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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. Carl LaFong

    And YOUR medevial hatred of gays and non-Christians hurt your cause.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Rob

      Carl is your self-esteem so low that you actually believe ALL Christians hate you and other gays? I for one don't, so I guess your theory is wrong.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Pat

      I am a Christian...and I will never hate any gay person!!!!!!!!!!!!I also DO believe that being gay might be a choice for some, but not for majority of gay people!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  2. nOT Trash

    Wow, debunking a fantasy with another fantasy. Bravo! What a feat!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  3. Raul

    No one knows if Santa is coming for sure this December either. Waiting for Christ is like waiting for Godot. Better be godly here and now.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  4. John Gault

    Uhhh, it's all a man made story, same as all the other religions littering the roadside of human history. How about we get real and accept that no one's coming and get to fixing this mess ourselves people.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  5. Justin Observation

    One of these days the world's gonna end, and chances are good that some crazy person will have picked that exact date... and for the two milliseconds they and everyone else have left to live, that person will be so proud of themselves. But for the 50 trillion billion days the other crazy people are wrong, they can't get no... satisfaction.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  6. Jennifer H.

    Thank you 🙂 Beautifully written and explained perfectly.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  7. Rod C. Venger

    The author is right. We should b prepared on a daily basis for His return, not pick some date in the future and focus on that. Just as with every life, we should all live as if today is our last. That means to make today the best day you can. Whether you choose to devote the day to God or yourself, you owe it yourself and those around you to make the most of each day you wake up. Maybe tomorrow you get hit by a bus, or maybe you get raptured...or maybe you get to enjoy yet another day. Only God knows.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • rob

      GOD! BLESS!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  8. Mark

    Clearly it's not crazy to think that a bearded man-god will come down to Earth, save all of those who profess belief in the correct religious denomination (place your bets now), and end the world.

    But obviously it *is* crazy to say that this is going to happen this Saturday.

    Yeah.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  9. misterp

    Yes, Jesus is here already, but he is not going around rapturing people. He is a staff writer at Time magazine, and you can read his work anytime. I believe some of it is online. He is a wonderful writer, btw.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Michael

    The word "rapture" doesn't actually appear in the bible.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  11. guy from NM

    Christianity is harming itself.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • nOT Trash

      Good. Burn.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  12. Mike V

    I think that you more moderate Christians don't seem to understand a key point: The craziest part of these doomsday predictions isn't that they're believed to be occurring on May 21. The craziest part is that a Biblical doomsday is believed to be real at all.

    So, you moderate Christians can look down on the May 21st'ers all they want; the fact is, you *still* believe in these completely nutty, unsupported ideas. You merely differ on minor details.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Monk E. Poopflinger

      Bingo! We have a winner! Yes indeed, there is a wonderful comedy in hearing one deluded Christian say that another Christian's beliefs are deluded.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  13. Peace2All

    One of the issues here is the 'unquestioned assumption' by the author, Pastor Jeffress... and other fervent believers here on this -belief blog.-

    There are several assumptions going on here, but the 2 main ones to reference here for discussion are:

    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 one of the 'unquestioned assumptions' I speak of. There is no proof in any way to 'assume' that 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 fair and intellectually honest here... I need to say...yes, of course... the believers here 'may' be right in their 'unquestioned assumptions.'

    However, as you know, the 'end of the world' 'may' very well and (IMHO–'most likely') come and go (without) Jesus... or any deity for that matters involvement.

    Respectfully,

    Peace...

    May 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Rod C. Venger

      You don't speak with respect. I read the words, miss the sincerity.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • nOT Trash

      Can't respect something that has set back humanity eons.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  14. AlienShark

    these guys are liars. I wonder how they will be acting around the coffee counter on the morning of May 22nd.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Artist

      The will be counting the money all the sheep sent in.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Name*sunnierdays

      I know I'll be there. Fill her up.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  15. YBP

    Christians do themselves enough harm with all their usual outlandish and insulting pagan beliefs (which have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus or Judaism). And now this.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • CAT

      YBP, you are somewhat correct in your observations. However, please know that there are some Christians who do not follow pagan traditions or observe pagan holidays.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • rob

      YBP The bottom line is............ Man has made God in his own image!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  16. keylargo

    Doomsdayers are Christians Pastor, check your colleagues, they're selling that garbage to the numbskulls!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  17. CJ

    here's your average christian morality:
    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.

    And this plonker still thinks it will actually come!!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Justin

      Actually, that is just your average person morality. People are selfish, plain and simple. I'm selfish and you're selfish. This couple was just doing what most people in the world would have done with the same resources, if they thought the world was ending. Now, was what they Christlike? Not at all. I know plenty of people like this within church. These are the people that just go to church and are "culturally" Christian. It's what everyone does, so they do it. They don't know what it means to follow Jesus and probably couldn't tell you the first thing about the Bible. They can only repeat what they've been told by churches and its leaders. Supposed "Christians" like this disgust me and disgust Christ. Don't let them set the example of what Christians are.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • CJ

      No, its a particular trait of followers and believers. The very process of believing you are special, you will go to some nice place, you and your ilk are 'gods chosen' and other claptrap central to being christian, is one of selfishness. Having the bravery to think and live with no god or belief certain is a trait that typically leads to more genuine kindness and empathy than any christian ever offers.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  18. jfjlksdjdf

    PEELZ HERE!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • whatever

      Please don't take the name of GOD and use it for purposes against GODs word.
      GOD is NOT the reason for what is happening in the world.
      Men and Women have created the disarray . We are responsible.
      Our Earth has become corrupt because of our ego.
      If the Earth is tired and GOD decides to help us along by taking it so be it .

      May 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • whatever

      Please don't take the name of GOD and use it for purposes against GOD's word.
      GOD is NOT the reason for what is happening in the world.
      Men and Women have created the disarray . We are responsible.
      Our Earth has become corrupt because of our ego.
      If the Earth is tired and GOD decides to help us along by taking it so be it .

      May 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  19. jim

    Baptist founders claimed the Catholic Church was AntiChrist. Now they just sing and talk about hellfire.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  20. Edgar Friendly

    "Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 13,000-member"

    Some megachurch pastor claiming SOMETHING ELSE is harming Christianity... that's a laugh.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:08 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.