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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. Aaron

    This is where religion ultimately leads you; crazy town. Most don't embrace it whole hog like this, and chose instead to simply wade waist deep as a means of remaining functional, but it's the same craziness, just measured in degrees.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bruce

      Well... that's a strange leap. If you read the story, it's clear the bible says that 'no man will know the time'. So it's not religion leading people TO crazy town... It's the opposite.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Mike

      Bruce, crazy town is believing in a magical guy that is not really a guy but really three guys in one guy, but each of those three guys has separate minds. Crazy town is believing that out of the thousands and thousands of religions that have sprung up around the planet, you just happened to pick the right one. The only difference between mainstream Christians and these "extremists" is that the "extremists" have guessed at a date.

      May 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  2. Mainetoboston

    These billboards are doing more harm than most people realize. There are several of these billboards in the town where I teach. My young students have been worried about this all week. As kids, they think that if it is up on a billboard, it must be true. I have had to explain to them that this is simply not the case. I did tell them that if the world does end this weekend, then they don't have to turn in their homework on Monday!

    May 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Free

      But if the antiChrist takes over wouldn't he have them do tons more homework than they're use to in the months before the final end? Oh, the horror! 😉

      May 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  3. bruce

    I have two comments First how come only americans come up with these stupid calls and how come we haven't heard anything from the POPE isn't he suppose to know all this stuff.

    May 18, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Free

      bruce-
      "First how come only americans come up with these stupid calls"
      One answer is that many Americans have realized that China and other economies will soon bump the USA off of it's pedestal and, to them, they'd rather see the world end before that happens.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Friend of JC

      The Pope is a fool , he has made the biggest sin of all , he dares to have people call him HOLY FATHER , which ONLY GOD is worthy of there for he thinks he is Gods equal and God will punish him severly for that arogance

      May 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Ted

      More religious bigotry that the world would be better off without. Why do you hate Catholics?

      May 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  4. Angel

    what about people like me? That don't even know what they are? Thats family is Christian, but are by no means a christian. Then what? So many questions, so stupid answers.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  5. Tom

    After a quick read of some of these comments, all I can say is that the misinformation and ignorance on display here is simply astonishing. An informed opinion is one thing, but most of those voiced here are anything but.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  6. Friend of JC

    As noted above Mr. Campings is a well meaning nut case that is doing way more harm than good. As noted , no man knows that date but it will come to be just the same .Its interesting that people will read history books about what happened in the 12th century but not the Bible .How do we know what happened in the 12th century , well, because people WROTE down what they saw and that is how the Bible was written also. How is it that so many people believe that all of everything came from nothing ?

    May 18, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • asrael

      And how is it that so many people think they have the meaning of "nothing"...?

      May 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Mainetoboston

      Do you have any idea how history is recorded? Historians use primary sources, archaeologic evidence etc. to come to their conclusions. There is absolutely no archeological evidence that JC even existed, nor primary sources except for a few stories of supposed miricles that even most bible scholars recognize as written decades if not centuries after JC was supposedly alive. The Romans who kept meticulous records on everyone who was a political problem during this time never wrote a word about this man. We know quite a bit about the 12th century because we have a wealth of corroborating primary sources and artifacts from this period. The ignorance of some religious people is appalling.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  7. Shawn

    "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

    Mark 13:32

    May 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Free

      But isn't the Son supposed to be the same person as the Father? How can the Father hide something like this from, basically, just another part of his own mind? Further proof perhaps that Jesus never considered himself actually God?

      May 18, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  8. iminim

    Unfortunently the media always focuses on the followers of any religion who are considered newsworthy due to their deviation from the mainstream, yet the public who have not studied the religions in question automatically assume the lunatic fringe being reported are the norm for that religion. Overall, it is only a small minority of those who call themselves Christians who burn the Koran, go about spewing doomsday "prophesies", and protest at the funerals of our servicemen & women. Yet for many of the commenters here that presentation of Christianity is all they know of the Christian faith.

    In the history of Christianity plenty of things have been done that were ethically questionable at best & morally heinous at worst. The Crusades and the Catholic role in the early support of Hitler both came from human interpretations of Christ's message that were tweeked to serve a political agenda or to gain power and wealth. There have been numerous bombings, murders, incidents of torture, wars, scams and acts of violence perpetrated under the guise of "Christianity". Until we, as Christians, are willing to call out the politicians and power brokers who use statements of faith as tools for self gain and power grabbing we do nothing but perpetuate the misuse of our faith and it's misrepresentation in the media.

    Likewise, we Christians need to have an educated faith. The Bible is a creation by man based on the inspiration of God. It has been edited, retranslated and studied more than any other book. The message of a loving, peaceful, redeeming Christ has remained the same. Insisting on a literal interpretation of the entire scripture locks us into also accepting the self serving alterations of countless human interpreters and scribes who may well have had less than Biblical motives in their work. There is no conflict between science and the true Biblical message, just between the allegorical "histories" of the Bible and researchable fact. As Christians we need to have enough faith in the true message of Christ that we aren't afraid to let go of the literal interpretation of the Bible. Clinging to easily disproveable Biblical content as fact only makes the true Biblical message that much easier for others to discount.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Free

      iminim-
      "Unfortunently the media always focuses on the followers of any religion who are considered newsworthy due to their deviation from the mainstream, "
      Isn't the only thing separating this group's beliefs about Christ's return and the 'mainstream' view just the matter of timing?

