.Quit Your Church!

It was bad enough when evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping falsely predicted the apocalypse. But his latest crusade really has Christians fuming.

The world didn’t end on September 6, 1994.

But for the worshippers crowded into an Alameda veterans hall on the days prior, time was of the essence. Children in their Sunday best skittered in and out of the room while their parents silently prayed or read the Bible. Many were sold on predestination — the Calvinist belief that heaven makes room for a pre-chosen few, while everyone else, even the saved, are damned to hell. Still, a few folks expressed concern for those who hadn’t yet come to the Lord. “We are fearful for other people, the unsaved, facing an angry God,” Alameda’s Rick LaCasse told the San Francisco Examiner, which was monitoring the countdown. “God is going to punish sin.”

Alameda wasn’t the only town gearing up for the rapture. Across North America and a few places overseas, groups of evangelical Christians were gathering in anticipation of a cataclysmic event that had a “99.9 percent” chance of happening, according to the man who predicted it. “At first, when I heard it, I thought it was a joke,” San Jose resident Roger Maxwell told the Examiner. “I was skeptical, but the more you read the Bible, it becomes clear.”

The man who planted the ideas in these people’s heads was Harold Camping, a longtime Alameda resident with the money and power to speak directly to the masses. Camping sits at the helm of Family Radio, a nonprofit Christian broadcasting empire that’s headquartered near Oakland Airport but has a worldwide reach. Family Radio boasts 45 primary stations and 110 translator stations (which simply rebroadcast programs generated by the primary stations) operating in 38 states. The network also spreads the Word across the globe via Internet radio, short- and medium-wave radio, and satellite, reaching listeners in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Africa, India, and China.

The goal of this empire: Go forth, multiply, and spread the gospel — His gospel. The network features Camping’s own syndicated daily Bible show, Open Forum, heard locally at 106.9 FM along with his Family Bible Study, which airs several times daily.

While Family Radio won’t reveal how many listeners it has, the network is fueled by donations, which totaled nearly $15 million in 2001, according to the nonprofit’s tax returns.

In other words, when Camping began predicting the end of the world, there were plenty of people listening. His most loyal followers prepared for the end in different ways, and though Camping had advised against it, there were reports of believers selling their homes, cashing out their pension plans, and running up credit cards with the understanding that none of it was to matter anymore.

Bill Patton, a Fremont resident who worked for Family Radio for seventeen years, says more than a few listeners tithed their life savings to the company. “I was there then, in the computer department,” he says. “There were people who just sold out everything and gave it over to Family Radio and said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t make a difference, the end’s coming.'”

The end-watchers paid little heed to the naysayers, and stood up for their shepherd. “There are people foaming at the mouth, waiting for October 1 so they can say ‘I told you so,'” one female Pennsylvania believer told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s like being Noah. No one listened to him either. ‘”

Perhaps the most convinced was Reggie Wiggins, a warehouse worker from Pennsylvania where, next to California, Camping owns the largest number of stations. “I’ve been looking at this for ten years, and nothing, absolutely nothing, can change my mind,” he told the Inquirer. For Wiggins, the world did end on September 6. He died that day after falling into a diabetic coma, the result, it is rumored, of his having halted his medications a couple months prior to the big day. “My deceased husband gave Harold Camping everything he had,” said Wiggins’ ex-wife in a recent telephone interview. “Every dime, everything. [Camping] needs to be exposed; he’s a fraud.”

When his doomsday prediction turned out to be false, Harold Camping, then 73, picked himself up, dusted himself off, and emphasized that he’d really had only been 99.9 percent certain. The remaining 0.1 percent had won out. Many of his listeners forgave the mistake. After all, didn’t Camping’s prophetic 1992 book — 1994? — bear a question mark in the title? “Nobody really condemns him,” Eva Schwartz, an elderly woman who stuck with Camping through the ordeal, told The New York Times in December 1994. “They say, ‘We love you, you are still a wonderful Bible teacher, everybody can make a mistake.'”

Not everyone was so forgiving. The rise and fall of his doomsday prophecy cost the lifelong theologian a good chunk of his religious capital. He was compelled to leave his longtime Alameda church following a tiff with church elders over his doomsday teachings, and his dire predictions created a public rift between him and other prominent evangelicals.

None of this seemed to bother Camping. He still had hordes of listeners who swore by the unusual scripture readings propagated through his popular call-in and Bible study shows. But it was what he did next that really drove the Christian establishment into fits. In 2001, the powerful broadcaster turned against the church.

