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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. Dave

    I am NOT the Mesiah!!! Stop following me!

    May 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  2. Can You Hear Me Now?

    Have a happy weekend everyone; see you next Monday.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • My Head is Stuck on Your But

      Amen!

      May 18, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  3. jilli

    Crackpots and conmen, they're the basis of organized religion.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  4. Whatever

    Thank you, Rev. Jeffress, for this thoughtful piece. You have articlulated many of my concerns about this and other "Christian" doomsday movements. I'm a Cal Tech graduate and a devout Greek Orthodox Christian (and am, therefore, a kindof endangered species). Needless to say, many of my CIT alums and my colleagues are amused at best and intolerant at worst of my beliefs. Every time I hear one of these stories from the lunatic fringe, I cringe, knowing that ignorant people will wrongfully associate my faith these crazies.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  5. William Demuth

    If these wackos kill their kids, the blood will be on CNN's hands.

    End of the world? These people are desperatley ill, and are a risk both to themselves and others.

    When will we stop tolerating this insanity?

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

      No, it will be on the hands of every person who did not call this crazy out of 'respect' for their religious beliefs.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  6. Kat

    If it ends.. it ends!! You can't base your life on that crap?! You were born to live your life..

    May 18, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  7. Andrew B.

    We saw some of these May 21 guys a few weeks ago. They rolled into town in some pretty nice passenger vans. My daughter asked if she could stop by on May 20th and take possession of one of the vans, because, you know, they wouldn't be needing it anymore. They said no.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  8. Kat

    You got that right!! Makes you look like idiots...

    May 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Free

      No more than the general idea that a 'loving' God would end the world to begin with.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  9. JasonP

    To the guy who said "we're miserable and now would be a good time to end the world" I say the main reason I am so miserable is living in a world with religious nuts. I hope the rapture does come and takes all you Christians so the rest of us can finally be free of you.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • TheTruth

      Jason,

      I hope you understand that not all Christians are like these nuts that you see going around saying the world will end on a specific date. Man, like I mentioned above, I'm a Christian, and I pray that people could see the real meaning of being a Christian through the way I live. I'm not perfect, but I try to be the best I can be.

      I understand that people like this anger you, the same way it angers me, but one thing I can tell man, I wish that people, such as yourself, wouldn't see us Christians as a whole with these lunatics or heretics. I just wish that people could see us for who we really are.

      So I hear you man, I hear your frustrations and your reasons, but don't let it blind you from seeing the bigger picture... Take it from me, I used to be in your shoes and I finally met real Christians who practice what they preach and live according to what Jesus taught, not to judge, but to love and respect one another...

      Taker care Jason, hopefully this message cleared somethings up for ya! :o)

      May 18, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  10. Love1489

    I am a believer but I do not believe that the world will be coming to an end on Saturday. The bible says we will never know when the end is coming, therefore, we can never prepare for it. My motto: Live today as if it were your last and love the Lord with all of your heart. You can never go wrong that way. What is there to lose by loving God? Nothing 🙂

    May 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Nicely said.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Free

      Love1489-
      "What is there to lose by loving God? Nothing"
      If you believe that 'loving' God entails being bigoted against gays and women who want to control their own reproductive lives, and you act politically on these beliefs, then you may not lose much personally, but plenty of others do lose something they value, right? Have you ever considered just how much damage stuff like this does? Sure, you can justify it all if you happen to be right, God exists and agrees with you, but what if you are wrong? Then you've hurt people for your own selfish gain and all for nothing, right? Can you live with that possibility?

      May 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • TheTruth

      Couldn't agree with you more Love1489... As Christians, we should believe in the coming prophecies related to the Rapture and the end of the world. But beyond that, we should live the Great Commission in which Christ taught us to "go to all the nations, preach the gospel, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

      To the people saying these hurtful things about Christians, you have to understand that not everyone of us behave like these people who are doing this. The true Christians live according to the Word of God and we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It's not wrong to love one another, so instead of looking at what a few rotten apples are doing, why don't you look at the real Christians who are out there providing love and care towards people who don't have it? Instead of looking at certain preachers who live to take other people's money (that's between them and God), why don't you realize that there are Christians out there giving everything they have to help others?

      It's real simple to judge us by looking at what these heretics are doing. But why don't you try looking at the real Christians who practice what they preach and live according to the Word? Is it so hard to look for people who do good things?

      May 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Free

      TheTruth-
      Every person calling themselves one thinks that they are a 'real' Christian, right?

      May 18, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • CRAIG

      amen

      May 18, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  11. Dave

    The Bible does give direction as to what time period will be the last days. Jesus talked about the bloom of the fig tree. The wide view shared by many ministers is that the clock started ticking in 1948 when Israel became a nation. The generation on earth when the tree blooms will not pass before the return. This means some will pass but not all. I suspect a generation may be 70 years. All we need to know is we are in the time period. We are not to try and guess a date or year.

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

      He was speaking of the generation he was a part of, which meant the deadline was about 40 years after he said it.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Free

      Come on, plenty of Christians had no difficulty making predictions of the second coming long before 1948, and they will be making more of them in the centuries to come until the day when the last person gives up the wait.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  12. Robert

    What if Harold Camping is wrong about Judgement Day but right about the earthquake???

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

      then we'll have a really bad earthquake, 🙂

      May 18, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  13. Silence Dogood

    Why is Harold Camping's "prophecy" about God causing the end of the world on a specific date any sillier than Robert Jeffress's "prophecy" that God will cause the end of the world on some unknown future date? Both claims are equally silly. The world will end when the sun dies out in several billion years, or when the earth suffers a cataclysmic collision with another body in space. The world will not end if human beings are all dead. The ego and arrogance evidenced in all these claims, and in the claims of all religion, are maddening.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  14. Endless Song

    Predicting addictively the judgment day is like predicting lottery jackpot numbers, only more sick.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bruce

      There is a correct answer to, "what will the winning lottery numbers be this week?"

