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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. Johnny

    Harold Camping will have some explaining to do on Saturday, May 22 to all of his followers that gave up their jobs, belongings and left their families behind. Its the 21st century Mr Camping so get your head out of the clouds and stop spreading your rubbish!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Artist

      Actually I will be laughing at the idiots. Tell them to start praying hard...maybe their god will return what they lost. lol

      May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Olivier

      I agree

      May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • kayla

      saturday the 22nd?

      May 21, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  2. Artist

    As to his follower who gave him money. They deserve to lose it...they are sheep.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • WALKINGLASS

      Artist, they R wolves under sheepskins.

      May 19, 2011 at 6:48 am |
  3. Artist

    He believes the creation of the world to the year 11,013 BC.
    .
    lol a million times

    May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  4. Mordac

    Believers, send all of your worldly possessions to me! All of your money, your property, your jewelry...I will take good care of it when you disappear on May 21. I promise! 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Maria

      Lol!!!!! love it

      May 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Disciple

      Maybe we should call them "Campers" to distinguish them from believers. I'm a believer, but not in Mr. Camping.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • chris stone

      Mordac,,,,you willneed some help......I will help you in receiving and sharing all that stuff....he he he

      May 21, 2011 at 3:27 am |
  5. Paul

    OK, am I the only one that is astonished that 55% of American's believe in the "Rapture".. That is, the ones who have chosen Jesus will magically ascend to heaven? Like people floating up through the cosmos... Really America 55%??

    May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • David, CA

      According to the writer of this drivel. But having stood in line at the local DMV, I don't find it that hard to believe.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • George

      No one ever asked me. Did anyone ever ask you? The rapture isn't even mentioned in the Bible for Christ's sake.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Kevin

      It's not 55% of Americans. It's 55% of the people they surveyed. The results are skewed, and the group probably consisted of 100 people or so.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • llott59@yahoo.com

      It's a survey – 55% of those surveyed SAID they believe in the Rapture. It's a philosophical statement, not an affirmation that they believe He is Coming ... NOW or soon or ever. Just like the huge number of people who claim to be Christians because they went to church when they were children. Who is or isn't Christian, and who does or doesn't really believe in the rapture as a real event that will happen cannot be determined by surveys.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • chris stone

      I believe those "55%" are at least partially made up of those "just in case people"

      May 21, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  6. JLR

    After two thousand years of hearing this nonsense, you would think mankind would wisen up.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      Some people just need a crutch, some need an excuse to be irresponsible ("god will provide for me!"), some need to be led, and some need the power. That's just human nature.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Insanity: doing something over and over and over and expecting different results

      May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Artist

      Dont count on it, christians arent the brightest. lol

      May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • W247

      Artist and others – Christians aren't the brightest? Here are a few people you need to look up: JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis, RC Sproul, Dr. Del Tackett, Charles Spurgeon. All highly educated men that would probably leave you in the intellectual "dust", so to speak.

      Don't be so arrogant in your comments.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I'm sure you can come up with a better list of smart Christians than that. Lewis and Tolkien were both pretty decent writers (I'm being generous in Lewis' case), but they wouldn't hold a candle to the likes of Newton or Einstein. One doesn't need to read anything other than Mere Christianity to see that logic was not Lewis' strong suit.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • W247

      Stevie7 – and what are your credentials and degrees that you can dismiss these people so easily?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Ken

      Einstein was most certainly not a Christian. He repeatedly denied any belief in a personal God and said he believed in the "God of Spinoza," which is really no god at all, but just another name for the laws of nature. And Newton was Christian, but he was also an occultist, an alchemist, and a non-Trinitarian who obsessed over hidden numerological secrets in the Bible which obviously never went anywhere.

      Just because there have been smart people who believed in Christianity does not mean on average religious believers are of lower intellect than the non-religious. Among the elite tier of scientists, religious affiliation is extremely low (~15%), and studies comparing intellect and religious affiliation have always shown the religious to be less intelligent on average. Atheists, on average, know more about world religions than the religious, and oftentimes more about the specific religion of the believer.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Ken- Talk about a left handed slap against those who are religious. I would love to see an unbiased study on the topic about religion and intelligence.

      You know that there are studies done that are considered skewed because of who is being tested. Take the average poor person that lives an urban life. A standard SAT test might not accurately gague how much they know because of their background and make it seem they are not intelligent when in fact they just don't know the info being tested upon.
      So why is it fair to test a person with a religious background on science and expect them to get flying colors?

