On Harold Camping’s Family Radio website, there’s a calendar counting down to the end of the world.
Although Camping previously predicted the rapture’s coming in 1994, he’s more sure of it this time.
“Judgment Day: May 21, 2011. The bible guarantees it!” reads the website.
If that sounds familiar, it’s not just because he said something similar nearly two decades ago—you may have seen one of the 25 billboards that WeCanKnow.com has put up in the Twin Cities area. They’ve gotten Northfielders’ attention.
“I finally went to the website because I saw the billboard on Hwy. 52,” said Pastor Lew Anderson of .
On Saturday, according to the group behind the billboard, believers will be raptured up to Heaven and the whole world will witness an earthquake that will raise bodies from graves. Those left behind will face exactly 153 days of trial and tribulation before the world ends Oct. 21.
Religious leaders like Anderson, skeptical of Camping’s predictions, find them as easy to ignore as any other ad. Their dismissal comes from a major tenet of Christianity: the unpredictability of the apocalypse.
“It’s laid out that there’s going to be a judgment day, but at the same time, it’s pretty clear Biblically that we won’t know when it will come,” said Pastor Bob Iverson of .
Reverend Thomas Franklin of agreed.
“(Camping) has forgotten that scripture says that no man knoweth the day or the hour (of the rapture),” he said.
Allison Warden, who helps run WeCanKnow.com, disagrees.
“This isn’t a person’s opinion. It’s there in black and white,” she , a sister site to Northfield Patch. “In this particular instance, it’s right there in the Bible.”
While Northfield’s religious leaders concur that the end of days isn’t imminent, they disagree about Camping’s effect as a public figure.
“It adds fuel to the fire of Christianity being ‘out there’ and not sound,” said Anderson of Life21 Church. “It drives me nuts.”
Pastor Dean Johnson of the , on the other hand, warned against making Camping a pariah.
“We don’t need to go around criticizing him or putting him down," he said.
What complicates the situation is that Christianity has a long history of rapture predictions, with Anderson saying claims have been made for the past 200 years.
Johnson said that it goes back even further, referencing Acts 17:11, in which a group of people hears of the apocalypse.
“Even in the time of Jesus people were interested,” he said.
Even if the end of the world—or the beginning of the end— isn't Saturday, Christian religious leaders still expect the second coming to occur sometime.
“We don’t ignore it, but it’s more difficult to be ready when part of us is saying that it’s going to come but not in my lifetime,” said Iverson of St. John's Lutheran Church.
“I don’t doubt at all that it's going to happen, but we definitely cannot say it will happen on May 19, 2011,” he said. “I can guarantee you you’ll still be here next week."