In one fell swoop, Harold Camping began urging his faithful listeners to turn on Family Radio, tune in to their local stations, and drop out of their congregations.

Harold Camping is a conservative Christian’s conservative, so staunch in his beliefs that he’s against divorce even in cases of abandonment or adultery. A devout former member of the Christian Reformed denomination, he is steeped in the fiery rhetoric of Calvinism. He believes in heaven and hell, that a woman’s place is in the home, and that the world is only thirteen thousand years old.

The 82-year-old’s radio ministry broadcasts in more than eleven languages. His scope is so powerful, and his dedication to the tenets of orthodox Christianity so genuine, that many followers and fellow theologians simply chose to ignore the end-of-the-world flap.

For ministers interested in saving souls and spreading the gospel through Camping’s powerful megaphone, tolerating his offbeat philosophies was a necessary evil. His stations, after all, were highly influential, and many religious radio shows — programs such as Back to the Bible out of Nebraska, and the Pennsylvania-based Back to God Hour — had a happy home on Family Radio. It didn’t hurt that the self-made millionaire let his fellow Christians broadcast their shows free of charge. Nor that, in some places, Camping’s was the only gig in town; he’s the only place on the FM dial, for instance, that New Yorkers can tune into religious radio.

The bulk of the programming on Family Radio is “inspirational” music; comforting, pedestrian paeans to God straight out of the ’50s, so sterile as to make the Lawrence Welk Show look like Headbangers’ Ball. Listening to Family Radio is, indeed, like stepping back in time to a place where folks feared God’s wrath, there was no such thing as Christian rap, and the Bible was the only owners’ manual people needed.

Camping has no formal religious training. His back-to-basics conservatism is rooted in his Southern California upbringing by a staunch Calvinist mother who planted in her son the seeds of what was to be his fatalistic reading of the Bible — the belief that everything has its place, there’s no such thing as free will, and all is part of God’s plan.

It was perhaps this early emphasis on divine order that brought about Camping’s lifelong love of numbers and theorems — he graduated from Cal in 1944 with a degree in engineering — and led him to predict the end of the world. When Camping looks at a Bible, he sees a trove of numeric messages both hidden and obvious, à la A Beautiful Mind. His prophetic book 1994? is at times nothing but an impenetrable series of close readings of Biblical passages that somehow add up to the coming of Armageddon.

After graduating from Berkeley, the young engineer founded Camping Construction, which he grew into a large company that, among other things, built churches all over the country. He’d always dreamed of evangelizing, though, and in 1958, with money from his successful business and some shrewd East Bay real estate dealings, he turned that dream into Family Radio. The network, known officially as Family Stations Inc., first went on the air on February 4, 1959, over San Francisco FM station KEAR, and has been broadcasting the gospel ever since.

As Camping’s radio empire grew, the peculiarity of his scriptural interpretation began to take shape, although he still stuck to the conservative Christian fundamentals. “Twenty years ago he was a much more broadly appealing person,” says Dean Harner, a New Jersey pastor who has written lengthy explanations of Camping’s interpretations of the Bible. “If you’d listen to him as a Bible student, you could see how he might support a certain orthodox position, though his reasoning was unnerving.”

But as time progressed, Camping’s Biblical analyses strayed farther afield. He’s not a fundamentalist in the sense that he takes every word at face value, nor is he a purely literary reader of the Bible. “Instead of literalistic, it might be more like a mechanical, arbitrary reading of the Bible,” Harner says. “He doesn’t treat it like normal language; he treats it like a codebook, and he’s got keys of understanding that are largely based on numbers.”

Camping’s strange interpretations ultimately led mainstream theologians and scholars to publicly view him as a theological wack-job. In return, the old man thumbed his nose right back at the spiritual-intellectual establishment. “He was shunned by all these university types, these seminarians, who were getting all the accolades,” says Robert Sungenis, a conservative Catholic and former colleague. “I could see Camping sort of upset because he wasn’t getting recognized as much as he should have, because he felt he had the truth.”

Sungenis worked closely with Camping at Family Radio for two and a half years in the early ’80s. He later coauthored Shock Wave 2000! The Harold Camping 1994 Debacle — one of several books Camping’s activities have inspired — and has emerged as one of the broadcaster’s harshest critics. “I still admire the man in a certain way,” he says. “It’s just these wacky ideas that come up every once in a while, that I’m obliged to tell people.”

