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. lance corporal

    yes by showing it's absurdity it harms the BUSINESS of christianity but it sure is good for national sanity when people realize just how ludicrous the majority of religion is

    May 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  2. Jessica

    Is that 6:00 PM East or West coast time?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • P

      Ha! Good point. I'm sure there will be another "mathematical" discrepancy.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  3. PurpleKU77

    Sorry, 7th Day Adventist church came out of William Miller, not the Foursquare Gospel Church. I think that one was Aimee Semple McPherson.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  4. Kyu O Kim

    "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14. The end won't come until this precondition is first realized but will we know when the gospel has been preached in the whole world? All I know is that nations and peoples and even the so called "churches" conspire and plan in vain to corrupt the gospel (through universalism, Propserity "gospel", and other religious nonsense) to prevent this condition from being realized.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  5. Tom

    May 21st doomsday movement harms faith?!?!? It is because of faith that people create dooms day movements. These ideas are in bed together. The less faith in Religion or other new age spiritual movements the less dooms day predictions we will see.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Sean

      No the less stupidity the fewer predictions there will be.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • P

      The less stupidity, the less religion there will be.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  6. getreal

    Lovely Mythology. Isn't it grand?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  7. JLS639

    My favorite story of a Doomsday cult was one I read about in Skeptic magazine. This cult that the Rapture had already happened some time in the Middle Ages (I forgot the date or the justification, but it was during the days of the Mongol Empire) and that everybody on Earth was living in God's wrath and was going to hell. I found that one amusing.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  8. TheFinalWord

    He's right, the bible says no one knows, and this nonsense will draw people away from God.

    I am a prophet, I talk to God everyday, and he talks to me. (You too can have a conversation with God if you get to know him and don't make him angry, just like getting to know anyone else) For fun, I asked him directly if May 21st will be the rapture. In a simple answer, he said "No". I already knew that. 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  9. Cody

    To those who are about to be "raptured", can you do a fund transfer to my account?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  10. PurpleKU77

    I have been hearing this drivel since Hal Lindsay wrote The Late, Great Planet Earth in the early 1970s. We were all supposed to have been destroyed in the war between Israel and the USSR. Well, the USSR is gone, and we are still here. Of course, he may be wanting to start a religion like William Miller did in the 19th century. Miller's predictions were wrong, but we got the Foursquare Gospel Church out of it.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  11. John

    I always wanted to see the rapture, it sounds pretty awesome, like a huge hot air balloon show, only with people.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  12. truthandmusic

    Doomsday movements do not harm Christianity, thinking does. If you read the Bible and think logically you will see it is just like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Jeff in SF

      I like this very much. My thoughts exactly. Critical thinking and logic have no place in religion, and thus religion has no place in it for me.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Sean

      Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are purely ficticous though. Not even the most outspoken atheists in the world would try and discredit something that happened in the Bible since it is supported time and time again by archeological and scientific evidence. The only thing people actually disagree on is if God really exists and if the whole thing is some big hoax.

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

      Sean, people have used science to discredit what the bible says for hundreds of years. What the heck are you talking about???

      May 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  13. Brin

    no one knows not even the son jesus not even the angels only the father god JEHOVA

    May 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  14. Momo

    These excerpts may help clarify things a bit for those who are truly looking for the truth:

    Romans 3:23
    23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
    Romans 6:23
    23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord.
    John 3:16
    16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
    John 1:10-142
    12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
    John 14:1-6
    1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
    Jesus the Way to the Father
    5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
    6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
    Matthew 24:36 (New International Version)
    The Day and Hour Unknown
    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father.

    Jesus loves you just the way you are and will receive you with open arms if you simply accept him as your Lord and Savior!

