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My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity
Osvaldo Colon walks the streets of New York proselytizing with other believers that the world will end Saturday.
May 17th, 2011
03:27 PM ET

My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity

Editor’s Note: Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming "Forget Saving America!"

By Robert Jeffress, Special to CNN

In January 1961, a few days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, he invited Billy Graham to spend a day with him in Key Biscayne, Florida. After a round of golf, Kennedy and Graham were returning to their hotel when Kennedy stopped the white Lincoln convertible he was driving by the side of the road.

“Billy, do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth one day?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes, Mr. President, I certainly do,” the evangelist responded.

“Then why do I hear so little about it?” Kennedy wondered.

Were Kennedy alive today, he probably wouldn't be asking the same question.

During Kennedy’s lifetime, few mainline Protestant churches discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later, however, televangelists, network television programs, movies and books like the "Left Behind" series — which has sold more than 60 million copies — have succeeded in placing the return of Jesus Christ in the public consciousness.

A 2004 Newsweek poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture, the snatching away of all Christians prior to the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.

As a pastor who preaches often about Bible prophecy, I am grateful for the general awareness people have of the promised return of Jesus Christ.

But our culture’s newfound interest in the end times has a downside. Bible prophecy inherently attracts fanatics. As a seminary professor of mine used to say to our class, “Remember, wherever there is light, there are bugs!”

One of those fanatics is Harold Camping, the founder of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio in Oakland, California. Camping has predicted that the Rapture will occur at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, followed by the end of the world five months later on October 21, 2011.

Family Radio has plastered billboards across the nation with the warning “Judgment Day, May 21, The Bible Guarantees It!”

Road trip to the end of the world

Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.

Now I am going to make my own prediction which I’m (almost) willing to stake my life on: May 21 will come and go without any Rapture.

How can I be so certain of my prophecy? The Bible itself says that no one can know the date of the end of the world.

Predicting the apocalypse

In discussing His return to Earth, Jesus told His disciples, “... of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36).

If God has not even revealed to his own son the date the world will end, I doubt he has revealed it to Harold Camping.

My hunch is that the date God ultimately has chosen is one that will not be plastered on billboards around the country.

What harm is there in an 89-year-old preacher making prognostications about the end of the world?

First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.

For example, many secularists have dismissed the Bible because they assume that it teaches the world is only 6,000 years old. In reality, the Bible never makes such a claim about the Earth’s age. Instead, some well-intentioned Christians have misused the genealogies in the Bible to attempt to ascertain the date of creation.

Similarly, when next Saturday passes without a Rapture, some will say, “See, the Bible was wrong again,” when, in fact, it will have been Harold Camping who was wrong — again.

Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom.

Obviously, things did not go as planned.

A look at the ways the world could end

Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities he has entrusted to us if we knew the date we would be raptured into heaven. That is why God refuses to show us his calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignment.

But the most harmful consequence of Camping’s false prediction is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs.

Remember the boy who cried wolf once too often? The villagers were so hardened to the boy’s false alarms that they were unprepared when the wolf finally arrived.

When May 21 passes and Camping’s prophecy is added to the ash heap of discredited prophecies, some will be tempted to join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Make no mistake about it. As Billy Graham affirmed to President Kennedy, Jesus is coming back some day. Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return.

Don’t allow the Harold Campings of the world keep you from making the necessary preparation for the end — whenever it may be.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • End times • Heaven • Opinion

soundoff (1,945 Responses)
  1. erik

    Man what are you talking about Christians do believe in the old testament! See this is the kind of stuff that messes things up, I don't know where you go to church but Christians believe in the old and the new testament.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  2. Cubist Tut

    For 2,000 years people have wondered about the events of the end times and when Jesus will return. Terms such as millennium, tribulation, 666, and antichrist are used in the media and the supermarket, but questions remain:

    – Will Jesus return physically and reign on earth for 1,000 years?
    – Will Christians go through a seven-year tribulation?
    – Will the second coming of Christ occur at the same time that believers meet Christ in the air (the rapture)?
    – Will Christians be raptured (removed from this earth) and other people “left behind”?
    – What does the nation of Israel have to do with the end times?
    There are four different views of end-times events, but all share some key points:

    – Jesus will come again for those who love him.
    – Jesus calls his followers to be ready all the time.
    – No one knows the day or the hour.

