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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. Christopher Harrison

    Non theists are not a group. The default human state is having no belief in deities. People don't believe in deities until they are indoctrinated into a religion, usually by their parents. Most people believe because their caretakers indoctrinated that "belief" into them. "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer deity than you. When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you'll understand why I dismiss yours.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  2. Ituri

    Christianity doesn't need these lunatics to make itself look damaged. They sure help get that message across though.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • SighNotThisAgain

      Please do not lump ALL Christians into your statement. Not all of us should be held responsible for the tarnished reputation most so-called Christians have caused. I am a Christian, but I do not consider myself religious. There's a world of difference between the two. I wish people would understand that.

      May 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  3. Levi Justus

    Harold Camping in Bible: It would be better to throw Harold Camping into the sea with a millstone hung around his neck as told in Luke 17:2

    May 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  4. Makos62

    The Bible, although revered by all Christians, was not and is not a history book like the one from your western lit classes. It is a road map to salvation in that it shows you how to live your life in a "Christ" like fashion. It doesn't do this by foretelling the future, but by giving examples on life lesson's.
    The purpose of the books, both Old and New, is to get you ready to meet your God, with a clean heart. Clean, in this instance, meaning loving and thoughtful of others.
    If more people would worry about being loving and thoughtful of others, and less about deciphering possible "DaVinci" like codes in the bible, they would all be prepared for the end of days, and our days here would be better until then.

    May 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Mythphile

      Alas, that's far too sensible an approach. We've been saddled with the burden for 2500 years that mythos means "lie" not "a story with inner truth." (See Joseph Campbell) If ministers would teach that there is a middle ground between "literally true" and "factually false" - that something may not be absolutely literally true in every particular, but can nevertheless impart incredibly vital truths, all the "book based" religions would be the richer for it. After all, Jesus didn't write things down. He told PARABLES AND STORIES. Literaliism is NOT what Jesus would do!

      May 22, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  5. Texas Slim Jim

    The notion that the Bible represents God's revelation to mankind is a dubious claim. Perhaps Christian apologists can enlighten us as to why it took so long for the OT and NT scriptures to be recorded and canonized and mass produced if the content was so important to us. One could argue that the Bible was not widely available to mankind until well after the modern printing press was developed. Not a very efficient way of revealing oneself...

    May 22, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. Saints Against Church Bullies

    Matthew 24:24

    24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

    You Will Know Them by Their Fruits
    7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  7. Jim P>

    Don't worry, this doesn't make Christianity look any more goofy than it usually does. We *expect* this sort of thing out of you guys once in a while and it certainly beats some of the habits you *used* to inflict on the world like Crusades, Inquisitions, torturing non-believers to death and Tammy Fae Bakker.

    You're kind of like a nutty old uncle who occasionally goes off on a homicidal rage but usually just sits around and makes weird pronouncements, we prefer it to the killing you used to do so we put up with you.

    May 22, 2011 at 4:06 am |
  8. Bruce Bandover

    I left Wichita Falls to join another church because I like the man juice on my lips!

    May 21, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  9. Bruce Bandover

    I was with my life partner at Luby's in Wichita Falls, and we were discussing how devastating this is for Christianity. I for one, believe that Jesus will return sometime soon, around December 21, 2012. That's the day that dreamy Mulder said on the X-Files that the aliens would invade.

    Obviously, there are no such thing as aliens.. trust me.. I've been hoping to get abducted and probed for years. So instead, I'll just sit and wait. Who knows, maybe instead of the Rapture... we'll get a Rap Tour!

    May 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Alan

    Plus, May 21st has ALREADY come & gone for the Australians. If none of THEM went, then none of US are going either.

    May 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  11. Emil

    Nothing should harm Christianity here since Jesus Himself said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." So, those who believed this false prophet are confused anyway. And, you won't find the Rapture anywhere in the Bible. The Catholic Church has two millenea of inspired teaching regarding the Scriptures. I recommend it. I recomment RCIA.

    May 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Mark

      Hi as a former RCIA member, I don't recommend RCIA. Is it me, or does the former boy Nazi, now Pope, kind of creepy?

      May 22, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  12. A Christian

    Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation
    (2 Peter 1:20)

    For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.(Romans 15:4)

    May 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  13. Mark

    Dont blame "GOD" for something He never wrote!

    May 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Tubester

      Yeah! Or for not existing!

      May 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  14. Mark

    NO RAPTURE!! No where in the Holy Bible does it say anything about any Rapture!, on the contrary. Jesus prayed to the Father that He was not asking GOD to remove us from this World! All who preach this Lie will be doomed. The Bilble warns preachers that they will be taken out of the "BOOK OF LIFE", if they add or take away anything from this Holy Book! Pick up your cross you cowards! or you are not worthy of OUR LORD!

