On Harold Camping

I’m not embarrassed by Harold Camping. I don’t find it ridiculous that he thought he’d be raptured on May 21 or that people believed him. And I don’t think the biggest lesson we have to learn from all this is not to trust people who say they know when the world will end.

Ever since Harold Camping and company gained national exposure, most evangelicals have been eager to distance ourselves from him and our faith from his. We use words like “embarrassment” to show that we recognize his wrongness and take no part in it. We speak of being concerned that Camping and his listeners will make Christianity look foolish, that he will give people one more reason to reject the faith that has, in recent years, not done so well in the American media.

But we can learn something much deeper from Harold Camping than to not be taken in, to shelter ourselves from the embarrassment of being wrong. Deeper than accepting at face value Jesus’ words that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. We can learn to flee the pride that threatens to destroy us in all our being right about Camping’s being wrong. We can learn to accept Harold Camping as one of our own without qualification, as a person who loves Jesus and who frankly just has a flawed approach to the Bible. We can learn that God is not interested in our saving face.

Christianity will not be destroyed by Christians looking foolish. Some will always find a crucified Christ foolish. But Christians will be destroyed by foolishly failing to name and reject the pride that keeps us in bondage to maintaining our public image. We are in far greater danger of failing to love one another—the love by which Jesus said we would be recognized—than we are of failing to appear wise and rational.

Image-wise, we have nothing to lose from embracing Harold Camping, because nothing–image-wise–is at stake that’s worth holding onto. To the extent that Christians value being accepted more than we value being holy, we are submitting ourselves to the bondage that will always, without fail, accompany the pride we are cradling in our scramble to create distance between us and those we fear will drag us down with them.


Filed under Christianity, Harold Camping, Love

8 responses to “On Harold Camping

  1. Seth R.

    I think the main flaw in humanity that Harold Camping represents is this desire that afflicts all of us to have God – but only on OUR terms, not His.

    This is a religious impulse we always have to guard against.

  2. Seth, I don’t think it’s Harold Camping who embodies the major flaw in humanity in this situation, but rather us in our response to him.

  3. Anna Taylor

    Love. it. I totally agree. People find satisfaction in someone like Harold Camping looking crazy. it makes “our” christianity normal and not like him.

  4. Aside from all the joking I’ve made about this matter, in the end, I couldn’t help but to feel some compassion for Brother Camping. Here is a man who has spent the better part of the last two decades trying to sort out this issue, and has staked his reputation on his interpretation of it. I cannot help but to feel for someone whose hopes and faith in something, even an erroneous doctrine, have been dashed into pieces.

    Doctrinal errors aside, Harold Camping has never sought fame or fortune for his preaching. (I’m reasonably familiar with his organization, moreso than most people.) He tries always to put all the focus and attention on the message of the gospel, not the messenger. He made his personal fortune over half a century ago through his profession, and since the ’50s has volunteered his time to the radio station. He has been married to the same woman for nigh on seven decades. The biggest scandal one can pin on him is getting a date wrong for Jesus’s return. He is not an egotistical prosperity preacher, living high off donations, like so many in the Christian media.

    Yes, I think he was wrong to try to do something that should have seemed so obvious not to try to do. As soon as I become perfect in all of my doctrinal interpretations, I will shun him. Or maybe if he declares himself the one true messenger of God, and claims that failure to obey him will result in one’s damnation. But he’s never done that. So until then, he’s just another fellow traveler along this road, trying to figure out God’s plan, and he should be considered a brother in Christ.

  5. What a beautiful article! Thank you, Sarah!

  6. Mark

    I thought it was a beautiful article too. Harold Camping may have misled a lot of people but he is someone that Jesus died for.

  7. I’m a little late to the party here, but thought I should mention that there was a column in Christianity Today making very similar points to yours. I think you’d like it.

    Mark Galli, “What to Do with Aunt Julie: Harold Camping and our problem relatives”


  8. I actually read that article awhile back, David. I thought he was pretty condescending to Harold Camping in it, actually, though I really like his language about distancing in the article. But Aunt Julie wouldn’t be honored by that article, and if I were Harold Camping, I don’t think I’d feel respected by it either.

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