    Matthew 11:28 (New International Version)

    28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • May

      And the way includes obeying the ten commandments, which most of us fall far short of.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • P

      Jesus also said this, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." He told his disciples to their faces that he would return in their lifetime.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Momo

      Dear P, I know that statement can be a bit confusing but it is important not to confuse the Kingdom of God with the Rapture. I could be wrong, but I believe The Kingdom of God is already here in the lives of those who have received Christ and living for him. In that sense those who heard him and received him before he ascended into Heaven experienced God's Kingdom before their death. No body know when the Rapture will take place but the Rapture is not the Kingdom of God. It is just an event when Believers in Christ will be cuaght up into Heaven.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Momo

      I believe Jesus refers to his Kingdom that was established after he took our sins upon himself, died in our stead, and defeated the grave by ressurrecting on the third day and ascended into Heaven where he is seated on the right hand of the Father with all his enemies made his footstool and gave eternal life to all who accept Him as Lord and savior!

      Many of his followers witnessed this and those were the ones he was referring to.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  15. wgwgwg

    I am a Christian and actually listen to Family Radio at different times as they have a couple good music shows and I like their reading of the Bible, but when Harold Camping comes on I turn the channel. There are a lot of contradictions on his own network. As of last night they were still asking for their May "love offering" to keep the station going. Why pay any more bills? I heard an old Laura Bush PSA today about reading to children. I mean, if everyone's going to be raptured Saturday why do llittle kids need to know how to read? I heard one of their shows a while back talking about the retirement of the Space Shuttle, and how its display in museums will inspire other kids to "reach for the stars". Again, if the world's ending why bother? I get the impression that half the people that work for Family Radio don't believe in the May 21, prediction. I'm curious too how this will be explained away.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  16. Corbijn

    When don't crazy Christian groups hurt the religion as a whole? And what really separates the so-called crazies from the norm? It's all crazy as far as I'm concerned.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  17. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    To Camping and his wacko followers: The end of the world comes every day and night for all those who die during that day or night. The take-away message: Live your life to the fullest every day that you are still fortunate enough to be alive, and don't worry about "salvation" or any sort of afterlife. No one has any proof whatsoever that there is one.
    As for me, I am looking forward to a good and happy time with good friends this weekend. Religion will have nothing to do with any of it.
    I am very sorry for those who have fallen for Mr. Camping's preachings and have given away their possessions or have quit their jobs, as they and their families will suffer mightily come May 23 and thereafter. I am sorriest of all for their brainwashed children, and can only hope that those poor kids will one day learn to think for themselves and will abandon the mass delusion known as religion.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  18. andrew

    if you believe in GOD and live according to him and die and there is no GOD than you lose nothing on the other hand if you dont and you have to answer to him at the end what can you do?? i dont hate any of you are your point of views i just know that believing in GOD and being a faithful servant has made me a better person in general ,i was really doing alot of wrong in my lifetime before accepting JESUS into my life ,GOD blees you all.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Corbijn

      Using that type of "logic" makes little sense. What if there is a God, but he isn't the God you've been praying to? What if God is a Mormon, a 7th Day Adventist, etc. If there is a God he/it/she probably cares little for the crazy religious concepts we create in Gods name. If God feels anything, its probably shaking its head at all the grief we cause arguing back and forth.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  19. andre

    please get a life nobody knows .

    May 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  20. Brandon

    I would really like all of you to read and study First four books of the New Testament ... even if you are a non-believer or a believer ... if there are any few hundred pages of literature that was ever worth reading it is those 4 books. PLEASE READ ... so you can come back and tell me how much you found wrong. Just try it .. Thanks. Lov you all.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • P

      Which bible? There are various versions in print today. Some even have entire books that the others don't. Also, do the Gnostic gospels count? The oldest bible – the Codex Sinaiticus – is from the 4th century CE and it is very different from our current bible. Believe it or not, the bible has been edited quite a bit and no one has ever seen the original – so there's no telling what it actually said. If you want to read about what's wrong with the "current" versions of the bible, maybe you can go here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html

      May 17, 2011 at 6:01 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.