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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. bigfishstory

    Like most everything, it is probably a mistake for those that haven't spent any face time to become overly confident in throwing out the dependable history (bible) and prophesy that has already transpired, along with the speculative and sheep scenario.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      So it's OK if we mock you on Sunday? I can wait a few days. I don't mind.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      I'm sorry, did you just call the bible DEPENDABLE HISTORY!?!?

      May 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Nick

      Oh boy, the bible is reliable history? So Noah really built a giant arc and saved one of every species of animal? The bible is clearly not historically factual, and is barely passable as readable fantasy.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • CC

      @Nick: I believe the word is "ark".

      May 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Jamie

      @SeanNJ
      Actually you can mock him before Sunday. It's supposed to start at 6pm Australia time and thats about 14 hours ahead of EDT.

      While all the Harold Camping crazies go off and drink the Kool-Aid to hide their shame on Sunday, I'm going to the carnival and eating cotton candy before going to work with the rest of the sane people on Monday.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  2. Jesus C.

    Hope everyone is ready for May 21!!! just to clear up some things.... Ill be arriving 6PM EST and I;m not bringing the Rapture.... Im bringing back RAPTORS. Dinosaurs baby!!!

    May 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  3. baba booey

    Personally, I'm rooting for a mass suicide.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • rich

      Amen Brother!

      May 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  4. Travis

    So when this does NOT happen can we then move away from religion and toward more logical ideas and theories... say one's that stem from scientific inquiry? That would be fantastic, but I think it is safe to say that when Judgement Day does not happen these religious simpletons will make up some ridiculous excuse as to why "God" has not come. This is one lovely circle of nonsense. Way to live life to the fullest; possibly your only life I might add. Religion... gets me every time. haha

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

      Actually, Travis, Mr. Camping has at least made a falsifiable claim, which is more than you can say for the vast majority of religious claims put forward these days.

      My guess is he'll claim another "calculation error" when it doesn't work out, which is apparently what he did in 1994 when it didn't happen then.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  5. brucemo

    It's highly ironic that someone would use the Bible to try to show that this crackpot is wrong.

    "No! You can't know! Because it says right here, nobody will know! So if you know, the Bible would have to be wrong! And the Bible's not wrong!"

    I agree that when the rapture doesn't come three days from now it's not a reflection on the Bible. It's a reflection on crackpots. Problem is, if you start talking about Bible prophecy being true, that's what you are, as well. Always.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • David

      ...the beauty of circular logic. The fuel that powers the next generation of followers.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  6. Meeeee

    I think that the good Reverend should be put in a mental hospital if his prophecy is incorrect.. Isn't that what we do with crazy people?

    May 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Bruce

      We used to, then we cut the budget because of deficits...

      May 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  7. David

    I love watching religious people claim other religious people are nuts. This authors argument is like watching two people argue on how Santa Claus is able to deliver presents to all those houses in one night.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Bruce

      Santa Claus obviously starts in New Zealand and works his way westward, duh...

      May 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  8. fixer2010

    Ironically enough, alot of you are commenting on "invisible" beings, crying you don't believe - but you sure do jump on these stories as soon as their posted. Me thinks you all do protest too much...... It's sickening. The truth is, none of you know and none of us will. If you don't believe, don't read the story or comment on the story. For something you believe to be so ridiculous, you sure waste enough time thinking about it. And one more thing - this is the BELIEF BLOG. Why are you here?

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

      We're here to make fun of you. Repeatedly. You desperately deserve our scorn.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Ogre

      fixer,

      We're just trying to keep you honest. Unchecked, who knows what you'll believe?

      May 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Next Weekend

      Because it is better than reading the funny papers, "Me thinks".

      May 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  9. ALL TRUTH

    bunch of wacks!

    May 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Next Weekend

      Amen!

      May 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  10. pat

    tell these idiots only GOD knows when will come.not even the angels know.so where do these saps.think they know

    May 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  11. rtmin

    I emailed them asking if they would give me one of those RV's they have been driving around in since they will have no use for them

    May 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  12. David

    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).

    I love when you Christians use this quote, but you leave off the most important part of the quote two passages earlier.

