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Words Have Consequences

During last May’s “rapture” alert here in Richmond and around the world, the clergy here at Saint Alban’s addressed the dangers of so-called end-times prophecies. Indeed, such prognostication about Our Lord’s return is specifically proscribed in the Gospels by Christ himself.  However, words have consequences.

Bob Unruh of World Net Daily reports that Harold “Second Coming” Camping got more than he bargained for with his prediction that Jesus Christ would return to Earth to “rapture” his followers to heaven on May 21.  You will recall that Camping, 89, of Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio, prognosticated that mankind had run out of time, and the Creator of the universe would arrive on that Saturday. Now, the executive director of a ministry that works with the persecuted church in the northern reaches of Vietnam says that the “prophecy” preacher apparently cost the lives of many tribal Hmong people who believed it.

The horrific aftermath of the unfulfilled prophecy was reported by James Jacob Prasch, a key leader of Moriel Ministries. Prasch routinely travels and meets with members of the Christian body worldwide. A recent trip took him to Vietnam, where a large number of the Hmong Central Highland  tribal peoples known as Montagnards are Christian. These folks apparently had heard of Camping’s prophecy and not having sophisticated methods for evaluating its validity, took it literally, he explained.

The result, for many, was death, Prasch reported in an email to supporters.  After listening to a translation of Camping’s prediction some 7,000 Montagnards gathered on a mountain praising God their suffering at the hands of the communist regime was about to end because Jesus was returning that day in May to establish a new kingdom.  The police and military police slaughtered many of them at gunpoint – beheading two pastors. Others were arrested, and so many were shot dead that they were buried in mass graves bulldozed over.

Prasch reported that he spoke to a secret meeting of Hmong pastors to explain to them “false prophets and false teachers.” “Due to a combination of poverty, ignorance and persecution these poor Christians don’t understand much so they believed Camping’s shortwave broadcast which is how most get their teaching,” he said.  “These people already suffering for their faith in Jesus had it bad enough. They are not like the undiscerning whackos in the West who should have known Camping was a crackpot and a proven false prophet and false teacher,” Prasch reported. “This is a persecuted church who just had no means to know any different. This is why … I warn so much about false teachers and false prophets.”

World Net Daily’s attempt request of Family Radio for comment predictably did not generate a response.

In a related incident, when Camping’s predicted rapture did not occur, International Business Times reported that Ms. Lyn Benedetto of Antelope Valley, Calif., slit the wrist and throat of her two daughters and then slit her own to prevent them from going through the “Tribulation” on May 21.  Thanks be to God that a  neighbor summoned an ambulance in time for them to be hospitalized.

Upon hearing the story, Camping was quoted as saying, “Murdering is terrible. It is contrary to everything the Bible teaches. That would have been a horrible thing if she has done that. That will make me weep. That will fill me with sorrow that she would do that. The Bible teaches that we are to save life, not kill. If it is going to be death, leave it to God. God knows who He wants to kill and make alive. That is His business, not our business.”

Asked if he would take responsibility for such incidents, Camping, of course, said no.  “I don’t have any responsibility. I can’t be responsible for anybody’s lives,” he explained. “I am only teaching the Bible. I am not teaching what I believe, as if I am the authority. I am just simply teaching what the Bible says. And I don’t have spiritual rule over anybody.”

You bet, Harold.  A world-wide radio ministry, billboards up and down I-95 among other locales, and a whole passel of media appearances and you aren’t holding yourself out as an authority.  Owning up to responsibility for one’s actions is a Christian imperative.

Of course, Camping’s prediction that Jesus would return May 21 was not the first time he made a false prophecy. He previously forecast Christ’s return in 1994.  In the aftermath of his little “error”, Camping has adjusted his prediction for the end of the world to Oct. 21 of this year.

Just a couple of thoughts from the 25th Chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew.  ”And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (v. 36)

This episode illustrates a number of points, but, two chiefly come to mind.  First, there is a danger in Bible prophecy.  If you hear such teachings, you are well served to ignore them as our Lord directs.  You may even wish to direct so-called prophets to that 25th chapter of St. Matthew, although such folks are not typically swayed by actual Scripture, preferring, instead, their own “interpretations”.  As well, this incredibly sad episode tells us that words have consequences and, especially those of us involved in Christian teaching, Bible study or apologetic need to “set a coal upon our lips” before speaking.  Those yearning for the true faith are listening, and woe unto us if we lead others astray.

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