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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy