www.680news.com/news/national/article/226569--apocalypse-how-scholars-dismiss-predictions-of-may-21-judgment-day on 14 September 2011.
Menzie, Nicola. 2011. “Family Radio Founder Harold Camping Repents, Apologizes for False Teachings.” Christian Post. 30 October 2011. Accessed at http://www.christianpost.com/news/family-radio-founder-harold-camping-repents-apologizes-for-false-teachings-59819/ on 15 November 2011.Oleszczuk, Luiza. 2011. 'Harold Camping Update: Some in Family Radio Church Believe 'Real' Judgment Might Come Very Soon.” Christian Post 25 October 2011. Accessed from http://www.christianpost.com/news/harold-camping-update-some-in-family-radio-church-believe-real-judgment-might-come-very-soon-59333/ on 15 November 2011.
Ravitz, Jessica. 2011. "Road Trip to the End of the World." CNN, 23 Mar. 2011. Accessed from http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-06/living/judgment.day.caravan_1_rvs-dish-world-ends?_s=PM:LIVING on 13 September 2011.
Tenety, Elizabeth. 2011. "Harold Camping Says May 21, 2011 Was 'Invisible Judgment Day,' World Will End October 21, 2011." The Washington Post, 23 May 2011. Accessed from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/under-god/post/harold-camping-says-may-21-2011-was-invisible-judgment-day-world-will-end-october-21-2011/2011/05/23/AFZmc99G_blog.html on 13 September 2011.
David G. Bromley
22 October 2011