Disarray in the Religious Right’s Armageddon-ville

Written by Bill Berkowitz

Joel Rosenberg, prominent Christian Zionist, best-selling author of fiction and non-fiction books enmeshing apocalyptic visions with Biblical prophecy, and a sought after speaker on issues related to the Middle East and The Rapture, is no stranger to the End Times business. You might say that he has been milking it for all it’s worth, carving out a nice little niche for himself. But no matter how many times he cites scripture when talking or writing about events in the Middle East (what he calls the Epicenter) presaging an End Times scenario, he is careful to avoid the one thing that could put the kybosh on his cottage industry: he never offers a specific timetable for when the Final Days will unfold.

As any good businessman might when he feels his territory is being violated, last week Rosenberg had some tough words for Harold Camping, a long-time Christian radio broadcaster, who is claiming to have come up with the exact date for Judgment Day. The 88-year-old Camping, who is president of Family Stations, Inc., an Oakland, California-based religious broadcasting network, has done something that most End Timers definitely do not appreciate; he set the date for the first day of the Day of Judgment (May 21 of this year), and the date for the end of the world (October 21).

Exact dates are a no-no to Rosenberg and other End Times purveyors.

Echoing the “I guarantee it” tagline that George Zimmer, the founder and CEO of the Men’s Wearhouse has made famous, Harold Camping’s website claims that “The Bible Guarantees It!” The “It” refers to Judgment Day. (You can read the Judgment Day statement — I assume written by Camping — titled THE END OF THE WORLD IS ALMOST HERE! HOLY GOD WILL BRING JUDGMENT DAY ON MAY 21, 2011″ @ http://www.familyradio.com/graphical/literature/judgment/judgment.html.)

Having “scrutinized the Bible for almost 70 years,” Camping told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Justin Berton that, “he has developed a mathematical system to interpret prophecies hidden within the Good Book. One night a few years ago, Camping, a civil engineer by trade, crunched the numbers and was stunned at what he’d found: The world will end May 21, 2011.”

Berton pointed out that Camping has plumbed these Judgment Day-type depths before: “On Sept. 6, 1994, dozens of Camping’s believers gathered inside Alameda’s Veterans Memorial Building to await the return of Christ, an event Camping had promised for two years. Followers dressed children in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven. But the world did not end. Camping allowed that he may have made a mathematical error. He spent the next decade running new calculations, as well as overseeing a media company that has grown significantly in size and reach.”

Despite Camping’s dead certainty, he is still soliciting donations at his website. You can also click the “Donate Online” button to make a donation to Family Radio. I’m not saying that Camping is hedging his bets about the May 21 date, but after clicking the “Donate Online” icon, you are given the choice of making a “single donation,” setting up a “recurring donation,” or, if so inclined, canceling a “recurring donation,” via Visa, MasterCard, or ATM Debit Card.

The hullabaloo/media attention generated by Camping having set the date for Judgment Day has definitely annoyed Rosenberg. In a recent edition of his “Flash Traffic” e-mail newsletter, Rosenberg wrote: “Camping’s declaration is deeply misguided. In Matthew chapter 24, the Lord Jesus Christ gave His disciples a list of signs to watch for that would indicate when His return for His true followers was approaching. Such signs included the rise of false messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, other natural disasters, persecution of believers, the spread of the gospel to all people in every nation, the rebirth of the nation of Israel, and so forth. But in Matthew 24:36, Christ warned His followers not to try to speculate on exact dates of His return. ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone,’ Christ said.

“If ‘no one’ on earth knows the date of Christ’s return, how then does Harold Camping know? He doesn’t.”

Rosenberg pointed out that “this is not the first time Camping has been misled or misled others. In 1992, he published a book through Vantage Press in New York entitled, 1994? I actually have a copy because I have started a collection of books and pamphlets of false teachings about Bible prophecy.” Rosenberg added that in his 552-page book, Camping concluded: “The results of this study teach that the month of September of the year 1994 is to be the time for the end of history. We must be cautious. There could be something that has been overlooked. In view of the many paths that I have found that focus on 1994 it seems extremely unlikely that we have overlooked something. However I modestly and humbly acknowledge that such a possibility exists.”