    The fact that this group has given a date for the end times means it will not happen on that date.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Gumby

      Then all we have to do is predict the Rapture on every single day, and it will never happen! hahaha.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  3. Indigo

    Ummmm.... Wasn't Jesus born in Bethlehem? Isn't their time like 8 hours before ours? We all live as if the world revolves around us. It is so ignorant to think that the bible foretold of the world ending at 6:00 central time, which by the way didn't exist until about 2000 years after the bible was written. I smell a rat.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  4. observer

    LOL @ Eggs Benedict:
    What do you care about the choices we make? You seem to relish the thought that non-believers should buy asbestos pants.
    Why the hell should we get ready for May 21??? To go to heaven with guys like you?
    You must be kidding.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Gumby

      Exactly. Who in their right mind would want to spend eternity with fundamentalist Christians? They're boring, they're stupid, and they hate and hate and hate.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  5. Nat

    Ok let's correct few things here, Christians do not believe in the old testament it's the Jews. We do not preach based on the old testament. Also, Jesus always spoke in examples so do not take every word in the bible for what it's definition. Another issue, the bible was not written by Jesus, it was written by followers. People should not be following every letter in the bible but take the general idea only. And for goodness sake stop trying to predict the end. Who ever said the end is going to be the death of our race?! Have you thought of this scenario before, when we die we get judged, right? So why are we gona be judged twice? That's it, the end is when we die and get judged. there's not going to be another scenario.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  6. wierd

    But as I understood Christian fundementalists regard numerology a sin...sooo......I'm no expert on numerology and perhaps this just borders it but.....I don't know how his calculations using all these random numbers meaning something ISN'T numerology?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Gumby

      It is numerology. But if you read the Bible there's a lot of numerology in it. Christians don't like numerology when non-Christians do it, but it's fine and dandy when they do it. It's part of the "do as I say not as I do" doctrine of hypocrisy that Christians wallow in.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  7. rtbrno65

    The end of the world will come when the governor of a populous state fathers a child out of wedlock and manages to keep it a secret for ten ye...oh...

    May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  8. erik

    Lisa you need to accept Christ because your redeemer came along time ago and is coming back again. You Jews rejected your own because you thought he was going to come as a mighty warrior the first time when he really came as a suffering servant. Your Torah prophesies Jesus but yet you deny him. When he comes back is when he will be as a warrior to save Israel, Islam and Christianity. Islam will not be left out because God promised Hagar and Ismael a nation to. I don't know how it's gonna all go down but I know its sad that Muslims and Jews are blood related through Abraham but have been fighting for thousands of years.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  9. running2

    Hope the Feds are making sure there isn't another WACO texas...

    May 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Tevii

    I can see how this can harm Christianity. It might actually wake people up. It points out that some people will follow anything. It might make people realize, "Wow, maybe my ancestors were just as stupid as they are and maybe they started following something just as ridiculous and passed it down generation after generation and now i worship fiction."

    May 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  11. Chaz

    This article is right. People cannot know. Jesus will come when God says, not when man thinks. While i still think the world is only some (not necessarily 6,000) years old, this article was for the vast majority right.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  12. JaysonSF

    Is the 6pm EST, PST, etc...? Is that 6pm in Asia which is pretty much a day ahead of the U.S.?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  13. Lisa Kaiser

    The Jewish Scriptures do not propeshy that Jesus will return to earth. First of all, the Jewish scriptures have nothing to do with Jesus. Messiah is a Jewish concept. Jesus, a Jew, dod not meet the scriptural definiton of messiah, so he was not he messiah and will not be returning. Secondly, it is a disrespectful thing to take the scriptures of one faith, deliberately misinterpret them and say they apply to another faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • andrew

      Isn't that what you just did? BTW I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that there is no god.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  14. Gumby

    If May 21 is indeed the date of the Rapture, why is Harold Camping still soliciting money like mad? Why is he still distributing literature that, among other things, gives advice on how to leave all or part of your estate to Family Radio in the event of your death?

    Harold Camping is a cult leader, a fraud, a ghoul, and a financial con man. He should be in prison for what he does to people.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      Is h e doing anything illegal? Nut jobs are giving him money and other things willingly. How is that illegal? What better way to get rich than by starting your own religion? Also, there's the tax exempt status.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  15. erik

    Colin, Science came from God, he gave us the materials and the knowledge to do what we have done. Without the materials being here on his creation earth and God giving us the mind to do the things we do we never could have done them. Without God we can do nothing, we would be just like a ship without a sail. I mean really people come on you can really think all of these magnificent things just happened? You have to think deeper and be smarter then that. God is the master scientist.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Gumby

      Erik, quit trying to purloin science for your completely unscientific religion. It's dishonest. Of course, Christians are usually dishonest.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Patti

      erik, read up on the big bang, then you won't be as uninformed as you sound.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • RGeneration

      @Patti: The big bang??? Are you serious? You still believe in that nonsense? Do you even keep yourself informed? Scientists have as of yet not been able to prove anything associated with the big bang. In fact they have come out with additional theories to support the big bang – again not provable/verifiable. So your claim about big bang as though its a fact is poor.

