Although some may take delight in poking fun at 90-year-old Harold Camping and his ostentatious prediction that Judgment Day will begin on Saturday, I am not one who will do so.
First, some background so you can understand what I mean. In 1993, my wife and I visited my grandparents in the appropriately-named Paradise, CA. My grandfather was not church going, by any means, but in his later years he took an interest to religion on television. His favorite personality was Harold Camping. Some may remember how Camping predicted that September 1994 would be “the end of history.” My grandfather totally bought into this idea and became a Camping devotee. (How much money Grandpa mailed off to this ministry, nobody knows.)
It was the last time I saw my grandparents, as both of them died less than a thousand days later. Soon after our visit, I did get a letter from Grandpa as well as paperback copies of both 1994 and Are You Ready? In the letter, he wrote in part, “I am amazed at the research he used to determine the time dates (sic) found in tracing man’s history thru the scriptures.” My father talked to Grandpa after September 1994, saying Grandpa was disappointed, though he continued to watch Camping’s show.
In the late 1990s, I made friends with polygamists in Manti, Utah who belonged to The True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of the Last Day, which is led by Jim Harmston. For several years in a row, I met regularly with Apostle Bart Malstrom who, at the time, had five wives and fourteen children .We had a good relationship as we participated in very cordial but straight-to-the-point conversations.
In June 1999, I went to lunch with Bart and another apostle. I was told: “Eric, you and your family need to join the church as soon as possible. Jesus is coming back this year.” Specifically, Jesus was supposed to return to Manti, Utah in the fall of 1999. When I asked them about the possibility that Harmston was wrong, Bart strongly stated, “I guarantee you that what we’ve told you is true.”
When I returned to Manti the following June, I tried to get into contact with Bart, but he wouldn’t meet with me. Calls to him were ignored. Perhaps he thought I would mock him. (Honestly, I wasn’t going to.) Since I had promised him a book that I had coauthored (Mormonism 101, published that year), he had two of his wives find me one night in front of the temple as I witnessed at the Mormon Miracle Pageant.
Because Bart wouldn’t talk to me, I decided to set up an interview with Dan Simmons, the president of the church and second only to Harmston. When I asked him about the failed prophecy, Simmons responded, “The people were not prepared. It involves all of us, myself included. Spiritually, physically, emotionally…we were just not ready.” All responsibility for the failure belongs to the followers, not the prophet.
However, Simmons said, the prophecy wasn’t necessarily “failed,” suggesting that time could go backward. Although he admitted that this had never happened before, Simmons looked at me and said, “With God, all things are possible.” Bart eventually left this church; I have never seen him again. (For more, see this link)
Of course, I do believe in Judgment Day. And Jesus will indeed return. When? Nobody knows. Even if He came on May 21st, I will rejoice. But if He does not come according to Camping’s specifications, how many will be affected? Will a number of his followers leave the faith, as did many Jehovah’s Witnesses after 1975 when the Watchtower’s prediction failed? Will many possibly reject the message of Christianity because they associate Camping with Christian pastors? The potential ramifications are, unfortunately, numerous.
I’m sorry, but on this, I will not play the role of Elijah who mocked the Baal priests at Mt. Carmel. Instead of joking about or ridiculing the situation, I find myself greatly saddened. I just think a rash prophecy given by a known false prophet with a checkered past is no laughing matter. Fellow Christians, let’s be ready to pick up the pieces since people are not collateral damage.