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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. Ethan

    Amazing Facts President and Nationally Recognized Prophecy Speaker Challenges Harold Camping’s May 21st Judgment Day
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/43054329

    May 17, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  2. Eric

    Wow, nobody believes in god any more. Maybe the end is coming, I seriously doubt its when Mr. Camping thinks but I definetely see the posibility of an all out war between several super powers, mixed in with some more and larger natural disasters. The world willl end but it may not be what you see in the movies.... it may just end as we know it and be a whole lot less populated.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  3. james

    I'm having a rapture party!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      How will you know if all who RSVPd actually appear?

      May 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • GEZUS

      I will be their my son.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  4. Blessed Geek

    According to 1Samuel chap 8, the messiah concept is a decoy to salvation.

    1Samuel chap 8 gives humankind two choices:
    – Lazy salvation – dependence on a king who will tax and exploit the people.
    – G-d's choice of salvation – dependence on community responsibility.

    There is no messiah except ourselves the human race. There is no Yeshua (salvation of G-d) except the human race.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  5. Jay T

    It's sad that so many people spend so much of their life being delusional and wasting time "praying" to a construct of imagination.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Oh God is real. He may be either spiritual as in the Bible or an alien species who introduced their DNA into prehistoric man to jump-start the evolution process but he is real for sure.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • GEZUS

      I agree! I waste my time drinking wine and writing comments on the computer! I wish I had some of those little round bread things they hand out in church, I'm hungry!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  6. Upon this rock

    Every day that God does not execute the final "Judgement" is a Day of Grace and Mercy. Grace means getting what I don't deserve (everlasting life) and Mercy means not getting what I do deserve.(lost without God).Just thank God He did not come today!! Nor is He coming on May 20th. When is He coming? NO man knows, but live like it will be later today.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      It's too bad that people don't really understand God's words. We shouldn't follow His word so that our souls will be saved, we should follow His word because it's the right thing to do. Too many people wear their Faith on their sleeve when they should instead feel it in their heart.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  7. YerOut

    Actually what harms Christianity is statements like "Make no mistake about it..Jesus is coming back..." and "1,800 verses in the Old Testament" predict it. Both statements are baloney. The fundamental arrogance of Christians that they alone will be accepted by G-d is worse than some wacko doomsday fanatic. And you're waiting for the third coming, not the second. Jesus was born (didn't fulfill the prophecies), he was "resurrected" (still didn't fulfill the prophecies), and now you've been waiting 2,000 years for his latest visit. He gets one more chance – three strikes and you're out.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  8. sadlyperturbed

    But not one bible verse mentions the rapture. This pastor lost credibility when he acts like the bible talks about that as well.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      I like JOregon's interpretation:

      "It would only be those that are saved that would be ruptured."

      It's a no win situation. You are either damned or ruptured. I'm not sure what's worse.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  9. Paul

    And herein lies the challenge in relying on anyone to interpret God's word for us. Mr. Camping makes one set of claims which Mr. Jeffress refutes by saying only the Father knows (which I accept as an accurate read) but then Mr. Jeffress offers that he knows why only the Father knows. See what I mean:

    "....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."

    Well Mr. Jeffress may be right about why God did not reveal (at least at the time of writing of Revelations, etc) that date OR maybe God had other reasons, which I could probably offer up a few plausible ones after some careful study of the Bible. Let's all be careful about putting our own spin on things, Mr. Jeffress. Maybe God hadn't made up his mind yet on the date...anyone remember the first flood? Seems to me that that was a bit of a do-over. Or maybe no man or Jesus knew because God hadn't laid out the discussion of the seven seals yet, which I find difficult to follow/interpret but presumably they serve some purpose.

    Again – when we acuse one of doing a disservice to Christianity, let's make sure we don't over estimate our own contribution. As far as most Christians should be concerned (my view), May 21, 2011 is as good a day as any. Let's just pray for those that thought they had the answer and probably wake up on the 22nd with their faith in tatters.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Linda

      I have struggled with this concept too. Christians say that God speaks to them personally, and yet what I believe is that a Creator Being would be so far advanced on levels that we couldn't even begin to comprehend. If a true Creator Being came into our midst we could not even comprehend the words. But then, humans do think this entire Universe revolves around them. It makes sense that they think a Creator Being would take time out of his or her busy schedule creating multiple universes and galaxies to speak to us because we're just sooooo important....... – somehow I doubt it.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  10. Pedro Delgado