Despite his reach on the radio, Camping is a man who goes out of his way to avoid the limelight. He doesn’t talk to the press, and even longtime associates know very little about the man’s private life. What they do say, however, is that Camping is a completely stand-up guy. If there’s a yellow light, he’ll just about cause an accident slowing down for the red. He’s also honest to a fault. Having made his fortune in construction, he accepts no salary from Family Radio. He lives modestly. Harold Camping, in other words, is no Jim Bakker.

“You will never get him on those things,” says Pastor Jesse Gistand, a former confidant who understands Camping perhaps as well as anyone. “He’s not your typical moneybagger — the ‘poor’ preacher hiding all the money in his chest and living like some prince or king. It’s not the case. He’s on a mission that has nothing to do with his own personal financial gain. Nothing.”

“He’s sincere,” concurs Dean Harner. “Sincerely wrong, but sincere.”

In the 1980s, Camping belonged to the Christian Reformed Church of Alameda, but his increasingly influential doomsday teachings in its Sunday school were raising the hackles of church elders. Camping, they believed, was turning the Sunday school into a “para-church” whose views conflicted with the pastor’s. When the elders pressured Camping to modify his teachings, he instead split from the church in 1987, bringing a large group of parishioners with him, and established the Alameda Bible Fellowship. Gistand was one of those parishioners, who went on to be one of Camping’s right-hand men.

Yet things didn’t exactly go smoothly. After September 6, 1994 came and went uneventfully, Gistand and other Camping followers hoped their leader would admit he’d been wrong and move on. Camping refused. “A lot of his family members left and took negative positions toward him after that,” Gistand says. “He’s suffered for what he’s taught, believe me. But he has sort of stiffened his back and has taken a martyred position: ‘I’m being persecuted for the truth.’ And, you know, when you do that, you become utterly blind to any legitimate criticism and observation.”

So Gistand himself moved on, leaving the Bible Fellowship and eventually starting the Grace Bible Church in San Leandro. “He had seven or eight good men who really cared about him during the time that we were trying to develop as a good, orthodox, Christian church,” he says. “But once he started preaching his doctrine, he ran so far ahead that we couldn’t restrain him.”

One of the things that particularly irks the evangelical Christian community about Camping is his refusal to accept criticism or consider the views of his peers. “He’s one of those people that doesn’t have a lot of self-doubt,” says theologian Tremper Longman III, who debated Camping in 1994 in front of 1,500 of the broadcaster’s followers, back when Camping was still apparently open to debate. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘crazy,’ but I would say that his obsession made him unbalanced as to his interpretation of the Bible. He has also set himself up in such a way that he doesn’t listen to criticism.”

Gistand now goes so far as to call his old colleague a cult leader. “I hesitated to call him one all the way up to the point that he started preaching the Dead Church Doctrine,” he says, “because at that point he had entered another stage of the typical heretical prophecies that take place under eschatology. You set your date; your date doesn’t come; you reinterpret what has happened — spiritualize it, mythologize it — and then finally just condemn everyone else as being lost.”

Which is exactly what Harold Camping did in 2001. This time it wasn’t about date-setting or eternal damnation. This time he was saying something that made even some of his most loyal supporters bristle: Quit your church.

According to the broadcaster, all churches — Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, you name it — have been taken over by Satan. “Certainly something strange is happening,” begins Camping’s manifesto, Has the Era of the Church Age Come to an End? “On the one hand we see churches everywhere becoming more and more apostate. Yet on the other hand we see a ministry like Family Radio becoming more and more useful to the Lord in sending the true Gospel into the world.”

This latest crusade is in line with the broadcaster’s doomsday obsession. His warning that today’s congregations are veering astray signals his belief that the last days are approaching — prior to Armageddon, the Bible says, there will be a “falling away” of the churches. And while Camping’s 1994 prophecy fell flat, in his view one need only look around at the liberalization of Christian denominations to see that the churches have been defiled: women and gays in positions of authority, a departure from the conservative teachings he grew up with, a preponderance of bureaucratic or corporate churches, and “Christian” rock bands singing about Jesus — and may God spare the poor souls who don’t see the writing on the wall.

Camping’s detractors, naturally, are having a field day, especially with his statements that Family Radio is one of the few entities that is still pure and blessed. It would be one thing if he were to say it to his own congregation during a Sunday sermon, but his following is estimated by some to be in the millions.

