Camping, you will undoubtedly recall, is the loony evangelical preacher who convinced his followers that the Righteous were going to be carried bodily into heaven on May 21, 2011, leaving the rest of us here to be killed in messy ways by Satan. His followers, assuming that by "The Righteous," Camping meant "us" (people always do, don't they?), began to prepare -- some even giving away tens of thousands of dollars of their savings, selling their homes, saying goodbye to friends and coworkers. And then, on May 21, surprise! Nothing happened.
Camping, undaunted, expressed puzzlement that his predictions had been wrong, given that he was really looking forward to Rivers Running Red With The Blood Of The Wicked and all. But he then said that he'd just missed it by that much, that the real date was October 21, 2011, cross his heart and hope to die.
This time, of course, fewer people went along with the whole thing, and when October 22 rolled around and lo, we were all still here, righteous and unrighteous alike, Camping retreated in disarray, and has made no further public statement.
Until yesterday, when Camping had a press release that said, in part, the following:
We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing. We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement.
To which I can only say: wow.Though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way. In the months following May 21 the Bible has, in some ways, come out from under the shadows and is now being discussed by all kinds of people who never before paid any attention to the Bible. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible.
We also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world. Though many dates are circulating, Family Radio has no interest in even considering another date. God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding.
No mention of the people who bankrupted themselves because of your "sin?" No mention of the dangers of the abuse of power wielded by the charismatic over the weak-minded? No mention of the damage done to the reputation of Christianity as a whole, by people who looked upon the spectacle not as a reason to become more "acquainted with the Bible," but to ridicule the entire belief system?
Of course, my own stance is that Camping is wrong about a great many things; but I think what bothers me most about this is not the fact that his failure didn't suddenly turn him into a rationalist (I'm not that much of an optimist, frankly). What bothers me is that the whole thing, whatever his repeated use of the words "humbly" and "humbled," seems still very much to be about Camping saving face in the eyes of his followers. I'm sure that listeners to Family Radio are down, and it wouldn't be a stretch to surmise that donations are down as well. When someone like Camping, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard, "apologizes" to his followers, it so often turns out that all it is is a thinly-disguised attempt to reingratiate himself into the minds and hearts of the people who once trusted him, and start the cash flowing again.
And the sad thing is, it so often works. Swaggart, who was arrested for hiring a prostitute in 1988, apologized, and got arrested a second time for doing the same thing in 1991, still is a popular televangelist. Haggard, the virulently anti-gay evangelical who was accused (and later admitted) to having hired a male prostitute and using methamphetamine, is now the pastor of a church in Colorado Springs.
So call me cynical, but I don't believe Camping's mealy-mouthed apology. It has, all along, been about Camping's power, and keeping the money flowing to him and his radio program. Whether he himself actually believed that the world was going to end last year remains to be seen -- but I hope that any of his remaining followers aren't duped by his self-aggrandizing attempt to reestablish himself in a leadership role. It's ironic, given that in yesterday's post, I suggested that it might be worthwhile to apologize for past transgressions, even if it's too late to make amends -- but in this case, simply I don't believe that his apology is sincere. And as for elevating him back into a position of trust? He doesn't deserve it.