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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. Gingeet

    Robert Jeffress is just as much as a kook as Camping believing that Jesus will come back. Come on people get a glove and get in the game! Stop believing in this nonsense!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • arale norimaki

      There's a sucker born every minute

      Sun worship is fairly simple. There's no mystery, no miracles, no pageantry, no one asks for money, there are no songs to learn, and we don't have a special building where we all gather once a week to compare clothing. And the best thing about the sun, it never tells me I'm unworthy. Doesn't tell me I'm a bad person who needs to be saved. Hasn't said an u

      May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Alter_Ego

      Grow up children. Very nice of you to come onto the Believer's blog and criticize good people.

      I hope to god I do not know you two, as you are not worth knowing.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  2. john316

    I think Richard says it all......" leave quietly and clean up your mess behind you" .....we'll be waiting.....

    May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  3. GAWD

    ...gather together my people for I will be coming to take you all away...to the funny farm where men in white coats feed me all day long.....actually the missed the boat, err spaceship.......it was that spacecraft travelling behind the comet Hale-bop a few years ago.....Rael was their leader...remember them in their black blankets?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  4. Kardiac

    I told you people I will come when I am good damned ready to and not before...now settle down and don't make me pull this universe over!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  5. Arrrrr Matey

    How come all the Christians believe that a supreme being will come back to earth but do not believe this guy? He says he found the information in the so-called book that all of them believe like crack. Although it's very interesting to find, just today, an article that says 33% of christians don't even read the book. Oh, don't we just love the opiate.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Frogist

      That's a fair question. Why don't all the other Christians believe? Shouldn't they?

      May 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Jessy

      As a Gnostic, I read the bible. I just don't agree with 90% of what's written on it.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  6. Christopher Mohr

    The problem with this clown's assessment of the text lies in his interpretation, as the article points out. Not the text or the religion. When atheism can unequivocally prove that nowhere in the universe at any time does any god exist – remembering that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – then it will cease to be a religion as well, and will be factual. Until then, it is also a religion, a set of beliefs or propositions (no god) taken on faith by a community of people (atheists) who perform ritual actions (study of science, debating believers of theism), have a mythology (scientific/materialist view) and doctrine (there is no god) and who engage in a personal experience of their beliefs (god does not exist because no one has ever scientifically observed god/s).

    As a Buddhist,I watch this ridiculous 'rooster battle' and say, "meh. Yes, no, what does it really matter?"

    May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  7. Mordac

    "I'm not normally a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me, Superman!"
    – Homer Simpson

    May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  8. ImLook'nUp

    May 21, 2001 was an interesting day for me......I had a near-death experience from which God told me, "Not yet" so, here I am today.....

    As a Christian, I believe in the return of Jesus. Just when that is gonna be, only the Father knows!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Artist

      Imlook'n Up, you are no different than the wackjob May 21st crowd ...lol
      .

      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Andrew

      Artist,
      Clearly you have zero understanding of schizophrenia and its reality because you probably just googled it and then copied/pasted the definition. A NDE and schizophrenia are in no way shape or form related. NDEs are quite real and a physiological response to a slow, suffocating death. Do us all a favor and read a book

      May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • ImLook'nUp

      @ Artist

      Thank you for your comment! It's been an interesting 10 years since that day, and I am sooooo grateful for the love and mercy shown to me by God. Life is a gift and everyday is a wonder!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Jessy

      Well, I'm not gonna be surprised if Jesus doesn't come on that day. I will also not be surprised if Jesus does come anyways and tells us that the end of the world was just a big scam set forth by the corrupted churches.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  9. jim

    You have to be a complete loon to believe this shlt!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  10. Lanfear

    Jesus is NEVER coming back. And when you die my Christian friends... you will be quite disappointed!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Artist

      Make sure to do a toast of "Jesus Juice"

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Gingeet

      Nice!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • UneducatedVoter

      Well technically if it's not true, we wont be disappointed... since there will be nothing

      May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Lanfear

      You said: "Jesus is NEVER coming back. And when you die my Christian friends... you will be quite disappointed!"

