For the past couple of months the most visited post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home was one I did back in July 2010 entitled “Jesus Will Return on May 22, 2011.” All I really did for this post was embed a video from a CNN news report on evangelical Christian groups that were claiming the “rapture” would take place on May 22. When people Google the phrase “Jesus Will Return on May 22,” The Way of Improvement Leads Home is the first hit. (Actually, my post gets the supposed date of the rapture wrong. Apocalyptic-minded Christians are actually suggesting that Jesus will return on May 21, not May 22).
As Emily Clark reports at Religion in American History, the man behind all of this end-of-the-world talk is Harold Camping, the founder of Family Radio, a network of 150 Christian radio stations broadcasting throughout the country.
Camping hosts a nightly call-in show called “Open Forum” in which he uses the Bible to answer questions from callers. Lately the show has been dominated by questions about the impending end of the world.
I used to listen to Camping on WFME-Newark (NJ), where he has been a fixture of the New York metropolitan-area evangelical subculture. (Family Radio is actually based in Oakland, CA). Back in the mid-1980s I remember him teaching that we were already living in the “Great Tribulation” and we could expect Jesus’s return at any time.
This is not the first time Camping has predicted the end of the world. In 1992, he announced that Jesus Christ would return on September 6, 1994. It did not happen.
Clark does a nice job of putting the end-times language of Camping and his followers in historical context, especially as it relates to the nineteenth-century millennialism of William Miller.