      If you really do think you know so much about the big bang, tell me....where did that little tiny mass that exploded eons ago come from? Don't bother trying "Vector particles" and all that....that's another terrible theory that has been postulated to support the lack of evidence.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  16. Barter_Town

    Christians have some wacky beliefs.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • RGeneration

      They aren't Christians. A smart person like you should ideally know the difference. Unless of course you WANT to somehow tie them together for some good ol' Christian bashing. Mature !

      May 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Frogist

      @RGeneration: Well that's being a bit judgemental yourself tho, isn't it? Do you have the right to determine who is Christian and who isn't? Wouldn't they say the same of you? Sorry but you're just gonna have to accept that they are who they say they are just as much as you would want them to accept your claims.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  17. cyndie

    i believe that God will do what he does when he does. That is doesnt matter when or how it will happen it just will.. i believe that if those who believe in The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit and that they know in their hearts that when it is time to go it is time to go.. That there is no way to predict, stop or change the way of God. as is stated in the bible he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. We are just simple humans that have no power greater the God himself. When it is our time to go, it is our time to go and that is it. I dont mean to offend anyone or to say who is right or wrong there is no right or wrong answers. all we know is what we as individuals believe in.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  18. erik

    Jehovah Witnesses are a recognized cult by the Christian church as a whole. they are not Christians

    May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Gumby

      Christianity is just another cult. the JW's are as valid a religion as Christianity.

      Man, you sure are one brain-dead fundie bigot.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • really

      Umm?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • iggy1

      I didn't know this article was about Jehovah's Witnesses erik. You sound so smart.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Comment

      Erik, where do you get your absolute ignorance on JW's? Take a look outside from time to time and see who is "doing the will of God" as demonstrated by our now reining King Christ Jesus when he was on earth.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Christian Church?

      I'm curious what church you are referring to when you say "Christian Church". Is it: Adventist · Anabaptist · Anglican · Baptist · Calvinism · Evangelical · Holiness · Independent Catholic · Lutheran · Methodist · Old Catholic · Protestant · Pentecostal · Roman Catholic · Eastern Orthodox · Eastern Catholic · Oriental Orthodox (Miaphysite) · Assyrian · Jehovah's Witness · Latter Day Saint · Unitarian · Christadelphian · Oneness Pentecostal · Other? Please, enlighten us.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  19. not exactly

    I think i'll come up with a show, play it on the air at 6AM and all it will be is a black guy waving around a book with empty pages. I'll call it Seinfeld.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  20. ReligiousToleranceMan

    This guy has a point. I am Muslim, and believe me, what he says makes good sense. No one knows when the world will come to an end. It might be tomorrow or it might be a thousand years from now, but still no one knows. Even if it is this Saturday, it's solely God's will that it is and not because Camping made some lucky calculation. What I would like to see is CNN trying to get an interview with this guy once it all blows over on the following Sunday.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Gumby

      I hear ya. I'd like to see Camping try to explain his fool self too. But I doubt that will happen. Con artists have no shame.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Sam

      The end of the world, should it ever come, will not be because of someone named God. No such God exists.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • RGeneration

      @Gumby: All Camping has to do is say "Oops....calculation mistake". This is NOTHING NEW ! We've been seeing these kinds of ridiculous claims for a long time now. The problem is that MANY, MANY have given off their life savings to the cause and to Camping himself...and obviously its non-taxable. He has basically conned a large portion of people to part their wealth off to him. In the end, he's Madoff with the money.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • RGeneration

      @Sam: Your certainty is what surprises me. Even if someone fails to prove that God exists, you cannot claim to have enough information to say that God doesn't exist. Its a fatal flaw because you assume that ALL the knowledge that you have is enough to prove God's non-existence.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @ReligiousToleranceMan

      Hey there -RTM...

      One of the issues here is the 'unquestioned assumption' by not only you, but also the author of the article and others on this blog that:

      1)The end of the world will one day come. -I do agree... science does show us that 'one day' the Earth and all life on it will end.

      2)The end of the world *means* Jesus has returned. This one however, is the 'unquestioned assumption' I speak of. There is no proof in any way to 'assume' that 'warrior Jesus' is going to come and kill all of the unrighteous and send them to an 'eternal fiery hell' while He and all the 'good/believing' Christians are whisked off to 'Heaven.'

      I will say this... of course, for me to be intellectually honest here... I need to say...you 'may' be right in your 'unquestioned assumptions.'

      However, as you know, the 'end of the world' 'may' very well come and go (without) Jesus... or any deity for that matter coming to Earth to make itself known, etc...

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.