The end is near? Area clergy dispute Camping's claim
BRIDGEPORT -- To believe the teachings of those behind the "Judgment Day" billboards all over town, Saturday will be a day like no other in human history.
According to Family Radio, the Oakland, Calif., ministry that's responsible for the outdoor signs, Saturday will be a day of an earthquake that will trigger events that will be "more horrific than ever imagined."
But it won't be all bad, its followers say, because the believers of Christ will ascend to heaven Saturday to be forever with God.
"Judgment Day will be the end of salvation for the human race," said Kevin Brown of Philadelphia, a spokesman for Family Radio. "Just like with Noah's Ark, once the door is shut, no one will be able to enter."
How does Family Radio know that Judgment Day is neigh? The prediction is the work of Family Radio's founder, Harold Camping, 89, who has used a complex system of numerology to arrive at May 21, 2011 as the date of the Rapture.
Brown said that mortals will begin noticing that Judgment Day is upon us when an earthquake hits New Zealand about 6 p.m. their time, or 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
"It will be such a great earthquake that all the graves will be opened and all of the dead bodies will come out," he said. "The living believers and the bodies of those where were believers when they were alive will rise up to be with Christ in the rapture."
This rapture event, he said, will march around the Earth until the entire globe experiences the event.
But clergy in the region are unanimous in their disagreement with the billboards and the doomsday message of Family Radio.
"Here's my take on it ---- if you're sure it's going to happen, write me a post-dated check," said Brian Bodt, CEO of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches. He said that, to his knowledge, there were not any congregations in the region that were agreeing with the prediction.
"I'm running a 5k race Sunday morning with my son, and this would really mess me up," Bodt said.
"This saddens me when people make claims that the Bible never claims," said Craddock.
He said that none of Calvary's members have told him that they're taking the billboards seriously, although "I'd be naive to think that there aren't at least a few who perhaps are struggling with this."
"The gospels speak to the fact that many people seek to predict the day of judgment and the end if time. None of us can know the date," Bennett said.
"The fact is, there is no doctrine of the Rapture in the New Testament,'' said Attridge.
Attridge explained that the popular view of the Rapture was inspired "by what Paul said in First Thessalonians in which he's reassuring the people of Thessalonica that the people who have died aren't going to be left out in the Second Coming."
As for the book of Revelations, Attridge said that "it's more like a symbolic poem than a chronological map."
He attributed it to America's religious tolerance.
"One reason of this is our high regard for the First Amendment," he said. "Americans tend to be remarkably tolerant and uncritical of a very wide range on religious opinion," he said. "On the one hand it's respectful, but on the other hand, we won't step in and prevent religious people from doing things that are either hurtful or just plain nonsensical."
When the sun rises on Sunday morning, Butler said that the followers of the May 21 movement will likely regroup and "say, `well, maybe our calculations were off.' Then, they'll likely form a new group."
But Camping's followers insist the beginning of the end starts Saturday.
Brown, the spokesman for Family Radio, said that most of the nonbelievers ---- perhaps all of them ---- will die in the event. Those who survive `will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description and each day people will die until Oct. 21, 2011, when God will completely destroy this earth ---- and the entire universe ---- and its surviving inhabitants."
Brown declined to give exact figures, but he said that Family Radio, which operates about 60 radio stations in the U.S., including WCTF 1170-AM in Vernon, has spent "millions of dollars" on the campaign to spread the message. He said the group ---- it doesn't call itself a church ---- has thousands of volunteers.
"Many people who are able to are emptying their bank accounts because money will have no value after May 21st," he said.
Eric Lambert, of Lamar Outdoor Advertising's Bridgeport office, said that Family Radio had purchased about seven large billboards in lower Fairfield County and also had 15 large posters printed. One of these is tacked to a garage roof on Pequonnock Street in Bridgeport, about a block south of North Avenue, and there's a large electronic billboard near the Route 8/Interstate 95 interchange that flashes the "May 21" message.
Hundreds of billboards have been rented by Family Radio nationwide. The message in the billboards has gained at least a little traction.
"The End is coming ---- it's already begun," said one denizen of downtown Bridgeport Thursday. He declined to give his name.
On Monday, a caravan of five out-sized recreational vehicles, all with California marker plates, stopped at the McDonald's restaurant on North Avenue. The RVs, carrying about 20 people, were professionally painted with the Judgment Day message. They were joined by a few local believers who passed out literature. The caravan was on its way from New York to Boston. It was one of four such caravans traveling around the United States sponsored by Family Radio, all spreading the word about May 21.