    My world view, actually it's a new religion, is that the world ends, reality ends, when my brain dies.
    Don't try to persuade me otherwise. This is what I believe, it makes good sense to me and yes it makes me feel better.
    Aloha

    May 17, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • GEZUS

      Pedro, it will be easier if you wash it down with Tequila and a little worm. Now if you drink enough Tequila you will surely see the light.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  11. PleaseGrowUp

    Apart from being a smooth con to support their respective clergy, religions continue to be nothing more than primitive soporifics for the weak, gullible and stupidest people who cannot accept responsibility for and limits to their own lives. Rationalists should question any and all advice offered by supernaturalists who worship sky pixies.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Jay T

      Bingo! Religion is the opiate of the masses and a way to control public opinion and thought. It's pathetic that in today's day and age so many people still are so willing to give over their right of independent thought.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      I've always said that it is not one's religion that is important but instead one's Faith.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Linda

      While I take no solace in worship and do not feel the need to do so, I can understand that people need it and that it brings joy to their lives. I know a lot of people who were addicted to substances that ended up finding solace in religion – it's another addiction but at least it's not killing them. People cling to religion because it brings them comfort. I don't need it, but I can understand it, and I certainly would not want to take it away from anyone if it helps them, in any way, to get through the roller coaster ride of life.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • GEZUS

      Read GEZUS in above comments.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  12. Drew

    "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"– In reality, we already know when the world is going to end - in several billion years, our sun will turn into a red giant and the earths orbit will be swallowed in the sun corona. So no preparations needed for quite some time to come

    May 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • VeridisQuo

      Yeah, if we could just stop world hunger, or war, maybe we might get there!!! Nothing you can do.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • JOregon

      The earth is dying right now.
      Bats are dying off because of a so far incurable fungus.
      Frogs going extinct by massive numbers.
      Hope everyone likes mosquitoes.
      Wild Honey bees – Gone.
      Dead spots in the Oceans where nothing lives.
      Coral reefs, dying.
      Glaciers that supply fresh water, melting.
      The list is so long that this world is ending, I only hit on a small few.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      To JOregon: what you speak of has occurred countless times before during the billions of years of Earth's existence. Because we have only been on the scene for a few millions of years we are just newbies on the block.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • JOregon

      R&L
      Billions of years is only a theory.
      We tend to teach scientific theories as if they are gospel.
      Evolution for instance is a belief system based on theories derived from facts.
      When something doesn't work out they simply create a new theory. Or reject the new evidence.
      It is often taught that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
      According to John Ruben, an OSU professor of zoology. "This discovery probably means that birds evolved on a parallel path alongside dinosaurs, starting that process before most dinosaur species even existed."
      The reason is the thigh bone being fixed.
      Also,
      "For one thing, birds are found earlier in the fossil record than the dinosaurs they are supposed to have descended from," Ruben said. "That's a pretty serious problem, and there are other inconsistencies with the bird-from-dinosaur theories.
      Not sure if the link will work but I will try.
      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090609092055.htm

      May 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • JOregon

      Meant to add to my last post:
      But old theories die hard, Ruben said, especially when it comes to some of the most distinctive and romanticized animal species in world history.

      "Frankly, there's a lot of museum politics involved in this, a lot of careers committed to a particular point of view even if new scientific evidence raises questions," Ruben said. In some museum displays, he said, the birds-descended-from-dinosaurs evolutionary theory has been portrayed as a largely accepted fact, with an asterisk pointing out in small type that "some scientists disagree."

      May 17, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  13. Pedro Delgado

    On May 21st, let's all publicly announce to anyone around us that we try better to grasp the meaning of suffering in the human condition and do try better at alleviating it, in our own lives and those of others. Maybe just more eye contact and less blogging on the train.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Linda

      I spend 40 hours a week working with people. Blogging on the train is my solace away from being required to constantly engage people. It is quite possible that most of the people in the workforce spend their days working with other people. The train ride is a nice break.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  14. Kager01

    Of course it is not going to happen May 21st 2011 or any other date, It is all fiction and never will happen. It is funny how you said the fanatics predictions will distract people from when it "really" happens....HAHAHA you sir are a fanatic...

    May 17, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Lainey0828

      and you sir, are an idiot.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • VeridisQuo

      Aaaahhhh. Ahhhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhhh? Ahhhh. Ahh.... ..... Ahhhh? Ahhhhh? That is a summation of your life.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Patrick

      "and you sir, are an idiot"

      Would you like to place a million dollar bet that I am still here May 22nd?