      To die will be an awfully big adventure. – Peter Pan

      Cheers!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  11. Frogist

    55% of all Americans think the rapture is a really coming? Really?!
    Also couldn't the end of the world be like a week later? It's my 10th anniversary with my hubby. Of all the rotten luck.
    And no, when the rapture doesn't come, this non-Christians will not be blaming the Bible. I will be blaming the crackpots who use the Bible to make these predictions. It was always the crackpots most non-believers consider the danger. A book is no danger unless you get a bunch of people to use it to harm another bunch of people.
    But the worst is this: "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." Granted, I am a pessimist at heart. So when I hear this all I can think is this noble creature named God has decided to keep everyone looking over their shoulders in fear from some reckoning that may never come. It sounds cruel to me if you do buy into the Rapture. But also unbelievable and somewhat childish for those of us who don't.
    I don't know... I have a birthday party and a prayer meeting to go to of all things that Saturday... Neither of them seem fun, maybe it can come a little earlier and I won't have to go...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Frogist

      You said: "I have a birthday party and a prayer meeting to go to of all things that Saturday... Neither of them seem fun, maybe it can come a little earlier and I won't have to go..."

      Suggestion: Drink heartily at the birthday bash. The alcohol will numb the brain, making it easier to suspend your critical thinking at the prayer meeting.

      Have fun!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Mark

      If I may ask...

      Since the tone of your post leads one to believe that you don't ascribe to the whole idea of a God, when you go to prayer meeting, who do you pray to? What do you do, sit there and pick your nose?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Frogist

      Hi DJ! Sadly, I'm not allowed to drink so there goes that idea. But heck maybe I'll bring my Nintendo with me to the second thing.

      @Mark No need to be rude. I don't mind explaining. It's a cultural thing. My family is having a prayer meeting and that means inviting half the neighbourhood over to their house for food. I go because I consider it a family thing. I am agnostic and polite so I will probably just be silent and respectful while they pray. And no, I don't pick my nose, that's just nasty.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Kyle

      Well, that's just a good indication that 55% of all Americans are complete idiots. 92% of all people know that.....

      May 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  12. SAYS WHO

    Why oh why do people follow these lunatics, PEOPLE he's been WRONG several times before !!!!!!!!!!!!! If you believe in God then why not follow HIM, he said NO ONE WOULD KNOW. Read your Bible !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • cafreeman

      or save time, and don't

      May 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  13. teresa, snOhio

    There are so few "christians"–come this Saturday evening, that I'm sure we wont even miss them. I know I will still be here with all of you other posters : )

    May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  14. Ocoee PD

    Hmm... Wonder which time zone will start first at 6 PM...lol ~~so much for "in the blink of an eye ! "

    May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  15. Lanfear

    LOL! could they have at least made it a work day? Geeez!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  16. UneducatedVoter

    Some people commenting act like disbelieving is a new concept.... hahah Like they are progressive or something!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  17. ImGoingToHell

    Jesus already came back....in the form of The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Artist

      May 21st should now be called, "Laugh at a christian day" Come May 22, we will know who all the "bad" christians are because they will still be here. This is going to be funny. lol

      May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • cafreeman

      ...and he abides

      May 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Kyle

      Who wants to do some post rapture looting??? Cause with them all gone, who's going to be protecting that Mercedes dealership and rolex store??

      May 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Ranzabar

      No one messes with the Jesus

      May 22, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  18. Reality

    What we do know:

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-4 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT scholars do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-4 billion CE.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Artist

      lol we have time is what you are saying

      May 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Bazz

      I think you meant "7.5 – 8.5 billion CE"

      May 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Reality

      "The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old. Since its birth it has used up about half of the hydrogen in its core. It will continue to radiate "peacefully" for another 5 billion years or so (although its luminosity will approximately double in that time). But eventually it will run out of hydrogen fuel. It will then be forced into radical changes which, though commonplace by stellar standards, will result in the total destruction of the Earth (and probably the creation of a planetary nebula). "

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  19. Richard

    As an agnostic and a humanist my only statement is: as of May 21st all christians are trespassing on my planet. So please leave quietly and cleanup your mess behind you.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • UneducatedVoter

      Lol I'm calling you out for not reading the article.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Lanfear

      LOL! nice...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  20. Dave

    These are the same type of people who predicted the year 2000 disaster.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Andrew

      no its not. those were banks and government agencies, scientists and the like. Oh wait, did you mean the coming of Jesus in the year 2000? Yeah probably....

      May 17, 2011 at 4:46 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.