      May 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • iminim

      Over 2000 years and multiple generations of Christians have passed without a "second coming". Realistically the odds that a second coming will happen in a single person's lifetime are miniscule. Does it matter if/when there will be a second coming? Each of us is far more likely to die an individual death before then. Living our lives following the example of Christ and seeking prayerful guidance in our endeavors is the best we can do. If a "second coming" happens along the way, then so be it. I guess it depends on whether your actions are guided by faith or by the percieved end reward/punishment. Only the individual Christian can tell you what importance a "second coming" has in his/her faith.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Tom

      @Free: Only a matter of timing? No. "Mainstream" Christians (as you call them....I'm assuming you mean those who read and study the Bible and believe in the resurrected Christ) understand that it is a mistake for a person to presume to have knowledge of the date and time. This is the bigger picture. Who knows? This group might be correct. But they make a fundamental mistake by portraying themselves as having special "inside knowledge" of the date and time. This is such a basic mistake that it calls into question what other false teaching is occurring. To a believer, what they're messing with is serious stuff.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Free

      Tom-
      So, it's Ok to insist that it's happening very, very soon, but not that it's happening very, very, very soon?

      Tell me, by what "inside knowledge" do the rest of the rapture ready hold to the end coming within this generation? Wouldn't the same rule apply here as well making it more prudent to say that it will come some time, maybe sooner, and maybe in a thousand, or even 10,000 years? No, I suspect that wouldn't do. Gotta keep them close to boiling, but not actually bubbling over, I guess.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  9. MakeBelieve

    You Christians should just write a NEWER testament that puts things straight.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  10. moloa

    Should I cancel the haircut appointment I scheduled for May 22?

    May 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  11. CrowdedPond

    Sorry, no sale.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  12. JoelOnPolitics

    Dear Followers,

    I forgot to mention that you need to drink the specially marked Kool-Aid I have placed in your refrigerator exactly 1 minute before the scheduled Rapture.

    Sincerely,
    Harold Camping

    May 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  13. Patrick Jr

    I'm 18 years old, not a strong christian but im working on and even i no that this isn't going to happen. I dont understand why call yourself a servant of God when you don't take what he said to heart. God says that know one will know when Christ is to come, so why try n over rule what he says.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  14. prostock69

    People are worried about this small sect harming Christianity? I think we need to look at how Christianity has harmed humanity. It's worse than cancer. It spreads lies, hate, bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Minutiae

      You're confusing Christianity with the people who use its basic principles to erroneously justify their own will. Real Christians, who follow the Word of God in humility, are the best people I know in my life. Just because there are bad Christians doesn't make Christianity bad, anymore than it makes any group you identify with bad just because of some bad apples.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  15. Mike

    Yeah, read the Burned Over District by Whitney Cross....all the kooks in the 19th-century who predicted the end of the world but were wrong: inc. the ancestor of Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. This crap has been happening for a long, long time

    May 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  16. TSE

    If this guy isn't a pot calling the kettle black. Ha, I love hypocrisy, as if one outrageous claim is "better" then another. We humans are a mess of cognitive biases, ha.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Free

      TSE-
      "If this guy isn't a pot calling the kettle black. Ha, I love hypocrisy, as if one outrageous claim is "better" then another. We humans are a mess of cognitive biases, ha."

      Yup, it's like a Twilight fan telling their parents not to worry about Count Dracula being able to turn into a bat.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • abitjaundice

      "be not wise in thine own wisdom." how hypocritical is that? predicting the end all by themselves. sounds like wise asses to me. ego has created enough catastrophies in this world- a little humility goes a long way, not these maniacs.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  17. Tall Tim

    Judgement Day May 21, 2011? – http://gospelforchico.blogspot.com/2011/05/judgement-day-may-21-2011.html

    May 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  18. Zack Gallegos

    I agree with you I'm a firm believer in the 2nd coming of god and I can only pray that I am of the chosen to get to his kingdom but like u said slot of people are gonna loose faith in the good book because of this idiot

    May 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Ken

      If you're not sure, your not going to make it. A true born again person knows – not hopes.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Free

      Ken-
      You have to be absolutely sure to drink the Kool-Aid too, don't ya? That's the problem with too many Christians; they're not humble enough to even entertain the idea that they could be wrong. What egos!

      May 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  19. tw06

    The real rapture will be when people figure out how to upload their brains to computers and there is no need for human bodies anymore.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Free

      How would you be able to tell that your 'life' isn't just your being a playable character in some advanced SIMs game?

      May 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  20. dogs rule

    I wish all these crackpots would drop off the face of the Earth on the 21st, and leave the rest of us normal people alone. Whackos and meth-heads. I for one will be at a dog show, winning abnother best of Breed! I D I O T S!

    May 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Tom the Piper's Son

      Amen, dogs rule.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Dee

      Yes I agree-IDIOTS. Good luck this weekend!

      May 18, 2011 at 7:14 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.