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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. observer

    Oh, "secularists have dismissed the Bible because" it teaches the earth is only 6,000 yrs old..?. I wonder why we non-believers would do that??? What about hindus, moslems, buddhists? They dismiss the bible too, yet they are not secularists.
    What about those 'well intentioned" but uninformed christians who want to impose their bible misinterpretations onto the public school systems, and force my daughter to listen to creationist junk??? Eh??? You see, even good intentions that force one's beliefs onto others, are really bad intentions.

    I think Christians who believe in rapture and end of the world should celebrate this quietly, enjoy the prospect of going to their heaven and ... leave the rest of us alone!
    If all those bible thumpers get swept up on rapture day, good riddens. Maybe we'll get some common sense back into the public discourse.
    If they do go to heaven and I am left out -oh my god- I will be jubilating out loud because I don't want to spend eternity with those folks. Just as I do not spend time with them here on earth.
    If the planet comes to an end it'll either have cosmic reasons or some idiots started a nuclear war.
    In either case I'll be happy to slip back into the universe, as an atom or a speck of dust. I'll be sitting on some galaxy and smile contently. Amen

    May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Steve in St. Louis

      Well put! Thank you!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • not exactly

      wanna get a drink sometime?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Truth

      Great article.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • hoax!

      Now that is a true gospel! Haha

      May 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • cameron

      You would give up Eternity in Heaven with your Maker just to spite the nose on your face!!... One of us is right!! are you willing to take a 50/50 bet??

      May 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  2. QS

    "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."

    Make no mistake about it, Robert Jeffress is only exchanging one illusion for another and doing what all good zealots do...claiming they are right and others are wrong.

    Don't allow the the Harold Campings, nor the Robert Jeffresses of the world to keep you feeling just fearful and guilty enough to believe in the things they say.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      I'm against Harold Camping's teachings, but I am a Christian and the last sentence you wrote proves you don't know what Christianity is and that you haven't read the Bible. If Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins, took the key of hell and was raised from the dead into Heaven, then there's nothing to fear because Jesus conquered death and gives us that promise as well.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • QS

      Fear and guilt are built in to the ideology of religion – the carrot and the stick. Just because you "believe" you will be saved in the rapture does not negate the fact that you believe so due to the fear of going to hell and the guilt you feel for having "failed" to be chosen to go to heaven.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  3. meh

    the earth should be so lucky....

    May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  4. sealchan

    I hope someone takes Harold away on or before 6PM on May 21st. That would make my birthday celebration complete!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  5. derp

    One nutty christian calling another nutty christian, a nuttier christian.

    Cookoo for cocoa puffs.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  6. erik

    No hoax you are a fool just as foolish as these so called Christians talking about the world is going to end on the 21st and the men who wrote the Bible were nothing like Camping. Yeah the Bible is such a hoax't that it is point on every time. I bet you don't even know what's in the Bible or how to find one of its books but yeah you know so much about the Bible. You are only going on what you have heard. Why don't you stand up, be a real person and find out for yourself.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Spot on, erik! People need to stop regurgitating what they hear from others and find out what the Bible says for itself with an open mind.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • hoax!

      @erik.. Yeah, how typical. You, just like the others who follow the bible, immediately begin a debate by passing judgement on others whom you know absolutely nothing about. Go ahead and continue plummeting face first into your great book of god because I do know whats in the bible and the best lesson I learned from it was how to counter react responses from unintelligent heathens like you.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      @hoax...Judgement was passed from erik on you? Do you even know what you are saying?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • hoax!

      @TheTruth72. Have all of your memorized bible verses cluttered your mind to where you can't even remember what you have read?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  7. hoax!

    What fools.. the bible itself is nothing but false prophecies, written by many others just like Harold Camping.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      Please point out these false prophecies. Also, please don't use something like, "That didn't happen because I wasn't there".

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  8. TheTruth72

    One of the first really well written articles on here. And it explains it exactly how I've felt since hearing about this Harold Camping guy.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  9. edvhou812

    The end of the World may come 1st of the month when I need to pay my bills. Everyone should give me 20% of their money on the last day of the month to ensure their place in Heaven.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  10. erik

    I am a Christian ,the son of a 71 year old Baptist pastor even. With that being said, I don't know what these people are talking about. The Holy Bible clearly states in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen. These people need to really get some true teaching and some knowledge about the Christian faith because it is quite evident that they are off base.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Colin

      Apart from setting a date certain, they are every bit as crazy as other Christians. That is the only difference.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Al

      I believe you've forgot this passage: 1 Thessalonians 5

      1But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
      2For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
      3For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

      4But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
      5Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
      6Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Silver Chair

      @ Colin.