      There may not be a correct answer to, "when will the world come to an end?"

      May 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  15. AthensGuy

    well, if they are harming Christianity, then I'd say they too have a positive side to them, right?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  16. Bruce

    Man, didn't the guy who claimed that "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." ever read Matthew 24:36? Don't they know that the Bible tells us that we can't predict the end of the world?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  17. bobrock

    Unfortunately, we are dealing with mentally sick people when it comes to religion. Psychologists would call it untreated "Delusional Disorder" (google that one!). Very difficult to cure, and only if the patient recognizes his/her problems as a sickness and is willing to be treated (therapy sometimes helps these people). What needs to be done is prevention – the government should be strongly opposed to any religion, and our children, starting early, need to be taught about the fraudlent and absurd gist of religion.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Kalen

      The notion of our government indoctrinating our children to distrust religion–now that's scarier than any doomsday prediction.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Kalen

      When these kids are dead, I will blame people like YOU.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Thinker...

      Well said bobrock! I am obviously a proud and out atheist but I do find the subject of religion very interesting. I find the whole concept interesting to say the least. I wouldn't call Religion scary but a select few do make it that way. Somebody who talks to an imaginary person in a room would be deamed crazy by our society. I find this word increasingly hypocritical if it were coming from a Christian because I don't see the difference in talking to imaginary person in the corner of a room or looking up to the sky and doing the same thing.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • David

      Delusional disorder is electing a president and expecting change for the better. LMAO

      May 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Thinker...

      @ Kalen
      I think Government should actually stay out of the subject all together. I personally think that children should be able to grow up without religion and then when they turn 18 they should be given the opportunity to learn about religion if they want to. My thought process on this matter would never work for any Religion because when the mind is young, trusting and palpable; this is the best time to 'brainwash' the mind and speak the nonsense that is religion.
      I think everybody should watch this video. I would be very interested on your responses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rwioe1SGkQ

      May 18, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • clark

      The religion business is like the tobacco business. You have to hook them while they are young.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  18. TexTeach

    Robert Jeffres: truly harmful for Christianity. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/24/us/after-protest-by-pastor-interest-in-gay-books-at-library-grows.html

    May 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  19. Peacemaker

    First of all, I am a Christian AND a Liberal. I am not hateful, nor will I rant nor rage. I strive to "Love one another...." as Jesus' great commandment asks of us.

    These "predictions" have been around all my life. Every year or so we have a news story of some poor-soul who decides that God is speaking to him/her! These nuts have obviously not read the Gospels in which Jesus says that no one knows the day nor time. I seriously doubt that Camping knows!

    However, I do believe that one day God will end this world. Sometimes with all the hate I read on these blogs, I'd say it would be a good day to come, Lord, and put us out of our misery.

    Peace to everyone.

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

      I like your response as far as predictions go. It's funny how so called Christians predict the end of the world when as like you said their own book states that it cannot be predicted. I disagree with you on how we need our misery to end. Yes, there is much misery but it isn't it our Christian duty to make the world a better place while we are here?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Free

      Peacemaker
      "Every year or so we have a news story of some poor-soul who decides that God is speaking to him/her! These nuts have obviously not read the Gospels in which Jesus says that no one knows the day nor time."

      Can you explain by what criteria do you separate these modern-day 'nuts' who decide that God is speaking to them from any of the historical people to have made that same claim, including Jesus himself?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Free

      David-
      Why are you Christians so miserable? Doesn't your faith make you happy at all?

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

      @Free: I will gladly explain my criteria. First of all, some of these nuts are in it for their own glory and profit, as we witness with say, David Koresh. Secondly, Jesus Christ's message is one of love and peace. He did not come for His own benefit but to heal, to guide, to forgive and ....... save us, sinners. That's quite different from these nuts, whose egos are usually quite large. Hope this answers your question. After all, Jesus' great commandment is "Love one another as I have loved you." And another quote, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you......" Peace.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      @Free: We, Christians are not so miserable. In fact, plenty of studies prove the opposite is true! I said "take us out of our misery" meaning all the angst, pain, war and disease of this world. And in case you bring it up, we have free will which means that we, humans can also do stupid and evil things to one another. And no, God wont always stop us, we are not puppets.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • David

      Free: I didn't say that I was miserable. I said there is much msiery in the world. Haven't you seen the news lately?

      May 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • JohnR

      So "Peacemaker" wants to see the world end because he can't stand arguments on an opinion blog. Some peace.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Free

      David-
      Peacemaker said "Lord, and put us out of our misery." and you agreed with him, so I assumed you both must be living miserable lives to want them to end right away. Personally, I'm enjoying life too much to want it to end, and then I've got to think of my children's lives and how any parent could possibly ever want the lives of their own children cut short. I can see how such a person would be miserable, couldn't you?

      May 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Free

      Peacemaker-
      Getting rid of religious bigotry will ease quite a bit of the "angst, pain, war and disease of this world" wouldn't it?

      And 'free will' so long as you choose door number 1, but if you don't it's to hell with you. Doesn't 'free will' imply that no pressure or coercion is being applied?

      May 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • pat

      hey dude i heard GOD sent him an email.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Free

      Peacemaker-
      Are you saying that Jesus, or Paul, or Moses, or any of them could not have profited from gathering people around them under their leadership? That these guys couldn't have had big egos? The people who followed David Koresh followed him just as faithfully as people followed Jesus.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  20. Erick

    False!!

    May 18, 2011 at 3:48 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.