Harold Camping's followers can learn lessons from rapture debacle

There was no rapture on May 21 at 6pm, as Camping had predicted there would be, but that does not mean that everything that his followers believe about Christianity is wrong, maintains Timothy Dalrymple, managing editor of the Patheos evangelical portal.

In a rare compassionate response to the May 21 debacle posted on the website, Dalrymple issued an open letter to Harold Camping and his followers who faced mockery, confusion, and doubts about their faith after the rapture failed to materialise.

“Your heart was in the right place. This may sound like a minor matter, or it may sound like condescension, but I assure you it’s not. This is a rare and exceedingly important thing. It’s perfectly right to yearn for the day of Christ’s return,” Dalrymple comforted Camping and his followers. “It’s right to desire with all of your heart that you could be with God right now … I believe that desire is precious to God.”

Camping and his believers were also right to believe that God will return one day and draw his children to Him, and to share with unbelievers about Jesus’ second coming.

But they can also learn from the May 21 event that they should not put their faith in a person or prediction but in the core message of the Gospel; that no one knows when the Judgment Day is; that they should beware of charismatic leaders and group thinking; and that they should never believe they have God figured out.

“I wish that you had not believed in the May 21 prediction, because I fear that it damaged the credibility of Christians in the eyes of some,” wrote Dalrymple, who attended Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard. “But I see no reason now to belabour that point. Rather, I hope that you have grace with yourselves.”

It seems that Dalrymple was successful in his outreach, seeing that family members of Camping’s followers left appreciative comments about their situation.

“Thank you for this. As the daughter of a man who completely bought into Harold Camping’s false teachings this is the most comforting thing that I’ve read so far,” wrote a commenter identified as Lara. “Our lives have been wrecked for the past 2-3 years. My father apologised to our family today. We are thanking Jesus for the miracle. We have hope that God will use evil for good. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Another commenter identified as TL shared that his mother had believed Camping’s teachings for some 20 years, including his 1994 prediction that Judgment Day would come in September that year.

“The faith she gave me as a young child (and my sisters) became the subject of much ridicule,” wrote TL. “This has been so hurtful on so many levels. Today, on May 22, I am strengthened by your words and pray for compassion.”

But “Patrick”, who has been listening to Camping on Family Radio for some 30 years, was one of the few who defended Camping on the Patheos blog. He argued that Camping never told anyone to sell their house and he made a strong case using the Bible for the May 21 date.

“For what it is worth this has made me look at my life and my relationship with God and has changed the way I will live my life for the better,” wrote “Patrick.” “I hope and pray that this is what people take from this and I hope you will pray for Mr. Camping.”