The signs are ominous: In Florida, North Carolina, even Canada, billboards warn that the world is going to end — a week from Saturday.
"Cry mightily unto GOD for HIS mercy," exhorts one of the signs posted by Family Radio, a network of Christian radio stations co-founded by Californian radio host Harold Camping.
Through a series of mathematical calculations based on clues in the Bible, Camping says he has determined that Judgment Day will fall on May 21, 2011, and he’s urging everyone to get ready.
Family Radio has erected some 1,200 billboards around the United States and 2,000 more in countries around the world. The network has declined to say how much the campaign is costing or where it is getting the funds to pay for this, but the Boston Herald estimated the billboards alone must cost at least $3 million.
The network also has sponsored five convoys of three or four vans that have been hitting the road since October, distributing fliers warning that the end is nigh.
Camping previously had predicted that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994. When it didn’t, he blamed it on mathematical error.
That mistake hasn’t deterred believers, who are getting ready for the end.
Richard Ascough, a religion professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, told CBC News he believes the group is sincere.
"I think they really believe it's going to happen," Ascough said.
He said such doomsday groups are cause for concern, because even if there isn’t a scheme to milk money from frightened believers, many people still end up getting rid of their worldly goods or taking drastic actions that they will regret when May 22 rolls around.
“They can convince people who may end up in fact doing things like . . . quitting their jobs, selling their house, not necessarily to give the money to this group, but simply to divest themselves in light of Judgment Day,” said Ascough.
Family Radio listener Lincoln Ropp, a medical student at Nova Southeastern University, told the Orlando Sentinel that he and his wife had given up their hospital internships to spread the word in Bulgaria.
"We're living at a time when God is opening up the scriptures and we have a responsibility to tell people," Ropp said.
But Christian theologians say there is no reason to panic — or to cancel plans for May 22.
“Biblical teaching can be an inconvenient truth to those who would set a month, day, and year to Christ's return,” Ralph Tone wrote on the Baptist Press website. “Jesus left no doubt about the futility of playing the dating game when he told his disciples three times in Matthew 24 not to go there.”
"I do believe Christ is coming, but I don't believe we know the time or the hour," Warren Gage, dean of faculty at the Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, told the Orlando Sentinel. "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.”
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