    May 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  15. Ilove2teach

    Of course 55 percent of Americans believe in the rapture. Christians are the majority religion in the US and I'm sure they would like to believe that they, and only they, will escape the end of times. However, with what we know about religion and all the human suffering its caused and its ugliness, I think it may be the other way around,

    May 21, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • atomD21

      It is truly sad that we have fostered the belief that God only cares about Christians. The verse that many consider central the the faith is John 3:16 "For God so loved the WORLD..." It doesn't say for God so loved the church. After actually reading the Bible I've owned for many years, my beliefs have been in a constant evolutionary state. There is so much that we have gotten so wrong and are continuing on ion that fashion. I believe that God loves everyone, even people who say he doesn't exist. I believe he loves them so much that the idea of eternal damnation in hell is a lie (yes, heresy, I know). How can we say that God loves us unconditionally and yet his love only extends to those who say the right things, or go to the right buildiing on Sunday mornings? God is going to reconcile the entire world, not just the Christian set. Don't forget, Jesus was Jewish.

      May 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  16. bburke

    If we are created in Gods image as the bible says, then considering all that has transpired over the past few thousand years, it doesn't speak very highly of God now does it? I'm more inclined to believe that God was created in our image because we need someone to blame for our misdeeds. If our inhumanity can be explained away as Gods Will then we won't have to take any responsibility for what we do to each other. Slaughter in the name of nationalism is called a war crime, slaughter in the name God is called righteousness. None of it makes any sense and just helps to prove my theory of our created God because it appears that he's just as confused as we are.

    May 21, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Mark

      Or better yet, look at the many "gods" humanity has created in the past but abandoned because they were too much like us or no longer worked in explaining how the universe worked, i.e. Thor, Zeus, Jupiter. Are Hindu "gods" a creation of humanity? Where do they rank with the christian "god"? Is believing in Santa Claus as valid as believing in Vishnu? In the end I chalk it up to cowards who can't deal with the fact that there might not be any higher meaning to life other than what we decide it will mean. Hence the constant re-writes of godhood.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  17. Steve

    Why does someone who believes something a little different "harm" the root religion? Christians have been changing the rules to suit their own purposes and personal beliefs for a long time. Is being certain the Rapture will take place on a certain date any more ludicrous than believing a Rapture will take place at all?

    Just let it go. His prediction was wrong. What's the big deal?

    May 21, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • rs

      You're being intentionally naive. Of course it harms the perception of the root thing. If one policeman out of 10,000 beats somebody up and it gets caught on tape, it's a PR nightmare for the whole force.

      I contend that even though this is a very small group, people who dislike all Christianity are pushing to make it front-page news (it's the first thing on my Google feed) to create a straw-man to beat up. Put another way: if some crazy person was caught murdering kittens who was atheist, and every headline was something like "Atheist Kitten Torturer John Smith Apprehended", I bet atheists (and you are one, I suspect) would take issue.

      Association matters. People throughout the millenia have understood this. The people who are pushing this subject understand this.

      rs

      May 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • atomD21

      The real problem here is that the nutjobs are the ones who make the most noise, so people listen and pay attention to them. The people actually doing what Jesus taught and acted out are quiet, so they end up getting lumped in as part of the crazies. As a Christian, I am saddened by the followers of this particular lie, outraged by the hate mongers of Westboro Baptist Church, and embarrassed that the religion I am a part of has been spending so much time happily letting this world we were instructed to love go to hell (metaphorically speaking). Jesus wasn't concerned with being right, he was concerned with the people of this planet (all of them) and making sure they knew God's love, which is bigger than religion. Christians as a whole have really screwed up. We preach messages of unconditional love from God, but walk out of our churches and show love only to those easy to love, while extending judgment and hatred to all those who dare not agree with us or live "sinful" lives. We have created a religion based on being right and better than others, rather than on loving and accepting everyone just as they are. Jesus rebuked people like that. I said it in another comment on this story and I will say it again. We all (read: everyone) need to get off our high horses and stop bickering over evolution vs creation, gay vs straight, christian vs atheist, and band together to fox this broken world we have.

