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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. LouAz

    Well, since you're leaving anyway . . . can I have your golf clubs ?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • The Dude

      You can have the clubs. I just want their rug.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  2. Mark

    There have been 200 or so major 'end of the world' predictions over the past 2,000 years. None of them have panned out. When will people realize this isn't going to happen?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Artist

      When the supporting empire falls.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  3. Steve O

    The Bible is a fairy tale made up of stories from previous ancient religions. You'd have to have some screws loose to take the words in the Bible literally.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Artist

      yep.
      .
      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 4:57 pm |
  4. Ryan

    Look at it this way, even IF you believe in this...stuff (if history is any indicator), there is a 99.999999% chance that you won't be alive for it. Therefore, live your life as you think is best and die with the rest of us.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  5. Golem

    May 21st is not judgment day (we all know from the Mayan calender that judgment day is in 2012). Seriously, there is no judgment day and never will be (see, for example Steven Hawkings recent piece on the existence of heaven). This May 21st stuff is just another example of how idiots, e.g., islamofascists, use religion to bring harm to innocents. In this case its the children that this particular foolishness effects most and that is not only outrageous but should also be legally actionable.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  6. Joel

    You can't give the Bible more credibility by trying to tie this one solely to Harold Camping. The same people that believe this nut, believe the Bible, and that should give you an idea of the intellectual capacity of Bible lovers. I could care less if 1,000,000 verses in the Bible talked about the coming of Christ-it's all a line of BS. And, it contradicts itself so many times, there's no way a perfect God was behind it (one–of many–examples: the Bible only lists two geneologies for Christ, and they're both different. Both geneologies also go through Joseph, but supposedly Christ was born of a virgin.) Whatever.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  7. FallenAngelsTempt

    Nice another prophet on meth or some other crazy drug!! why do people think they can predict these things?
    just wait Gods day will come like a thief in the night and no one can know when that is.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • deionos

      maybe not an apocalypse but an apostasy...

      May 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  8. Dave

    My Birthday is May 24th.
    I'm quite sure that my in-laws, both devout Christians, will be there to celebrate with me.
    I'm also sure that my infant son, who has been baptized and is as innocent as it gets, will also be around, come 6:00 pm CDT.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  9. jaywingfuller

    Sorry, but both Camping and Jeffress beliefs are siamese-twins peas in the conservative christian pod. Their beliefs are medieval at best and mirror of the beliefs of conservative religions world-wide. There is no room for mythology - no room for parables - no room for subtlity. Jeffress probably believes the story of "Fishes and Loaves" actually is about a miralce of multiplying fishes and loaves, and thereby misses the teaching point entirely. Serious CNN, you want a fresh take on religion, get someone who sees religion in its widest interpretation - not someone preaching from the pulpit.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  10. Daryn

    "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."

    When it actually occurs? I laughed so hard my sides actually ache. Ah yes, it's silly to think the magic event is coming next saturday, it makes much more logical and scientific sense for it to be coming "at any moment". Watching you people argue about who knows the most about their imaginary friend could not be more amusing. Thank you, Christians, for the laughter. It will almost be sad when you finally rapture away/die out.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  11. John 5:17

    "nor the Son, but the Father alone" ? I thought they were One

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Ron Rog

      One can not prove to another the existence of a divine intelligence that designed, encapsulates and is present within the beauty and precision of all existence. Just as one can not explain physics to a three year old. They must mature and experience these conclusions when ready. Also one can not look at the majority of the people of any Faith or non faith to get a deep coherent understanding of their Faith or reality. At this point in human evolution the understanding of these things is still primitive, a reflection of prevailing opinions and often dangerous to others. But, this does not mean that something Divine and intelligent did not order the universe to create a peach, a rose or a maker of things like computers or United Nations systems. In my opinion the greatest understanding of these mystical Biblical references ( second coming, thief in the night etc) can be found in the Bahai writing. -peace

      May 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  12. Mikeinfc

    "... and the meek shall inherit the Earth." I am one of the meek and I'm waiting for my inheritance. What could be a better inheritance than a world devoid of religion and religious fanatics? Take away 6 and a half of the 7 billion people on this planet and we'll have a nice planet. I truly hope this prediction or any one like it comes true.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  13. Jonah

    If you paid attention you'd see that the time zone will be Kiribati/Christmas Island at 6pm and will work around the world every hour after... Cry mightily to God, that is your salvation 🙂

    3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:3-6

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • jaywingfuller

      Seriously Jonah, you think that GOD has any concern or is constrained by human 'watch time'? Watch time is a human construct artifically layered on the seamless movement and interactions of the physical properties and mechanics of the cosmos. Watch time has no existence outside of human thought. We could just as easily decide that a 'day' was 30 hours or 16 hours as 24. It's the #1 indication that Camping is a total phoney.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • graduate

      There are 24 hours in a day because that's the length of time the earth takes to make a complete revolution on its axis. A day could not be 16 nor 30 hours, unless the earth's rotation sped up or slowed down.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  14. NCAtheist

    Summary of article: Crazy xian calls crazier xian crazy.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • ColinO

      I was going to attempt to post something a little less harsh, but yeah, that about sums it up.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Andrew

      This made me smile.

