Harold Camping: A Failure of Accountability

Harold Camping

Harold Camping was wrong with his prediction that the world would end on May 21, he is still wrong about May 21, and now he is also wrong about October 21. The world didn’t end last May, so he revised his calendar and says the end will come this Friday instead. He is so obviously wrong that I feel little need to add to the discussion on that.

This unfortunate episode illustrates a broader lesson for all of us, though. It is a lesson of accountability, and it applies to you and to me in the support we give to any non-profit, whether it be a church, a community fund, a mission agency, or yes, a radio network.

Harold Camping is so deeply in error that the board of directors for Family Radio (legally known as Family Stations, Inc.) should have removed him from his position as president. As I understand non-profit law, the president serves at the pleasure of the board, and the board has every legal and proper right to relieve him of his position if necessary. (Other officers of the organization could initiate corrective action, too, though it would be more awkward.)

Instead the board has lent its authority to support Mr. Camping:

How can Family Radio be so bold as to declare a date for Christ’s return?

Given the overwhelming biblical evidence, the Family Stations, Inc. Board of Directors made a determination to dedicate all available resources to proclaim the warning of May 21, 2011. God has prepared Family Radio for this important time in history. Given the population of the world, radio and the internet are the perfect vehicles to deliver this warning.

From where do they derive the confidence to do that? The next paragraph on that page reads,

What proof is there for the date of May 21, 2011?

The date May 21, 2011 was derived solely from evidence found in the Bible. Mr. Camping saw God had placed, in Scripture, many important signs and proofs. These proofs alert believers that May 21st of 2011 is the date Christ will return for His people and begin a period of the final destruction of the world.

The board supports Mr. Camping because, well, because he said so. It’s the organizational equivalent of a circular argument, logically invalid (in a manner of speaking), and organizationally inept.

Back in the early 1980s the church I was attending in Pasadena hired a new music minister. He and his wife had just resigned from Jim Bakker’s PTL Club TV show, where they were both on-air performers. Even though Bakker’s public downfall had not happened yet, they knew something was wrong, and they saw worse trouble coming—so they got out while the getting was good. A very large part of the problem, they told me, was that the board of directors held no authority over Jim Bakker: if any member disagreed with him, Bakker just him removed from the board.

The two non-profits I have served with, Campus Crusade for Christ and BreakPoint, have both had very strong men in top leadership, and yet both also have strong boards of godly and experienced directors who were not beholden to the president. No organization is perfect, but this is surely the right way to handle leadership at the top. I would never serve in any organization without such accountability, nor could I ever endorse or support such an organization.

The reason for this is blazingly simple: people—including Christian leaders—make mistakes. Other people can help correct mistakes. But a rubber-stamp board of directors can do the opposite, and actually amplify mistakes, giving a false cover of legitimacy and respectability to the most foolish of ideas. Family Radio seems to think that the board’s endorsement means the whole thing has been properly checked out, when in reality it’s a failure of accountability.

The board ought to have removed Harold Camping from his position a long time ago. This embarrassment is not just Camping’s, it is the whole organization’s. It should serve as a lesson to all of us who serve in—or donate to—Christian organizations.

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