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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. David Johnson

    @minnesotan

    You said: "Jesus himself thought he would return in "his lifetime". Jesus was no different from David Koresh or even this idiot proclaiming 5/21st will be the end."

    You are right. Jesus was just a cult leader, if He actually existed at all.

    You are also right about Jesus predicting His 1st Century return.

    Good post!

    Cheers!

    May 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Supremeamerican

      The bible said people like this would make false claims and bring a mockery to the faith. I have a gut feeling they are not christians, but are actually knowingly performing malice and harm to the faith, like the phelps.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Supremeamerican

      No, jesus said he would die and ressurrect before that generation passed away. And he did. Get over it.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Tony Petrocelli

      Dave your wit and intelligence is astounding. Jesus as a cult leader if He even existed at all. Bravo. No one will ever know if Jesus was the son of God until we die, but we are allowed our faith, but every idiot, well almost every idiot knows for certain that Jesus did in fact exist. Even the Jews and Muslims know that Jesus lived and walked this earth. There is untold written text stating that He did in fact exist. Before any one can take you serious, perhaps you should base your words on fact, not some fantasy you have and want to push on believers. I guarantee that as you sit behind your computer mashing the keys in anger attempting to reply to my comment, trying to have the last word and show how high your IQ is, you are safely hidden in your house and you would never dare to say that to anyone in person. Especially people of strong faith. You are a coward and only lash out when you know you are safe from retaliation. If you want your thoughts respected you should practice what you preach. I'm sure your parents, if they really existed taught you better. Or perhaps they are shamed by your behavior. I know I would be, but rest assured, Jesus will forgive you because that is what Jesus does. He forgives the mentally ill like yourself. Have a great Day "Sparky".

      May 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Jim Rousch

      Jesus did not say that He would return as soon as you imply.

      He said while there would be signs of when He would return, only the Father knows the exact date. He only said keep watch because you don't know when your Master is coming.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  2. ZooeyMama

    This is one of a long line of doomsday predictions from many religious cults throughout history. A shame really how many people will follow these nuts to their dooms. But what ticks me off is when they try to impose their beliefs and morality on others by mixing their particular brand of religion with politics. The founding fathers were wise men. Imagine if the nut job predicting the end on May 21st had been elected President of the U.S.? Don't laugh, it could happen.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  3. minnesotan

    Jesus himself thought he would return in "his lifetime". Jesus was no different from David Koresh or even this idiot proclaiming 5/21st will be the end.

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

      Jesus was obviously this:
      .
      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      May 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • bobrock

      What Jesus? Historically, there's no record of Jesus and his lifetime. The first mention is about 100 years after his supposed death.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      You don't have to "believe" in Jesus, that's fine. However, you do not need to insult Jesus & Christians to make your point. You can make an intelligent point and leave it at that.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  4. Melissa

    "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father" Mark 13:32. Anyone who claims to know anything about that day besides what the Bible tells us and calls themselves a Christian is what we would call a false prophet.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Bruce

      "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."

      Crazy doomsdayers predicting the end of the world in a very specific timeframe, an end that doesn't happen...

      May 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  5. Veritas

    55% of Americans believe in "rapture" and that Jesus is coming back one day, and 75% of Americans believe in "angels". You kind of wonder if there is still hope for this nation with so much gullibility, ignorance and stupidity. And while the "real" christians label these doomsday prophets as lunatics, they still believe in the same book and all the stupid nonsense in it. Go figure...

    May 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  6. Canadian

    CNN im disapoinnted that you published this. You guys are a respectible news media and you are also putting the fear in some teenagers that read your articles. The the GOD I beleive in (catholic) is a good GOD and him to see the suffering of innocent people is not what he wants. GOD did not give a date or will give a date. We will not know when the chosen date is

    May 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. Scott

    These are the same people that say Darwin and Freud are crazy. Correct?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  8. Orlando

    You know, I've heard this and of this kind of talk ever since jim jones. the mouth piece chages but the spirt is the same. We will always have the poor and false prophets as long as there is the rich and those in truth. So let this pass on, and those who will be swallowed by the ground, just as in the days of moses, be dealt with, I will make my calling and election assured. I suggest we all start examining what this claim really means..that the scriptures are correct.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  9. Jeff

    Morons, that's all I can say.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  10. Brad

    There is a bit of error in this Pastor's understanding of the passage(Matt.24:36). Jesus is the one coming back, remember, He and The Father are one(John 10:30), So of course Jesus knows the date, the hour of His coming back. I could provide much more scripture to support what I'm saying, but it would be rather long. The humanity of Jesus was speaking in this passage.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Jenelle Clark

      I agree with you, Brad. While Christ was on earth He limited Himself so that He may understand humanity and live among us. However, I am confused when I read the scriptures that clearly state Christ believe that He would come back during "his generation." Can you explain this to me so that I may understand? And this is an honest inquiry 🙂

      May 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  11. pistachio

    And how would Billy Graham or anyone else know? Does God speak only to him or other selected few people??? What a joke!! They have been saying the same thing since I was a little girl. That the blessed Mother left a letter saying when the end was coming. That time came and went years ago. Then people and newspapers gave other dates the world would end and we are all still here. Nothing anyone can do about it so just enjoy your time here.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  12. Steve

    And still, familyradio.com is taking donations on their website. Why? Because they'll be spending it all on Monday!

    May 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  13. Mike

    These people are crazy. CRAZY. What is even scarier than the end of the word is that these CRAZY people get to vote!
    God help America!!!!

    May 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  14. cindy

    what? and where did that info come from.................the horses mouth...................................

