.Family Radio followers point to Bible numerology.
By Nick Sortal
Next to the billboards for beer, casinos and divorce lawyers along Florida’s Turnpike is a solemn message: May 21, 2011, is Judgment Day.
Who put them up? Family Radio, a network of Christian radio stations co-founded by Californian radio host Harold Camping, has placed them nationwide. Those who believe May 21 is Judgment Day are circling the globe, warning people to repent before the world ends — despite arguments from many Christians, including theologically conservative ones, who say there’s no way to know the “end date.”
“We’re living at a time when God is opening up the scriptures and we have a responsibility to tell people,” Family Radio listener Lincoln Ropp said last week, before leaving to spread the message in Bulgaria. The Nova Southeastern University medical student and his wife, Elizabeth, relinquished internships in Orlando hospitals this spring.
Family Radio has sponsored five caravans — groups of three or four vans full of followers who have been traveling the United States passing out fliers since October. Their stops included Miami, Orlando and other Florida cities in January and February.
There were nine billboards in South Florida, but the contract has expired on seven, said Family Radio’s Michael Garcia. The network bought 1,200 nationwide and 2,000 overseas. He declined to disclose the cost.
So how will the world end? Great earthquakes will shake the Earth at 6 p.m. local time (and continue through Oct. 21), and believers will be called to the heavens, Camping has been saying on his radio program, and the unrepentant will be thrown to the ground and shamed.
Camping, 89, a civil engineer, points to the numerology in the Bible, specifically that 2 Peter says, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years is one day.” He said that means that 7,000 years from the great flood is the end of the world.
Camping and Family Radio followers also cite Genesis, which says the flood began on the “17th day of the second month.” Camping said that day is May 21, according to his interpretation of the Jewish calendar.
But about 17 years ago, Camping warned of an apocalypse taking place Sept. 6, 1994. He now says he had not completed his biblical research at the time.
Most Christians cite Bible passages such as Revelation 3:3: “…I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” Also, Matthew 24:36, in which Jesus says, “No one knows when that day or hour will come — not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Ropp responds that Revelation warns people to watch for the end of the world and that many Christians bend the verse as an excuse not to watch.
A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that about 41 percent of Americans think Jesus will return before 2050. And some scholars have said the Mayan calendar indicates an end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012.
“I do believe Christ is coming, but I don’t believe we know the time or the hour,” said Warren Gage, dean of faculty at the Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale. “I think there’s a very clear scriptural reference that no one knows the time in the end.
“May 21 is not circled on my calendar. And I’ll be looking forward to Sunday, May 22.”
Some are having fun with it, such as the Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists, who will mark May 21 with a “Rapture Party” at the Lauderdale Beach Hotel Tiki bar in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
“We definitely see a lot of scoffing and mocking,” Ropp said. “But really, we take this as expected. Jesus said when you speak the truth, you’ll be hated.”
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