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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. len

    Is that Greenwich time, International Dateline Time, Eastern
    Time, Central Time, Mountain Time, Pacific Time, etc, etc?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      According to Camping, it will occur at 6PM local time in each country starting with New Zealand and ending with Guam. If my local news does not report problems in New Zealand starting at 6AM EDT on Saturday, then Camping will be formally discredited. Unfortunately, it means I will have to mow my lawn between rainstorms again.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Grant Keeter

    Not even Christ knew the day or hour. But the Lord will return and he will come like a thief in the night. We ought to repent as a nation for our persistent sacrifice of children on an alter of convenience. We ought to turn from our wicked ways and repent of this culture of death. I am an abolitionist and I will not rest until the Lord returns or we have effected the abolition of human abortion.

    abolishhumanabortion.blogspot.com

    May 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Damian

      Yeah ok ..........whatever......I know there are some good meds out there for you.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  3. poli tics

    But of course they will change the date on May 22, to May 21 2999
    the 2 for even and 999 for the upside devil. Morons

    May 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • JB Cal

      2 for even and 999 for upside down 666 was your idea, yet you call them morons.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  4. Jen

    I refuse to discuss this until Sunday morning.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Best answer yet! Thanks.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  5. Realist

    And this is why Christianity is the fastest declining religion in the world amongst nations with the highest degree of eduction and the worlds second fastest growing religion in those places with the lowest degree of education.

    Deism up 700% in the US since 1990. Go Illuminati, founding fathers, and rationalists!

    May 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  6. Veronica

    Mostly I am disappointed that this article is so well-written but most of the comments contain little substance. I suggest that calling Christianity a fairytale on a blog is not only rude, but unproductive. If you're interested in conversation, that's one thing. But belittling a major world religion is bad form.

    All of that to say, good article. Good things to consider.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Free

      No more rude than suggesting that you're headed to hell just for disagreeing with them.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • atomD21

      @free... Exactly. I'm a Christian guy, but I have moved past most of the church's "sacred" beliefs, as a great portion of them are not supported in the scriptures they claim to be based on. Jesus never once told anyone to be judgemental or keep people out of church because they don't agree with us. On the contrary, his instructions were to love everyone. As a whole, we have not done this and I'm sorry. We as a people need to move past this us vs them nonsense and ALL work together to make this world a better place. And to those who attack the atheists for their opinions and vice versa, grow up. We need to foster constructive conversation, not snippy attacks.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • It IS rude.

      @Free: I don't know if you are similarly rude in comments regarding other major religion, but they all have an associated soteriology (the theological basis for "salvation"). Almost all have some form of "we're in–you're out" belief system. Belief that non-adherents are doomed to Hell, oblivion, or continued cycles of birth-death is not unique to Christianity.

      If you are an equal-opportunity gadfly, okay–you're just annoying. If you only kibbitz on discussions of Christianity, you're a bigot.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Well said, Veronica.

      @Free: NO ONE is suggesting you are headed for hell for disagreeing. Most Christians, I know, would never make such a statement. Atheists are free to believe what they wish, that's the wonder of God! That YOU can decide whether you believe or not.......... hey, peace be with you!

      May 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Whether rude or not, I think, depends on how it's said, but I disagree that it is unproductive. This article is an excellent case. If an Atheist or some other non-Christian can convince even one doomsday believer that the rapture is not happening on Saturday, thereby prevent said believer from giving away their possessions or quiting their job or something even worse, then it will have been worth the effort.
      If that preventative measure requires some offensive language, whose to say that it is rude?

      May 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Peacemaker,
      "NO ONE is suggesting you are headed for hell for disagreeing."
      You may want to review some of the other comments and article. Comments like, "...you will change your mind when you are burning in hell" are fairly common from Christians. And, honestly, from their point of view, and I suspect yours too, non-believers will end up in some form of hell. Isn't that what the Bible indicates?

      May 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  7. Todd Lombardo

    Good stuff. I wrote a new blog post about this for anybody interested in reading.

    What We Can Learn From The End of the World (Which Probably Isn't Saturday):

    http://toddwords.com/2011/05/18/what-we-can-learn-from-the-end-of-the-world-which-probably-isn%E2%80%99t-saturday/

    May 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • .

      good for you...