      Methinks it is you who be ID10T.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • VeridisQuo

      Yeah, the world won't end on 5/21. But the OP is still stupid.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • JOregon

      @Patrick
      If it happens you would still be here May 22. It would only be those that are saved that would be ruptured.
      Everyone else is left behind while the earth disintegrates over 5 months.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • JOregon

      It would only be those that are saved that would be ruptured.
      Make that rAptured.
      oops

      May 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Hey, JOregon, nice Freudian slip.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  15. clark

    Religious belief gives purpose to those who have a need to believe they are more than an insignificant spec of dust.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  16. jma58

    I find it hard to believe that educated people feel the need to worship a diety.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Cousin Dave

      Me and the boys down in the hollow worship a hairy beaver!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  17. Leprakawn

    Doomsday prophecies are...?
    A: Absolutely true
    B: Utter nonsense
    C: Cannot wait for the next one!
    D: What day is it again?

    Vote here » reaganator . com » misc » polls

    May 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  18. Wooze

    Rest easy, Christians. I certainly don't lump you all together with the nutjobs, and I really don't think many non-Christians do, either. Just as I hope you don't lump all atheists together or all Muslims together. Deal?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Mark

      Deal

      May 17, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • C. Smith

      Refreshing, Woose, but Koga001 seems to disagree with you. I have no idea what 'most' non-christians believe, but there are unfortunately a very vocal number (and seemingly at least a large number) who do lump any belief in anything other than matter to be a sign of insanity. This speaks very poorly of the education (concerning what insanity actually is) and open-mindedness of those who do such lumping.

      Still, happy to see they aren't the only non-christians out there.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • GEZUS

      So we have +/- 33% Christianity, 21% Islam, 14 % Hinduism, 16% non-religious, and 16% other religions. So no matter what religion (or no religion) you follow guess what? Statistically at least 2/3 of the world does not agree with you. So why do you think you are the smart ass with all the answers? I don't think any religion is right, most people end up believing what they are brought up with depending on what part of the world they were raised.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  19. constantine

    it worked. constantine created the perfect fear: be a Christian or be doomed for eternity. that is the way to control humanity.
    the Bible is written by men. It is a book that drives fear into each and every believer. Such is the old testament. The new testament preaches the same. Be saved or be doomed. This still works in the 21st century. Look around. Whether you are Jew, Christian or Muslim your life, if you are a believer, is based on your religious preference. Look at how these faiths have operated over the centuries since their creation: killing, endless killing. It is all based on the shadow known only as the Almighty. Constantine. What have you done?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      The Bible was written by men and women. The men then decided to take out the books written by women.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Jack

      Yes the Bible was written by many men at the instruction of God by his voice and visions. I get to laugh everyday at those who have a choice not to believe, but use A.D. & BC when it comes to dating history, celebrating Christmas, Easter, saying Bless you when you sneeze LOL. I could go on. And Steven Hawking, why do you even use BC (Before Christ) in your teachings if Heaven is not real? There is proof and most historians agree that Jesus did walk the earth. All religeons agree to that fact as well! Anyway, we all have a choice and I choose not to give you water while you burn in Hel for not beliving in Christ!!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • GEZUS

      I created a great control for the masses! Look at all those simpletons! They give me and my goons (priests) 10% of their money and believe in some old story...Oh by the way, my buddy is the one who pulls the sun across the sky in a chariot. See y'all on May 21st!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • keri

      As someone who studies and has taught history I certainly understand your position. There have been many people that have used their beliefs (religious or secular) to control others. However, I must say that one should not forget the fascist and atheist leaders of the 20th century whose leadership and governments led to the massacre of millions of people in their lifetime alone. Perhaps evil is evil under any guise and we should be wary of those who would attempt to persaude that there is no law higher than the ones we create ourselves.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Patrick

      "However, I must say that one should not forget the fascist and atheist leaders of the 20th century whose leadership and governments led to the massacre of millions of people in their lifetime alone."

      Perhaps you should check again... Hitler was more religious than you think.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  20. Koga001

    If it helps, sir, i think that all Christians are bat-s*it crazy so what this small group of idiots is up to doesn't really influence how i feel about your nonsensical fairy tale religion. Hope you can rest easy now.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Lawyer in Atlanta

      Fairy tale garbage from a fairy tale cult. (I mean, religion?)

      Yeah jesus isn't coming back on May 21st, jesus isn't coming" back" ever.

      Jesus was never "here" in the first place. Wake up and smell the roses you religious freak.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:20 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.