    “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” – Matthew 24:34

    So unless there are 2,000 year old people walking amongst us the time has past a long long time ago.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Bruce

      Exactly. What's more important to realize is that the gospel of Matthew was written at least 40 years after Jesus allegedly said those words, basically after the fact of the generation passing.

      That is, it wasn't prophecy. It was a reporting of history made up to look like Jesus predicted all the things that came to pass. The "end of the world" was most-likely when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, which happened before the gospel of Matthew was written.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • nwatcher

      I'm inclined to think that if the verses mentioned came earlier in the discourse, that Jesus was talking about something else in the later statement...

      May 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Bruce

      @nwatcher: You can be inclined to think what you want, but the generations verse is v34, only two verses before the more-often quoted v36.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Anna

      Generation in that scripture means Race...Humanity.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Bruce

      @Anna: LOL–no, "generation" means apples in that scripture, not the human race. Apples will not pass until those things happen.

      So mote it be.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  13. Don

    Search "Isaac Newton 12.25 2060" in which is what led Isaac Newton to issue his 2060 prophecy... “It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. Christ comes as a thief in the night, & it is not for us to know the times & seasons which God hath put into his own breast."- Isaac Newton

    May 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  14. George

    I do agree with Robert Jeffress here. It is unfortunate that we have people that go out and make such absurd claims as Harold Camping has done. What's even more unfortunate is that people actually believe what Camping says without researching it for themselves. It is amazing to me that some of these people are very educated and are intelligent, but do not study scripture very well. May 21st will come and go, but the damage that this false prophecy will do is enormous! You can be sure that Jesus will come again one day, but we won't find out when – until it actually happens.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  15. rich

    Christianity harms Christianity and the advancement of an educated thinking society in general.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  16. sokka1

    Is there a comet headed our way?

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

      Yes, there is. Several of them in fact.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  17. Mark J

    LOL, they are all worried over nothing. There aint(Yup I said it) gonna be no end of the world. Their, off their rocker...

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

      Yup, there is still plenty of time for you to learn correct English - "They're off their rockers."

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

      p.s. "ain't gonna" is even more acceptable than, "Their, off their rocker.."

      May 18, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  18. Rick

    Another Christian calling these Christians fanatical is hilarious. Just because they say this Jesus fellow is coming back now and the author says maybe not, maybe it's later, makes him no less fanatical than they are. The author's whole problem with this is that when the prophesies don't come true they make religious types look like fools, so what's his solution? Simply leave the prophesy open ended so he can keep scamming the gullible forever. So yes, they are hurting Christianity, but that's a good thing.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Brian

      Maybe, maybe not. If you knew anything about the Christian bible, you'd know there are many, many predictions, "prophecies" that, according to the Bible, have come true. Of course, can't prove it, nor can most be disproved. Ultimately, we are left with the metaphysical dilemma- Do I believe in something? Nothing? What's more likely, Luck? God? Design? random evolution by chance? Alas, some pretty sharp people disagree. No way to know for sure. I believe in love. The Christian Bible is a love story. Study it like a book club or like English class when you had a great, inspiring teacher. Maybe you'll see more truth in it if you better understand the love story.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  19. HenryMiller

    "May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity"

    Basically, anyone who believes in invisible beings in the sky is already a bit nuts. The doomsday crowd are just a bit nuttier; it's just a matter of degree.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Bernie

      I believe in Joe Pesci, he looks like a guy who can get @#$% done

      May 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Stephen

      My thoughts exactly; every religious individual professes their religion to be *the* one true religion, and calls every other religion crazy and deluded. I personally believe every self-professed religious individual is a bit wonky.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • JSH

      So you are saying you can only believe in things you've seen?

      May 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • David

      When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
      – Stephen Robert

      May 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • rich

      @JSH – seen or measured; some type of tangible proof based on more than unverifiable written accounts and oral traditions by people that would not even have been around to know "Jesus".

      May 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  20. William Demuth

    Tony Petrocelli

    I burn bibles. PUBLICLY (and a Koran or two for goofs)

    Why would I fear a religion of sheep?

    May 18, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • fixer2010

      Why would you read this story?

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

      Wow! You are soooo tough! Totally bad ass.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      Wow...I'm impressed. Do you rent yourself out for kids birthday parties too? See, as a Christian, I do not judge, I leave that up for later.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:49 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.