As Harold Camping prepares to explain his failed Judgment Day prediction, family and friends of some of his most ardent supporters are becoming increasingly anxious.
Aware that following his 1994 failure there was at least one suicide reported, there are growing concerns about how Family Radio’s end-time ambassadors will cope with extreme disappointment and anti-climax.
The family of US veteran Marie Exley-Sheahan, who had been taking the May 21st prediction to the Muslim world, have made a desperate plea for her to contact them.
Marie, who had shared her experiences on-line via a blog and her Facebook page, last posted a message as May 21st officially ended at the International Date Line. It simply read: “My prayer for family and friends: ‘Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ My hope: ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ Love to all…’???
Nine hours later her family sent this message via Facebook from the site in the name of Linda Post-Exley.
“Marie your Dad and I love u and will always We only ask u to think about this: Matthew 24:36, ‘BUT ABOUT THAT DAY OR HOUR NO ONE KNOWS, NOT EVEN THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN, NOR THE SON,BUT ONLY THE FATHER.’ JESUS TOLD IN ACTS 1: 7: ‘IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW THE TIMES OR DATES THE FATHER HAS SET BY HIS OWN AUTHORITY.’ MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT. NO ONE EXCEPT GOD KNOWS THE DAY AND HOUR OF JESUS RETURN TO EARTH. IF JESUS DIDN’T KNOW ISN’T IT CRAZY TO THINK SOMEONE ON EARTH KNOWS? PLEASE CALL US!”
The message received an immediate comment from one friend calling it, the “Saddest thing I have seen on Facebook in a while.”
Another friend reported trying to e-mail Marie unsuccessfully. Twenty hours after Marie’s last posting another friend posted, “Where o where is my friend Marie?? I love you girl, call or text.”
US military veteran Marie Exley-Sheahan travelled extensively around the Middle East to take the 89-year-old radio evangelist’s message to the Muslim world. In messages home she reported receiving a hostile reception from crowds as she attempted to distribute leaflets warning of Judgment Day on May 21st.
“We were temporarily detained by police but we had no serious issues,” she wrote in her blog. “The Lord kept the angry people restrained and kept us out of harm’s way.
“With Turkey being 98% Muslim, it definitely can be intimidating at times. We find ourselves becoming nervous, feeling the tension rise, in certain neighborhoods. Naturally, we have the people that yell at us, throw things, threaten us etc., and that can get discouraging. But then we notice the expressions on some of the people’s faces, expressions of fear or concern and some will turn and ask for another tract or two.”
In Dubai she bought billboard space to advertise the message, but the authorities had the message removed. “The Jericho billboard went up with 23 days left until Jericho and the whole world experiences Judgment once again,” she blogged.
Shortly before leaving for the Middle East Marie Exley, originally from Colorado Springs, married Michael Sheahan and it is believed they traveled together.
End time predictions are not a new phenomenon, but the Harold Camping prophecy will probably be judged to be one of the most widely reported in history, thanks to modern travel and the Internet. Followers of William Miller in 1844 were variously estimated to number between 50,000 and 500,000. One You Tube site explaining Camping’s Bible calculations attracted almost 2,000,000 viewers.
But with the immediacy of the Internet hundreds of unsubstantiated rumors connected with Camping have flown around the world unchecked. One widely read Twitter message currently reads: “Suicide hotlines set up. Camping’s previous failed prediction caused suicide. Camping has blood on his hands.”
So far there have been no reliably confirmed reports of any of Camping’s followers taking their own life, but as time passes, with no word from family members, there is growing anxiety for the safety of some of his most dedicated disciples.
Ted Harrison is a former BBC Religious Affairs correspondent. His earlier non-fiction book “Elvis People: the cult of the King” is acknowledged as the first serious look at the phenomenon of the Elvis religion. He also made an award-winning television documentary for the BBC “Elvis and the Presleytarians.” He has a PhD in Theology from the University of Kent at Canterbury. He lives in Britain, dividing his time between a home in Kent and another in the far north of Scotland. His latest book is “King Clone, and which is his 20th, but first work of fiction. Previous titles have included “Stigmata” and “Diana: myth and reality.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org