    May 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Mike in SA

    No man knows the day or the hour. If you listen to these individuals, you're just a deluded as they are. What's going to happen to them and their belief on May 22nd and everythig is the same?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  16. Damian

    So he thinks this will harm Christianity when it doesn't happen and non-believers will think the bible was wrong again? No it hurts Christianity b/c nutjobs like this are out there spewing this garbage. There is nothing wrong with relgion or Christianity as long as not used hatefully twisted weaponry but when people go so far out like these people they trvilialize it in my opinion.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      So will History Channel have a non-stop Marathon about the Armageddon again like it did the last time we were supposed to have the End of Days?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  17. Mike

    Unless you really want to get beat up, don't enter into any discussions of religion, politics or history with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Unless, of course you are talking to yourself, in which case you will only hear the responses you want to hear and can leave the truth to those who choose to talk to someone else who just MIGHT know what they are talking about. We will always have believers, and non-believers, for the Bible tells us so.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Damian

      That's a little extreme ..........nothing wrong with healthy discussions sometimes as long as people can be respectful. But you're right if you don't know someone you may not know where they stand & things can turn ugly in heartbeat.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  18. mm

    Can't help but feel sad for these people. What demonic spirit have lead them down the path?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Damian

      The crazy train !

      May 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  19. Steve

    This blog was well written. Cudos to the author. it is biblically based and sensible. Thus it will probably recieve little attention. Only when people calling themselves "christians" like Camping make outragous statements or predictions do people give it much attention. What a shame.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • UncleM

      How can anything based on the bible be sensible?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  20. Jack

    Wow. There are more hateful, bitter and raging comments here than there are on YouTube. I've noticed this to be a trend among liberals. They rage against others who aren't like them. They show no tolerance, yet they demand it for themselves. (And, for the record, no – I'm not a Republican either.) Psychology 101 says that when people rage and hate like this, it's because they fear what they know to be true. Liberals spew flaming wrath at Christians and God. But what do they offer? Nothing but intolerance, rage and hatred? No thanks.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Jason

      And Christians and Republicans don't do the same thing, if not more so?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • UncleM

      Wrong again. I don't hate theists. I pity their limited intellects.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Ed

      Aways interesting to see someone mixing a political label (liberal) with a religious label (christian) as if by calling someone one or another they are the same thing when they are not related at all to each other. Or could this be a purposeful effort to have people consider "liberals" as "un-christian"? If so you are also spewing hate and lies – albeit with a kinder, gentler voice – but deceit and lies is still hateful.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Wakeup

      All sides do it.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Kind of like conservatives, who demand freedom for themselves yet are loath to give it to others. I've seen more hateful comments coming from conservatives than liberals, and they inevitably start by questioning the patriotism/intelligence/work ethic of others, then the inevitable stream of comments about being a socialist, communist, nazi, etc. Your thesis about how people abuse the things they know to be true? Well, I've seen many a conservative do the same, and I saw no attempt by you to acknowlege that fact. With regards to people posting their views on religion, and the sanity of those who believe we are in the end times: what is wrong with that? If you are as tolerant as you claim, than why did you feel compelled to post unless your own beliefs are threatened? Personally, I agree with the author: if there is a God, he/she/it is not about to share that information with us.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bamafever

      Jack, Il'm a Liberal and also a Christian who loves people no matter the color or religion! Why do you assume that liberals aren't Christians? So according to you and Psy 101, your hate for liberals is due to your fear that YOU'RE NOT A CHRISTIAN. Why is it that most republicans think liberals are not christians? Yes, you say you're not a repulican but in my opinion you are. But that doesn't mean I don't love you because of your political affiliation/or lack of. Just keep in mind that you really don't know who is a christian and who's not-–but God does! SORRY, the bile is correct......Doomsday is not Saturday!

      May 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Justin_Imagine

      I agree that it's a shame that there seems to be so much hatred directed at these people. I do not believe these predictions are right, and I honestly don't believe in organized religion, but I do believe that everyone has a right to their beliefs. They aren't planning mass suicides, murders, or attacks, so why are they being treated with so much hate? It's a shame. But, just like it's bad to say assume that all Christians think like this, it's just as bad to make the assertion that all liberals are all spewing bitter and hateful comments.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Jeff

      Oh please, thats such a pat, pansy response. Let's not forgot about hate-speech on the right. I cannot remember the last time rhetoric from the left incited a someone to go out and mow down a US Senator and innocent bystanders. The problem with the Right, besides their flawed thinking, is their inconsistency and duplicitous behavior. Its a statistical fact that most of the deranged, conspiracy theorists hail from the political and cultural Right. I dare you to prove me wrong. And please don't trot out the Unibomber or Big Foot as your example.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Leo

      Luckily Christians are really open minded

      May 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Jack,

      I am a ...... liberal...... a Christian (life long) and I am not hateful, nor do I rage. IF you were observing carefully, the vast numbers of hateful comments come mostly from the Conservatives! You know the holier-than-thou types. So, Jack, don't throw stones in a glass house! Conservatives who claim to be "Christian" are some of the most hateful-spiteful people around, in case you need proof, tune-in to Fox News, or listen to what's going on with the Republicans!

      May 18, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Throw Like A Girl

      There are jerks on both sides. Being extremely to the right OR the left isn't good.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      Unfortunately for your argument, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes an idiot, like these flaming apocalyptic morons, is just an idiot, even if the accuser is a (gasp) liberal who doesn't believe, like 55% of Americans, who demonstrate their idiocy by believing in the Rapture.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:49 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.