      May 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  18. DWJ

    I agree. Watching the newshounds rushing to interview these "Christians" is just pitiful. Part of the reasons that the general populace joke about Christians is that the media focuses on the 'nut cases' like Camping and the dimbulbs that follow him. Very few news stories on Catholic Charities, or the LDS's highly organized stores for times of trouble or just to help out a church member. Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and all other denominations all have charitable programs to assist those in need. These 'whack jobs' that operate out on the fringe of Christian beliefs get all the attention and become what the public sees as Christians – same thing with gun owners and gun rights, but that's a subject for some other time. Camping is a fool, as are those who donned the signs, spent their own money. This scenario has repeated time after time – idiots standing on mountains waiting for flying saucers to rescue them. The litany of failed predictions is long and pitiful. Pastors need to stick to the facts of biblical teachings, not try to reconcile them to support their own misguided programs.

    dj

    May 21, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Rose

      WOW, "facts" do any of you understand the meaning of that word?
      : the quality of being actual : actuality
      a : something that has actual existence
      b : an actual occurrence
      : a piece of information presented as having objective reality
      "The litany of failed predictions is long and pitiful. Pastors need to stick to the facts of biblical teachings, not try to reconcile them to support their own misguided programs."
      How exactly do you define facts?
      Is ANYTHING in the bible "factual"?
      What in that book of essays, poetry, mythology is evidenced empirically?
      REALLY?
      Read " The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking
      There is no need to explain our existence. We exist because we have to, there is no need for "God" because of GRAVITY.
      Simple, Occam's Razor, simple... REALLY

      May 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Jeff C

      Wow Rose, why the anger? Because someone has different beliefs that you? Because he used a word like fact, because he believes it to be fact? Archaeologists used the Bible alot in their research because they found it to be factual as far as times and locations. As far as the rest of it, noone can prove it to be false, including Hawking. As far as I have seen, Hawking has not created a universe, planet, or life. So he has some theories that can't pe proven. Just because you write a book does not mean you are correct.

      May 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  19. Rider

    is he wearing that shirt today?

    May 21, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  20. bburke

    What i believe is sad and scary at the same time,is that people who claim to be so religious are just so willing to sit back and let someone else tell them what to think. They are willing to take the word of some nutcase, who's been wrong before, over the word of God himself. If they ever bothered to read the Bible, which apparantly they have not, they would know exactly what the Bible clearly says about the return of Jesus. But no, they would rather allow themselves to become a world wide joke and an embarassment to christianity because they're too damned lazy to do their own research. I am curious to know how they are going to explain this non-event, and even more curious to know how many times these suckers will fall for this scam. The signs will need to be changed from"end of the world" to 'RECALCULATING".

    May 21, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      –>"What i believe is sad and scary at the same time,is that people who claim to be so religious are just so willing to sit back and let someone else tell them what to think. "

      Is it just religious or is it part of the make up of humans. We all have been through the history classes in grade schools so we bear witness to many points in human history where folks have been "told what to think". Even the term of saying that others are being told what to think just shows that the speaker is arrogant. No one looks upon a group of kids in a afternoon group that goes around cleaning up playgrounds, as being told what to think. The term is just a way for one side to attack the other side as lacking in cognitive abilities because they dare to think or believe differently.

      From Jones Town to the Third Reich and all points in between, the mentality of man is to easily conform and act as groups. Some run soup kitchens and some burn crosses. I have always held that none are sitting back and being told what to think. It is more that the selected group was already going in a direction and like a trolley car...folks just jumped on.

      May 21, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Evan

      1) Hitler, the Third Reich, the Klu Klux Klan, etc. were NOT Christian. Christ tells us very clear that if we truly are Christians, we will do as He says: love others.

      2) Stalin, Lenin, Mao Zedong, etc. some of the worst dictators in history, were "non-religious". It isn't religion that makes people evil. It's what's inside their heart.

      3) Christians shouldn't say that atheists and pagans are bad people. Christians should love non-Christians, as it is what Christ told us to do.

      4) Atheists often act like every single Christian who ever walked the earth is a bad person. In reality, a small handful (<1%) of people who claim to be Christian do bad things and hate others. Just as the majority of atheists are good, so are the majority of Christians.

      5) Christianity is not dogmatic philosophy. Nowhere in the Bible are we required to believe the earth is flat, the sun rotates around the earth, etc. In fact, some of our most intelligent scientists believed in a transcendent Being (Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, etc.).

      6) Atheists often treat all religions the same, and believe that if one should go, all should go. Just because a handful of Muslim terrorists misinterpret the Qur'an does not mean we should get rid of every religion.

      7) Atheism is not necessarily correct because it is a default or neutral position. Besides, Christians never reject that fact that we should have intellectual humility, we just believe you can't say "we don't know" when the truth is obvious.

      8) When Christians say "We have faith in God", we are not saying "We blindly believe in God against reason and evidence", but "We trust God based on what we know about Him". However, numerous Christian authors bring up a very good point: if someone hates God, no amount of evidence will convince them that He exists.

      In short, Christianity and Atheism are not bad, nor are Christians and Atheists. Let's concentrate on being good people rather than attacking each other for the very things we do ourselves.

      May 21, 2011 at 10:55 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.