Since Camping began his campaign, conservative Christians have scrambled to dissociate themselves from him, and scores of others have decried his stance via Christian publications and Web sites such as FamilyRadioIsWrong.com. Camping’s radio ministry has lost key associates, with the Back to God Hour, Back to the Bible Hour, and the large satellite network known as Sky Angel all pulling out — not only for Camping’s divisive comments, but because he has taken to editing any mention of pastors, deacons, or churches out of the programs.

Some Christians fear Camping’s far-reaching broadcasts could bring about significant defections from the church. So far, though, it hasn’t been as bad as feared, according to Dave Rastetter, who oversees FamilyRadioIsWrong.com. “I have found that people are not pouring out of churches as would be expected,” he writes on the site. “I get an occasional e-mail from a pastor who has one man or at times one family leaving the church due to Harold Camping. And I’d put the number of departures from what I can collect from my contacts from under 1,000 to 1,500 people bowing the knee to Harold Camping.”

In one of the more noteworthy episodes, Pastor William Shishko of the Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Manhattan told Christianity Today he’d lost 10 percent of his congregation. “One of the Camping followers who has left our church was a deacon,” he told the magazine. “He came to the point that he refused to submit to two of the church elders here. This man and his family left the church, as did several members of his extended family and two other families.”

The real damage, some Christians say, may be that when a man of Camping’s prominence broadcasts views that might be viewed as a few cubits short of an ark, he undermines the faith by scaring away nonbelievers, not just from the church but from religion altogether. What makes people especially uncomfortable is that Camping pits the gospel of Family Radio against the teachings of the church — an us-versus-them mentality that strikes some Christians as the height of pride and arrogance, the actions of a man who wants control of his own flock of believers. “It’s a cult,” says Patton, a Family Radio employee from 1974 to 1994. “Family Radio is a cult.” Rick Ross, who heads his own Jersey City, New Jersey, think tank on “destructive cults, controversial groups, and movements,” says he’s received repeated complaints about Camping and his nonprofit ministry. “They have been from people who feel that they have been misled by him, manipulated by him,” he says. “This is pretty much the standard call of a cult leader: ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ and ‘I am the only truth in town and if you’re not with me, you’re on the side of the enemy.'”

If it all comes down to who is reading the Bible correctly, Camping’s opponents are quick to note that no mainstream theologians agree with his interpretations. “People who don’t understand Bible doctrine or history, Camping can run rings around them,” Gistand says. “They are uninformed and listening to this one guru, one teacher, and they think he’s right. But he will not submit himself to public debate, nor public discussion with reputable pastors or teachers. Consequently, he has fixed his listening audience and his scenario so that he can appear to be correct.” Not so, says Tom Holt, a staunch Camping defender and friend who runs an entity called Bible Ministries International. “I’ve been to theological seminary,” he says. “I’ve studied the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, and I found him and what he wrote to be very faithful. I became very interested as to whether Christ would return in 1994, and when he didn’t, it didn’t discourage me from my interest in what Harold Camping was writing, because I found his books very faithful to the Bible.”

Since Camping wasn’t returning phone calls, the only option was to visit the place he goes every Sunday morning: the old Alameda Veterans Building, which hosts his Bible Fellowship.

The hall engulfs most of a residential block, nestled amid oak trees and breezy midcentury bungalows. On this Sabbath, families in varying sizes of bike helmets pedaled past happily, and an undeniably bored boy had set up a lemonade stand out front. There were no outward signs the building was being used as a place of worship, save for a simple sandwich board off to the side reading “Alameda Bible Fellowship. Visitors Welcome.”

Inside, about 75 people sat in a vast room whose stage was decked out with an immense red velvet curtain worthy of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz. At center stage stood a plain podium with a single microphone. No sign of any crosses, stained glass, or the props that one might find in a regular church, but the neat rows of beat-up folding chairs were littered with dog-eared Bibles and prayer hymnals. A pianist played soft songs of praise as members greeted one another warmly and caught up on each other’s lives.

One row over, a fortysomething woman wearing a wide, scallop-collared long-sleeve blouse under a pastel jumper was deep in conversation with a fresh-faced woman in a sari. It appeared to be the Indian woman’s first visit. “Even as I was getting divorced, something inside me told me it was wrong and against His teachings,” the parishioner proclaimed. The woman in the sari listened impassively, smoothing the creases of her wrap with her Bible.

But if Harold Camping is running a cult, we weren’t exactly being love-bombed. One or two friendly people approached to give welcome, but for the most part, the newcomers were left to themselves.