      I wouldn't expect a person with a strictly atheist background in passing a test on a specific religion that they aren't familiar with.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Disciple

      Ken – where are your citations? Einstein said "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.": (Albert Einstein, "Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium" 1941). Scholarly people know statistics without citations can't be investigated or verified.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  7. nina

    That anyone beleives in the "end times" or a particular day for the "end times" is merely an order of magnitude without significance.

    The faith is predicated on a threat to behave and worship or else suffer the consequences – all other claims are merely details – that there's been over 200 claims in the last couple of centuries to reveal the beginging of the end times and not a one has come to pass is less significant than that people beleive that is an end of time, a reckoning coming, in which the belevier good will be rewarded and the unbeleiving bad (no matter how good they were in fact) will each get theirs, shows the childishness and the danger of the religion.

    There is no god who will clean up the earth and make it into a paradise – we messed it up and we have to fix it.

    time to put away childish things like santa, tooth fairy and gods.

    random ntrygg – http://ntrygg.wordpress.com

    May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  8. Colin

    I am in two minds about this nonsense. One part of me says, anybody stupid enough to believe this garbage deserves what they get, but another part of me has sympathy for these poor fools. Imagine how it will be when, as the day rolls on and their sky-fairy does not appear, their doubts grow and grow, until at 12:01AM on 22, they are left with the harsh truth and no more property.

    It is sad and as an atheist, makes me all the more determined to do whatever I can to help people get over their silly religious superst-itions.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      I am there with you, brother!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Mordac

      No, I think that they will get just what they deserve..It'll feel like being slapped upside the head with a dead fish, but most of them will still go on believing. But hey, we have that Mayan prophecy in 2012 to get worked up about.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • sardukar

      They will simple go back to the drawing board and come up with another date...forever until they get it right..however they will not be able to say" I told you so.."..

      May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Catherine

      I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't,

      Than live my life as if there isn't, and die to find out there IS.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  9. sardukar

    Always remember it will be May 23 in Australia...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  10. phoenix

    the atomic christians[ the elite of the elite]will meet the Lord in the sky saturday, i m sure going to miss the heathen,, their cooking of course. lol

    May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  11. Not All Docs Play Golf

    In reality, the crazy claims about 5/21 are not all that much crazier than much of the belief set of the "mainstream" Christianity that the article suggests is being hurt by the doomsdayers.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  12. JLD

    in the bible it says i forget exatcly where but it says any man who predicts when jesus comes back or the end of time, that it will not happen on this day.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • chris stone

      well.....in that case ...I predict the end will happen everyday for the rest of my life

      May 21, 2011 at 3:40 am |
    • Tubester

      Teach your kids to do the same, and their kids, and their kids, and you've effectively nullified the apocolypse for as long as there's a human race. Apparently, god Isn't all-powerful afterall, and therefore, by his own definition, cannot exist. HA ha!

      May 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  13. tlp

    don't think that these peoples beliefs are anymore outside the bounds of reality than your own if you are a theist.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  14. Deacon Joe

    I am sure for some people their personal meeting with God will happen on the 21st as will for all the rest of us humans some day since we are not immortal. However, I like the idea behind Pascal's Wager. We all make a choice about whether we believe in life after death with God or we believe there is nothing. If we live a good life and believe that ther is no after life and no God and we die and find out ther is a God and eternal life then we lose everthing. On the other hand if we live a good life and believe in God and an eternal after life and find out that God does exisit and that eternal life is real then we win everthing but if we die and find out there is no God and no after life then we have lost nothing. Therfore, it seems to make sense to live a good life and beileve in God and an after life as a way of hedgeing our bet on this subject. Hope this may be of some small help.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • David, CA

      and that is what is wrong with all this; most people are doing good, or at least pretending to, not because they are good people who honestly want to help others, but because they're "hedgeing" their bet.

      Dont you think God would see through that kind of bee ess?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • JLR

      Your God seems very spiteful. That's not really a good selling point.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Drew

      Unless the God you meet doesn't respect those who believe in him based on "bet hedging", and punishes them for it. Living a good life doesn't require any supernatural belief. Be good for goodness sake

      May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • J.T.

