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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. TonyB

    Religious nutjobs... we have a bountiful harvest of IDIOTS in america. Could we arrange it so that it's the end of the world for these fools and the rest of us go on? That would be progress.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Ryan

      That is probably one of the BEST ideas I have heard in a long time!

      May 19, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • Reality

      Some other things that damage Christianity:

      Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Chuck

      @TonyB, actually that is what Rapture is all about, for a short time you will have this world all to yourself and all the "nut jobs" will be gone.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • God

      LOL! LOVE IT Tony!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  2. Pirate

    No No no. he got it all wrong. With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean 4, there will be more pirates and thus the flying spaghetti monster will come and heal the ozone! Phhh..silly Christies always getting it wrong. =p

    May 19, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • Larry McKone

      Careful, you might get called a Liberal Puke...LOL 🙂

      May 19, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  3. kookoo larue

    CNN: Stop featuring writing by idiots. This is one moron critiquing another moron. Wha wha your magical fairy tale isn't the same as my magical fairy tale! bloo bloo bloo!

    May 19, 2011 at 7:20 am |
  4. dfw75208

    I am stunned and disappointed that any credible news organization would give a voice to Mr. Jeffress, who has proven himself over and over again to be a hateful, bigoted man. He is the living definition of "Christian In Name Only". I agree with the general idea of his column here, but there are many qualified individuals and true Christians who should have been called to write the rebuttal to Camping's heresy.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Charlie1951

      As soon as I saw "pastor of the 13,000 member..." I pretty much dismissed this guy. Then again, I don't buy the whole mythos, so it doesn't much matter who the spokesman is.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  5. Larry McKone

    You Know.... When all these so called Christians (Who live lives so far away from Christ's example, it is beyond hypocracy.) Get sucked up on their holy whirlwind at the time of the rapture, I'll have no problem being "Left Behind". I wouldn't go if I was asked.

    I am a fool and a sinner who neither deserves nor expects redemption, but I am not a Christian. My own hypocracy goes only so far.

    The only reason I might entertain the second coming fantasy would be to watch Jesus come and set the Huckabees, Nugents, Becks, and Limbaughs of the world straight.

    Remember that scene in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall"? Place Jesus in the scene instead of McClure: "No, Mrs. Palin, I am sorry; you know nothing of my work!"

    Christians, deos it get any scarrier?

    May 19, 2011 at 7:02 am |
    • Triple R

      Liberal Puke

      May 19, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • Larry McKone

      Hey, I'm a Liberal Puke. Always wondered where I fit in the overall landscape. A Liberal Puke, huh? I Love it. Thanks.

      LOL LOL

      Such sad lonely lives some people live...LOL 🙂 I really do love it though...Liberal Puke. LOL

      May 19, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Triple R

      Sad, Lonely?... Chuckle! Not a chance. Living the Dream! Glad I made your day. You will fit in nicely.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Larry McKone

      You definitely geve me my morning pick me up.

      Just one question though, from everything you have learned in your bible, what do you think Jesus will ask you, and he does ask everything, or so I am told, when you stand before him, he pulls out his sheet of past transgressions and says:

      "Verily, my child, where in the book of love have I instructed you to call people names who do not agree with you? I mean, I got the love and compassion stuff right here, the turn the other cheek...ummm, just can't find the Liberal Puke section.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • Triple R

      Hey Mods... Delete my last post if you will please. Thanks

      May 19, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Triple R

      My intentions have played out just as they would in a poker game. You have reached within yourself to find the better side and look to love as the guiding light! Amen, my brother. Good for you.

      You are very close. You have opened the book and read. Acceptance is the next phase. Do not worry about me for I know I am not near perfect. I never will be for it is very difficult for me to turn the other way...Or so, I am told. What I do know is that society has changed drastically in a matter of a short period of time and it is not for the better.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  6. Bob

    The "Doomsday Movement" is only harmful to stupid people.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • Larry McKone

      Yes, Exactly.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  7. Duke13

    The Bible warns in many verses of false prophets. Harold Camping is a false prophet. There is no greater chance that the rapture will occur on May 21, 2011 than any other date.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • Jason

      I wonder what his followers will say after May 21??? Or better yet, what will they say after five month rapture??? I'd dont kno how much ot cost to join this group, but I'd ask for my money back...

      May 19, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  8. Believer

    Good article. Jesus is really going to come but no one knows when so lets focus our attention to spread His word so that people can accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. He is coming back for sure.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  9. Eric Smith

    Another bonehead move by my fellow Christians. EVEN THE ELECT SHALL BE DECEIVED! This just adds to the other side of the spectrum to those folks who believe that the world will go on forever just as it is. They are sufferers from normalcy bias. The end is truly near but just not next week you big dummies!