According to Rosenberg, by setting the date, Camping is not only being “unbiblical, wrong and misleading,” he is also “invit[ing] ridicule, scorn and discredit upon followers of Jesus Christ who study the Bible seriously and teach the Word of God — including prophecy — carefully and soberly.” Rosenberg maintained “Jesus Christ was very clear that He is coming back. See John 14:1-3. The Apostle Paul was very clear in describing the Rapture that ‘the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain [as born again believers in Christ] will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord’ (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).”

“Teachers of Bible prophecy need to be very careful. Our responsibility is not to predict when Christ will return, but to help people be ready for the Lord’s return, whenever that occurs, and especially if it is soon. We can do this by sharing the gospel, making disciples, spreading the Word, strengthening the Church, living lives of holiness and purity, becoming men and women of prayer and worship, caring for the poor and needy, and blessing Israel and her neighbors, to name just a few. We also need to do this by helping people to discern the difference between solid Bible teaching and false teaching. Let’s ask the Lord to help us to serve Him wisely and humbly. Let’s also pray for Harold Camping and others that their eyes may be opened to the truth and they make a rapid course correction.”

What Rosenberg is trying to say is that Camping is not only being disingenuous and looking silly, but he’s giving the entire Rapture community a bad name. Rosenberg, on the other hand, claims to be looking at political events from a more dispassionate (and Biblical viewpoint) and therefore has his fingers on the pulse of the End Times.

“It is interesting that Harold Camping’s end time scenario shares many common components with better known prophecy teachers such as John Hagee and Joel Rosenberg, but that Camping is scorned as a ‘false prophet’ and a crackpot, while Hagee and Rosenberg hobnob with Prime Ministers, Ambassadors, and other leading politicians,” Rachel Tabachnick, a researcher/writer specializing in Christian Zionism and a contributor to Talk2action.org told me in an email.

So, while Rosenberg will not set the date, he consistently provides End Times teasers, while serving a very specific political purpose. In a column dated January 19 and titled “As Russia and Iran Bolster Alliance, Turkey and Iran’s Ties Grow Closer Too,” Rosenberg wrote that “despite millennia of deep differences, Iran and Turkey are becoming more than friends. They appear to be becoming strategic allies. And they are becoming allies at the same time that they are forming strategic alliances with Russia, and just as they are growing increasingly hostile and threatening towards Israel, just as Ezekiel 38-39 indicates will happen in the ‘last days’ before the ‘War of Gog and Magog’ begins.”

One day earlier, Rosenberg’s Flash Traffic blog entry was titled “Medvedev Makes Historic Trip to the Epicenter, Recognizes Palestinian State, Avoids Israel, Deepens Alliance with Iran: Is this consistent with Bible prophecy?”

Rosenberg promises to “examine the question in detail at the 2011 Epicenter Conference [set for May in Israel] and during The Joshua Fund [another Rosenberg project] Prayer and Vision tour in Israel in May.”

“Camping’s timeline serves little political purpose, while, Rosenberg and Hagee can keep their followers in a frenzy of anticipation for the Rapture and claiming that the prerequisite events are rapidly taking place, while not taking the risk of naming a date,” Tabachnick pointed out.

“Hagee has stated on Glenn Beck’s show that the earth as we know it won’t last another twenty years. This is why they are politically useful. For those who have any interests in common – helping Jews move to Israel, the expansion of Israel’s borders, initiation of attacks on those who will supposedly attack Israel in the end times, the demonization of all who are claimed to be partnering with the Antichrist, the demonization of political policy claimed to be advancing the Antichrist agenda, etc. – Rosenberg and Hagee can be counted upon to mobilize the masses of believers,” Tabachnick added.

Tabachnick noted, “Another difference between Camping and the politically successfully end times evangelists like Rosenberg and Hagee as well as numerous others on the end times prophecy circuit, including Ret. Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, is that they turn their end times prophecy pronouncements on and off like a faucet. For instance, when in the company of Jewish political leaders, they can forego all warnings of the end times and stay focused on real world issues such as Iran and nuclear war.”

At the end of the day, Tabachnick pointed out, “Camping’s end time beliefs present a future that is no more catastrophic or shocking those of Rosenberg and Hagee. Those not familiar with the variations on end times themes and the endless arguments over the details of prophecy timelines, might view the narratives of Camping and the better known Christian Zionist leaders as being quite similar. The difference is Harold Camping is forthright about his message. He believes that the second coming is about to take place. This forthrightness is an embarrassment to people like Joel Rosenberg who say one thing to their Jewish partners and yet another to those following their end times prophecy teachings and eagerly anticipating the end.”
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About the author
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.