      Pascal's wager, as you interpret it, assumes incorrectly that nothing is lost by believing in God or living a biblical life. Whether you are incapable or unwilling to acknowledge that loss does not change the fact that it must be paid. Exist, if you'd like, believing that you've lost nothing for your delusion, but do not attempt to trap us in faulty logic.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • IAMGOD1014

      How is it that the people that don't believe in God and an afterlife lose everything if its true? doesn't God accept everybody? And why is it that the people that do believe in God lose nothing if he isn't real? bogus logic.
      The bible is a book of tall tales. Just don't be afraid to die and you don't need a religion to control/guide your life.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Stevie7

      @IAMGOD1014,

      Clearly god is a narcissist.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • IAMGOD1014

      HahHah stevie7 you crack me up

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • player38

      You are not necessarely right... Imagine that you and me are two equally good people; you because you have your religion with its rules, and I because I sinmply think I should be good. Who would be better in god's eyes sicne he would know that you are good because you either exspect reward for your behavior, or you behave right because you are afraid of the possible punishment. While I am good for no reason; just because I think it is the right to do, and I neither needed promise of rward for my good behavior nor I am afraid of his punishment in case that I misbehave...?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Kit

      how about living a good life just for the sake of being good?

      May 17, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • smj

      @player38
      God says it is His choice on who will be saved, and who will be destroyed. Grace is a gift from God. There is absolutely nothing you can do on your own to get into Heaven.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Wanda

      AMEN!!!

      May 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  15. God

    You people are so naive to think that the end of the world will come in your lifetime, or to think that you are the only life forms in the universe. Get a clue people. The world was here long before you and it will be here long after you.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      Amen, brother! If it could the universe would laugh it's ass off at the importance some people place on dates. Do you really think that in the great cosmos our little calendars matter a damn?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • David, CA

      I'm waiting for zombie apocalypse, giant meteor, return of the dinosaurs, or alien invasion. Anything less would be SO disappointing!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • danai306

      Jesus gave us a sign post about the end of the world. Jesus said "When you see the Fig Tree in leaf....... know that it is very near, even at the door." The Fig Tree we know from the Bible is the nation of Israel. Israel miraculously became a nation again in 1948 after nearly 2,000 years of dispersion. Jesus said when we see this happen then we should know the end of the world is very near. Christians should have taken this warning from Jesus seriously.

      The end is definitely going to be in our generation. If May 21 passes without the rapture, the Christian world is going to breath a great sigh of relief but that will be the fulfillement of another prophecy: "When they shall say peace and safety then sudden destruction commeth upon them and they shall not escape."

      May 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Lums

      Danal, Israel became a Nation again because the Allies felt bad for them after WWII. this was a decision made by MEN, and not the brightest ones at that. It was not your GOD's divine intervention, but the intervention of our father's and grandfathers. When will people give credit where it is due and stop looking to the sky for the fix to the world's problems

      May 19, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  16. Carmen

    This was an excellent article. I appreciate the perspective and you taking the time to write it. AMEN!!!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • notexactly

      jeesy creesy

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Cyndie

    Let's see. This guy is doing math based on a book that's been translated through several languages and who knows how many intepretations of those languages. He's been wrong before and says he was doing math using a faulty understanding of the WORD. So either way this guy goes away. A: He's wrong and he's just embarrassed and we don't hear from him again or B: he's right and has been taken in the Rapture. I vote for A.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  18. JayBay

    Saturday at 6pm? Which time zone? Does god observe daylight savings time or standard time? The next guy who correctly predicts the end of the world will be the first to do so.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • David, CA

      Just after tea time. It'd be rude to interrupt tea don't you think?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  19. M

    "Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return."

    Wow..if the bible said so, it MUST be true?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      What about those verses that didn't quite fit in with the doctrine of the bible so they were just passed over?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • jersvette

      Nice!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • W247

      GA_ Such as?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • STLDan

      W247 it is a well known (well i thought well known but apparently you dont know) fact that many versus of the original writings of the bible were left out. The Catholic Church doing much of these revisions. If you are a practicing Christian and dont know this that is just sad. So it seems you believe and do what you are told without any independent thought on your end. You have done zero research into teachings that you most likely base your life on. How wise of you (place sarcasm here).

      May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Jason

      Citation needed

      May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Maeby

      Wait a minute...subtract 300 from 1800 and you get 1500, get rid of the 1 and two zeros and you get 5. 5 is the fifth day in the year.

      Now 1800 + 300 = 2100. Get rid of the two zeros and you get 21. Uhh ohh,,, this guys could be right.

      What about the time (the rapture is suppose to happen at 6:00....1800 + 2100 =3900...3900-300 = 3600...get rid of the 3 and you get 600. hahaha...im a mathmatical genious.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  20. bbrooker

    I for one can't wait till May 21st and hope they're right about the rapture. Earth would be a much better place on May 22 without the kind of people who hold progress back.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • David, CA

      I've heard of many post-rapture looting parties...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Kevin

      Couldn't agree more. Keep telling them. Maybe they'll all buy some Nike's a drink their own concoction.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • peggy

      Only GOD knows when this world will end anyone who professes to know that is a phoney and damed i GODS eyes

      May 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
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About this blog

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.