    May 19, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  10. WALKINGLASS

    What difference does it make if the end of the world is coming?

    All LIARS will LIE more than once.

    God's Son tells U to do what He says in Luke 14:26, 27 and 33 and U will be ready for the end of the world but ALL RELIGIOUS people say His inspired words R from stupidity or 'OUT OF CONTEXT' which is the favorite phrase that ALL RELIGIOUS PEOPLE USE.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:29 am |
    • outofideas

      I am not questioning your belief, as I think everyone has the right to believe as they see fit and as long as that belief is used to create good in the world, I see no fault in it.

      I do believe in God, and I also believe in proper grammar "U" and "R" are letters, not words. In fact they are short three letter words that in no way require abbreviating.

      May 20, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  11. MikeCT

    Camping should make public his bank account on the 22nd; if it has any money in it he is shown to be a hypocrite.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  12. Holly

    With all the scientific knowledge we have regarding nature, we still can't accurately predict the weather from day to day. How arrogant of some humans to think they can predict the second coming of Christ?

    May 19, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  13. Jamie

    Here's a reason more important than any other: This sort of prophesy frightens some children to death. Why does this prospect not even come up in this conversation? It's also the reason the bin Laden photos should not have been published.

    It would be nice for this society to at least consider its children in debates like this one.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:27 am |
  14. ILoveJesus

    It is absolutely harmful because the group's teachings and doctrines are contrary to the teachings of the Holy Bible.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:09 am |
    • suz

      how are they harmful? They hurt no-one, and other then making themselves look crazy, come Monday when they find that their version of fairy-tales is just as wrong as your version of fairy-tales, they will just fade away.

      May 19, 2011 at 6:32 am |
  15. suz

    Kool-Aid sales are going to make a KILLING this weekend! invest! 🙂

    May 19, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • lonecamper

      Make your hotel reservations for the eve of 21st to ummm celebrate it didn't come.
      If I could only invest in those rooms ! !

      May 19, 2011 at 6:39 am |
  16. Chadrack

    Hi Pastor Robert Jeffress,

    You got the whole thing quite right. I for one do not believe this prediction. Using some mathematical calculations to pin-point the date of the judgement and end of the world smacks of our not knowing the ways of the Lord. Of course this is going to do more harm to the body of Christ just as you rightly put it. However, I think it calls on the Church to do more of teaching on why we should be christians indeed and not just church goers who know nothing about the Lord. The rot in the church today is enough to add things like this. I think the mainstream church could really use this opportunity to point the people more to the truth about His coming rather than trying to discredit Harold's predictions. Yes, use the devil's one tool to do more good to the church. Let us for once forget the focus on materialism and self being propagated in the church today and point the people to the Lord's coming. The Lord will be more happier with us doing that than joining issues with Harold and his group.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  17. Steve

    Exactly what preparation is necessary for the end?

    May 19, 2011 at 5:21 am |
    • Locust

      A hefty donation to the Church of Harold Camping before the Rapture will guarantee you a spot in heaven.

      May 19, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • WALKINGLASS

      Just EXACTLY as Christ requires U 2 do in Luke 14:26, 27 & 33 and do not listen to ANYONE in RELIGION because they will tell U what U want to hear but not the TRUTH that the Holy Bible says.

      God is NOT STUPID or INCORRECT in the words He used to inspire His words in the Holy Bible but the children of the devil will LIE (John 8:44) and convince U that they know better than God and U will fall for it. God means EXACTLY what He inspires. The BLIND can't see the TRUTH so be healed and U can see the TRUTH. (Revelation 2:12-13)

      May 19, 2011 at 6:41 am |
  18. greg

    Religious cranks.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:07 am |
  19. billt

    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.

    wow

    May 19, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      No, it's the contrary.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      It's not harmful at all.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      It's one more minor disproval of the rapture predictions.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      “Jesus is coming soon!”

      May 19, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      For some desperate people, there's no other way out.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      There will be no rapture.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Burma Shave

      May 19, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  20. omg!!

    OMG THIS HAROLD CAMPING GUY IS SUPER RICH THIS GUY HAS MILLIONS http://losangeles.ibtimes.com/articles/148239/20110519/may-21st-doomsday-does-harold-camping-s-ministry-have-money.htm

    May 19, 2011 at 4:00 am |
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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.