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

      Ok, a third person just found that funny

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Artist

      lol Believe me you are going to hell if you do not believe when god comes back. Ignore that guy giving a date, he is crazy. So now back to my magic god and how you have to believe me. lOL ....no really LOL

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

      Grow up children.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • GodlessGeek

      Well said.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  15. ldean50

    I'm sending this to my brother . . . may 21st is his birthday. Guess this mean I don't have to buy him a present. Hurray! more weed for me.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Bill

      It doesn't happen until 6 pm. You should be giving him his gift in the morning!!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  16. Pslam 69

    I just made plans to go on vacation the 24th. Can I get a refund? Oh wait, this is another lie!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  17. Blake Hanson

    This was a very well written article, nicely done.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  18. Maria

    It is interesting that while Christians love to quote "the Bible," what they're often quoting is the New Testament. The "Bible" began as an oral tradition in the Middle East, as a way of life adhered to by nomadic tribes. Only later when these oral traditions went into written form did we get the Muslim religion and Judaism, and THEN Christianity came along. The whole "Jesus will return" thing comes from ONE source... and that source is the "New Testament"– the man-made, tacked-on additions to the Five Books of Moses (the written-down form of the oral traditions). Any other reference material on the Second Coming to rely on? No? Well, then, maybe it's a bit of a biased take on the Christian philosophy, don't you think?

    And can people STOP saying that the Ten Commandments says, "Thou Shalt Not Kill?" It NEVER said that. The original written words in Hebrew were "Thou Shalt Not MURDER" as in you can't PLAN someone's death, but sometimes you have to kill to protect yourself, your family and your property. Mistranslation led to "murder" being changed to "kill," just as there are other flaws in the Christian Bible as a result of man's errors.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • James

      Maria, you wrote: "Only later when these oral traditions went into written form did we get the Muslim religion and Judaism, and THEN Christianity came along."

      The "Bible" as we know it today was assembled around 382 A.D. and Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. Furthermore, the Koran assumed familiarity with stories in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. There's no way Christianity could have come about after Islam. First there were Jews, then Christians, then Muslims.

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

      What is your point? I don't hear anyone disputing you. It is taken on faith that the written words of man formed into the Bible were of divine inspiration from God. Those written words have been paraphrased, translated, and copied many times over since then. It is still taken on faith that God will open your heart to hear His message in those man-made words.

      Kill vs. murder? Again – what is your point? Nobody is arguing that the commandments instruct us never to kill. God personally instructed men to kill men on several occasssions.

      Now – since you like to get so technical, I will as well. You do not know what "murder" is. As an attorney, I do. Try to figure out what "malice aforethought" means, and then we can chat again.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • crucified

      Maria,, I hate to correct you..but you are way off so I must.. Jews came first! then Christians from the Jews! Then muslims 500 years after Christ Died...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Rick

      Maria, Not so sure your time line is accurate. .Islam and the Muslim faith actually followed the rise of Christianity. Muhammad's birth is recorded to have taken place in the year 570...nearly 600 years after the death of Christ. Your statement that these religions were passed on as "an oral tradition in the Middle East, as a way of life adhered to by nomadic tribes" is pure speculation on your part...The cultures that brought these monotheist faiths all had written language and large urban populations...nomadic tribes of course converted from their pagan faiths but you make it sound like these religions roots are founded in nomadic cultures telling ghost stories around their camel-dung campfires...kind of insulting, stereotypical and WRONG!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  19. Realist

    I thought that the OT made no mention of the second coming, just the first. The second coming was a construct of the NT as christ did not fulfill all the prophecies he was supposed to the first time around......

    May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Artist

      Realist

      I thought that the OT made no mention of the second coming, just the first. The second coming was a construct of the NT as christ did not fulfill all the prophecies he was supposed to the first time around......
      ..
      Because he was a slacker and stoner

      May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Nilesh Tailor

      Would you care to explain which prophesies Christ did not exhibit that he should have?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  20. Michael

    Sounds like a good reason to party!

    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.