Then he appeared, entering from a door to the right of the stage. Harold Camping is tall, and was probably quite handsome in his day, in a Jimmy Stewart sort of way. Now his long face is deeply creased in interesting patterns, including a series of wrinkles that resemble a tic-tac-toe board on his forehead.

He emerged with a group of three other men, smartly dressed and important-looking, and quietly took a seat in the very back of the room in the very last chair of the very last row. Camping rarely addresses this congregation. Not only has he denounced hierarchies in churches, he isn’t a minister by trade. Alameda Bible Fellowship is democratic, with someone different each week delivering a sermon and leading the group in prayer.

After all the worshippers took their seats, the service began with the Doxology. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all people here below …”

A thin, grave man in his thirties took the stage and the room went silent. “We have a few announcements,” he said. “The Kim family has had a birth.” He then went on to describe the length and weight of the child, and time of delivery. His announcement was met with joyless silence. As the service commenced, a few traditional hymns were sung, the Ten Commandments given a cursory study, and a prayer made for the unsaved. Apart from the pleasant gurgles of an infant in the back, nary an outburst, laugh, or clap could be heard from this congregation.

No great surprise, really; like many an old-fashioned Calvinist sermon, the emphasis was on eternal damnation, the wrath of God, and the necessity of turning away from apostate churches that were “murdering” their congregations through false teachings. The sermon was delivered in a monotone by a speaker whose rote, mechanical-yet-rambling teaching jumped from book to book and verse to verse — each listener in the audience shuffling through the crisp, thin pages of the Good Book in unison. Even the most faithful found themselves shifting in their seats after an hour, trying perhaps to get blood to the part of the brain that had initially taken interest.

The less faithful went outside for a smoke.

“I come here because my husband likes it,” a Hispanic woman out front said under her breath so as not to be overheard. “I love Jesus, and I love church. … I don’t like his stance on church.”

Her husband had started coming to the Bible Fellowship after listening to Family Radio, something he does “for the whole time he’s awake,” the woman said.

Once she realized she was talking to a reporter, her eyes lit up. “Maybe you can tell me,” she said, leaning in close. “I heard that a few years ago, Mr. Camping went to a mountain with some people to wait for the end of the world. Is this true? My husband refuses to believe it.”

As she was speaking, the parishioners began to file out, Harold Camping among them. He outstretched his hand with a warm smile, and continued to shake even after learning whom he was talking to. “Oh, yes, I got your message,” he said kindly. “I don’t want to talk to the press, I’m sorry. All of my ideas and opinions are right there in my books and on my show.”

Camping seemed conciliatory, and after the fallout of 1994, it’s no surprise that he’d want to avoid the secular press. Yet his dodging of interviews has also given his enemies more fodder. They accuse him of avoiding ever having to defend his positions. In their view, Harold Camping answers to no one, and likes it that way.

After the service, newcomers were encouraged to come down to the basement for a free lunch. At the end of one table an elderly black couple sat close, sharing a sub they’d brought along with some potato salad. They were among the few who had seemed to be listening intently to the earlier sermon, and in fact commute from Sacramento every Sunday to attend the meetings. They left their Baptist church of thirty years to join Camping’s flock more than a decade ago. “There was too much focus on raucous music and fun; there was not enough emphasis on God’s wrath,” said the woman, who along with her husband asked not to be identified due to the “negative bias” of the media toward their fellowship.

But what of Camping’s stance that Family Radio is the only true church? “He is not saying that,” the man said. “He is saying, if Family Radio is God’s word, then it will survive.” And therein lies the problem with other churches, he added: They don’t read the Bible correctly. To those who would attack Harold Camping, the man had one thing to say: “The main issue is that if you can kill the messenger, then you really don’t have to listen to the message.”

Like the man at the fellowship, David Morrell has been frustrated with the controversy surrounding Harold Camping. A retired Philadelphia cop, Morrell has been the unpaid vice president of Family Radio for many years, and now travels the world setting up missions for the nonprofit. Camping, in his view, is “a sweet, nice person” whom God chose as an instrument to build up the radio ministry. “Everybody’s got to follow what they believe, Kate,” he says in his thick Philly accent. “That’s the nature of a person that’s sincere about his faith. Everybody has to follow what he feels is indeed the truth.”

Rather than view The End of the Church Age negatively, as outsiders do, Morrell sees it as a return to the roots of Christianity. “In the Bible, the apostles went into the streets,” he says. “They didn’t meet in formal buildings or in houses. In the streets, that’s the early church.”

But Morrell raises a fair question: What’s the harm in letting the Campers worship however they want to? Who’s it really hurting?