      May 18, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  8. Some dude

    Better start worshiping cthullu

    May 18, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  9. Dumsday

    I agree that Doomsday prophecy harms Christianity. That's why I'm in full support of it.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • batteryinme

      right on.......that the "end" will begin so soon after the National Day of Reason seems unreasonable!

      May 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  10. Some dude

    To rapture: Dude, if the devil influenced the bible, even if we only KNOW he influenced one section, than we can't trust ANY of it. It'd be kinda ironic, all the horrible things done in the bibles name would have the blame shifted to the devil, isn't having a nice scape goat wonderful?

    May 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Free

      Maybe it was the devil that came to Paul on the road and not Jesus? That would have been enough and it would have been easy.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Realist

      I agree, Some dude. You display logic that is lacking in the Christian ethos.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  11. PoconoPhil

    It turns out the only way to get to heaven is through a tiny little sect in Paraguay. Don't say you weren't warned.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  12. LM

    It may not be good for Christianity but anything that points out the absurdity of religion is good for humanity.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • batteryinme

      "amen"

      May 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Mike

      The biggest zealots I know are of the athiest variety. They've also got the arrogance and the patronization down perfectly. Honestly...there's very little difference between the annoying Christian and the run of the mill athiest.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Zobewan

    After listening to Harold Camping for a while, in my ongoing search for truth, I spoke to him years ago on his radio show, after he had made some statements about Baptism. We talked for 45 minutes about his comments on Baptism. He could not respond to my Bible-based retort on Baptism logically. The next day, he limited his call-in guests to 5 minutes.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  14. Tom

    I am an evangelical Christian. I also believe that Jesus will one day return. However, the "end of the world" prophets" have done far more harm to the faith than good. Jesus said, "But of that day and hour no one knows". We are not to live our lives like students cramming for a final. We are to live every day with the joyful expectation of his coming. I truthfully wonder how many of these prophecies we would have if the Old Testament standard for a prophet were applied. If the prediction fails to materialize, than the individual is to be stoned as a false prophet.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • CHERRYPIEGUY

      In other words your too lazy to work for a living and are surviving off of the insecurities of the weak and mentally challenged.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Sensible One

      Tom,
      Just like all the end of the world people past and present are seen as silly, so are you. People are not comfortable with the unknown, so they make up silliness to feel like they understand and have control. I grew up a christian and one of the most profound realizations I had was when I though native americans were silly because they thought the stars were their ancestors watching down on them. All religion is just variation of silliness, THINK about it.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Huh?

      @CherryPieGuy:

      ...but that would be a non-sequitur!

      May 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  15. BL

    It's all absolute, unadulterated, 100% fairy tale nonsense. Jesus is dead and he ain't comin' back. Not now, not ever. Not even if a gazillion silly, fake fairy tale bible BS passages proclaim it.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  16. Ben

    The biblical end has been predicted so many times in the last 2000 years that it becomes sickly funny. The Jehovah's Witnesses and 7th Day Adventist both worship under a religion that was originally a failed biblical dooms day cult. Heaven Gate cult all dead. Why people don't wise up and move on is beyond comprehension. Leaders like David Koresh that rule their flocks though doomsday cons and prediction are always fear mongers stealing peoples money and power for themselves through manipulation. Pretty cowardly and gutless if you ask me. Live your own life in truth and freedom, when Jesus comes you will know!

    May 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  17. raptorjesus

    Raptor Jesus is coming!!!! Only those with the most succulent livers will be saved!

    May 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  18. Barry

    " Beam Me Up , Scotty There is no intelligent life downhere "

    May 18, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Free

      Rapture seems like a very easy way for aliens to kidnap a bunch of willing humans, and then do whatever they wanted to them. They'll be convinced that whatever probes get shoved where it'll be good because they'll think God is doing it.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  19. blinker---henry----ferdinand

    JESUS IS DE WEG DEWAARHEID EN HET LEVEN ;WAAROM ZOU IK DAN IN HEM GAAN TWIJFELEN (2 PETUS 3 :1-17)

    May 18, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  20. Craig

    This particular group won't make rational people think any less of Christianity. People who aren't fools already take it for the fairy tale it is.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Mike

      Close minded is close minded.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:20 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.