      Wrong. Camping's nutjobs are every bit as narrow-minded as some Atheists on this message board.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  11. Antonio Boone

    I agree with this article. Harold Camping is a false prophet and will be put on the list of heretics in the very near future. Camping is leading a cult of deceived followers into a foolish and hurtful situation. Camping doesn't represent God, Camping represents himself.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Colin

      Out of curiosity, who keeps this "list of heretics"?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Artist

      as opposed to "real" prophets? Do you hear god's voice? Does he talk to you?
      .
      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 5:25 pm |
    • Silver Chair

      @ Artist.

      Yawn.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Antonio Boone

      As far as list of heretics is concerned, anyone can see I was being figurative. I am a true Christian and by those credentials I can certainly tell you Harold Camping is a false prophet.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  12. munkittrick

    There are so-o-o-o-o many nut-jobs following this that it hurts HUMANITY, let alone religion. It irks me to see how many sheep the church has created. There is no difference between worshiping a false deity and worshiping Dr. Seuss book...except that the Dr. Seuss books have more plausible lessons to be learned.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • P1

      soooo, the ten commandments are not relevant in our society. regardless if you believe in God or not, the bible does provide morals that people should mold their life from.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • S in SD

      Wow, for the first time I actually feel like saying "Amen". Thank you Stephen Hawking! I'm pretty darned sick of organized religion as a whole. Well, I'll be waiting, and waiting....on May 21st and can't wait to see what Harold Camping has to say on May 22nd. It'll be a hoot!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  13. davidtal

    How do people believe this stuff let alone debate it like there is anything legitimate about it? It's all nonsense.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Colin

      Agreed. Ialmost feel surreal every time I engage in a debate about Christian sky-fairies. The problem is, a lot of people still believe this Dark Ages drivel. According to the article, 55% still believe in the rapture. I know 40% still believe in Noah's Ark etc.

      When we dumb down our education system to respond to political pressure, this is the result we get.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • P1

      You better hope it is

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

    As for me, I think Stephen Hawking has it right.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Al

      he does. He has it right for all the unsaved on this planet.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  15. Jarod47

    Almost everything christians do harms christianity. They all 'know' and the others don't 'know'. Robert Jeffress 'almost' stakes his life on the non-event of may 21. 'ALMOST', who are you kidding?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  16. Gumby

    Camping is the perfect person to point to and say "See? Christianity is a total farce".

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • erik

      Camping is not preaching what the Bible says concerning this so if anyone is a farce it's Camping and not Christianity so try again.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Silver Chair

      Um, yeah. Right. Because Camping represents everyone who believes and loves Jesus Christ.

      I might as well declare you to be the perfect person to point to and say, "See? Atheists can't do anything but paint with the broadest brush!"

      May 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  17. Bobbb

    I am looking forward to the day. I hope it truly is the resurrection day. I am ready to go Lord. I am yours, take me when you will. I will be right here whenever you are ready.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Artist

      Bobbb

      I am looking forward to the day. I hope it truly is the resurrection day. I am ready to go Lord. I am yours, take me when you will. I will be right here whenever you are ready.

      --------

      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 5:23 pm |
  18. Matt

    The Bible clearly states, as well, that "One day is like a thousand days in god's time" and then makes assertions that Adam and Eve lived to over 600 YEARS old. Gods time? Or human's time? Neither is specified. If indeed we were going off of God's time, Adam and Eve would still be alive. The math in the bible doesnt work out... at all.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  19. Story

    Every day tht I read the news, I almost hope they're right.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Al

      There is no fixing this planet. We are 7 billion on this spinning Goldie lock rock all of us scared to death.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      @Al....Why be scared of death? Isn't that what Jesus died and was raised for? To take away the fear of death that satan had a handle of. I think you need to do a little more reading from the Bible than worrying about Harold Camping's twisted scripture teachings.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Al

      I fear the LORD:
      Proverbs 2:5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
      Proverbs 3:25 Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.
      Proverbs 1:29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
      Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  20. JustPlainJoe

    Every generation since the early christians believed the end was near. But what else can you expect from a cult that is focused on death and a better afterlife?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • erik

      Christianity is not a cult

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Al

      Your right but there is a difference. Millions of bucks have been spent. This started 5-7 years ago. Second, this information has come directly from the Bible. If you read it, you would know too.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Gumby

      Erik – all religions are cults. No better than the People's Temple or Heaven's Gate. Some cults like Christianity have been around long enough and have enough adherents that they are termed "religions". But they are indeed all cults.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Gumby

      Al, Camping's info is not in the bible. He just twisted it around until he got it to say what he claims it says. Camping's doctrine is about as unbiblical as it gets. I can't wait for May 21... it will (once again like 1994) expose Harold Camping for the fraud he is and has always been.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:34 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.