Well, for one, there are aspects of Camping’s behavior that appear to conflict with his teachings, prompting Reggie Wiggins’ ex-wife, among others, to accuse Camping of being a fraud or a cult leader. During the 1994 tribulation, for instance, Family Radio was actively seeking donations through September, and planning a picnic for October — pretty odd for a guy who’s 99.9 percent sure the world is about to end. Even weirder, on Camping’s Day of Reckoning, he closed on the sale of a house to one of his family members. Detractors also point out that he has never returned money, let alone apologized, to the people who gave everything to Family Radio in the mistaken belief that the end was imminent. “He put a question mark at the end of 1994 in his book,” insists Camping’s friend Tom Holt. “In the text of the book, he suggested that he could be wrong.”

As for Camping’s Dead Church Doctrine, some Christians favor a psychological explanation, pointing out that Camping’s distaste for organized churches and their hierarchies may in fact stem from the broadcaster’s break with his Alameda church in the ’80s. After feeling forced out, he may have parlayed his disdain into an antichurch campaign.

But there may be more to it than that. According to the nonprofit’s tax returns, Family Radio ran a deficit of more than $2 million in 1999, and almost $3 million the following year; some former employees report that the ministry began losing money after the 1994 flap. Could the timing of Camping’s doctrine be somehow designed to keep his ministry afloat? Gistand believes so: “What’s so obvious about Mr. Camping’s doctrine is that the people are not to pledge allegiance to the local church, and are therefore not to support their local church,” he says. “Instead, give the tithing to him. You would think that people would see through this.”

Yet he’s quick to add that Camping isn’t out to make a buck for himself. Rather, he’s obsessed with expanding his empire, and that takes money. “It’s a bit too easy to put this whole thing into purely materialistic terms,” concurs Geoffrey Hubler, Wiggins’ former pastor. “I’m sure there are a lot of charlatans who want money, but the only commodity out there is not money. There are a lot of people who need control over other people. There are a lot of people who appear a certain way and the people who follow them become props in their own little world.

“The real spiritual commodity,” Hubler adds, “is glory.”

There’s a possibility Camping may find the glory he’s seeking. Even Martin Luther, after all, said salvation needn’t be found in the church. And Camping knows that being a revolutionary is no popularity contest. The radio minister’s Biblical analyses are in fact just unique enough that a number of theologians and religious leaders think the octogenarian could leave behind more than a vast network of radio stations when he dies. Like the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses before him, Harold Camping may leave behind a brand-new church.

“It’s very conceivable that when he passes on, someone else could take up the basic seat of his teachings,” Jesse Gistand says. “They could formulate it in a way to develop local fellowships all around the world who adhere to his teaching. It’s not impossible at all, and of course this is the history of your false cults.”

Yet, unlike the Witnesses or the Adventists, Family Radio doesn’t seem to have a charismatic heir waiting in the wings. “If Mr. Camping were to die in the next three years,” Gistand concedes, “this whole thing will phase out. There is no one capable of sustaining the type of aura he has. He’s an old man, and that’s the father-figure dynamic that’s much more effective in getting people to listen seriously than say, a young man like myself.”

Former employee Bill Patton has also speculated as to whether or not the organization will continue on as a new church after Camping passes away. “I have considered that a lot,” he says. “The problem is, there’s no one who could follow him that has the charisma he has. He has quite a huge following and is quite persuasive.”

If the so-called Cult of Camping is based on one man’s magnetic aura, and not so much his teachings, then it’s possible that Family Radio will carry on when he’s gone only by moving back toward the mainstream. “His charisma is that he speaks with great certainty,” says Pastor Hubler. “People who want the questions settled find it very comforting.”

With Camping gone, the only reason to turn to Family Radio may be its music and, let’s face it, most people who enjoy that era of smooth sterility already have one foot in the grave. But if Camping’s Biblical interpretations — painstakingly laid out in several of his thick, left-brained books like Adam When? and Feed My Sheep — end up as guidebooks for future Campers, the Church of Camping may end up being more than a momentary frown on the face of his detractors.

As for the true followers, they aren’t especially concerned about succession. To them, Camping has been an instrument of God all along, and if God wants Family Radio to continue, He will find someone else to lead. “God has put that ministry on [Camping’s] shoulders, and he’s the one who has brought it forth,” Morrell says. “Now I’m not saying that he’s done it with his skills and wisdom. I’m saying God has used him. God has filled him with His spirit.”


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