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. Rev. Daniel W. Blair

    I am very sad for those who have been following this lie that the rapture will occur on May 21st. Even if they attempt to explain away “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), they cannot explain away that most every Christian, theologian, scholar, and prophet from the first Century until the Nineteenth Century all believed that the church would go through the Great Tribulation and not escape through some secret rapture that would leave the world paralyzed. I pray that they will take a moment and read my book, “Final Warning” because the hour of is His judgment has come.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • John

      THANK YOU for plugging your book. It's just what I need for solace in this uncertain times.


      May 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • CM

      Are you giving that book away for free in order to try to save our souls and share the message? Or are you withholding your insight to salvation until we cough up enough $ for you to get a new car? I'm trying to recall all those sermons where Jesus made sure everybody paid before he shared the word.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • YBP

      I am very sad for you, Reverend, for wasting your life over imaginary gods, prophets and ancient "scriptures."

      May 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • rob

      Dear Rev Blair you are not much better than Rev Camping ( who you criticize) with all of your fear mongering of hell and torcher ; then you have the nerve to be selling a book for profit about apocalyptic doomsday perdictions. You are a fanatic like Camping, and thoes guys who wote the left behiind books, who ran all of the way to the bank laughing at all thoes weak people that you have paralyzed in FEAR! May God have mercy upon you hypocrites!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  2. An Open Mind

    Of course this pastor would criticize – the churches aren't following the God of the Bible, they were given "grand delusion" BY GOD! Read the material on may21-2011.com with an open mind. Of course only those chosen by God from before the creation of the world will have any interest, the vast majority of the world are scoffers and will not believe as prophecized by God. Most have made up their minds – including Christians – without bothering to spend any time researching this – a sign of a closed mind.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • CM

      If the world still exists this November, would you come back here and admit you were wrong? I doubt it. You'll keep sending that guy $ to support his lifestyle until the next date he picks once he "fixes" his math again.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  3. GAW

    Yet again I am so amused by the popular atheists who flock to articles like this to throw out words like 'dumb' 'stupid' 'idiots' 'morons' and then use same overused arguments proposed by authors such as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. Yet i have to read words by fundamentalist Christians such as 'Hell' 'damnation' and 'unsaved'. The method of thinking by both groups sound so much alike. Both groups fail miserably to convince so many. Maybe because they are from the same gene pool.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Eric G

      Please define "overused arguments", if you would be so charitable as to converse with those you believe beneath your intellect.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Artist

      You forgot insane. Does your god talk to you? Do you hear his voice?

      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 7:10 pm |
    • GAW

      Sorry I'm guess I'm not allowed to question you. I offered a criticism of both sides and I guess I have to think act and talk like and angry atheist or a fundamentalist if I am to be considered a true human being. Just read some of the posts here and find a common thread of thought. My eyes are vibrating after looking over too may already. One trend... Both groups seem to believe they are superior to everyone who does not agree with them. I write this as a skeptic myself.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  4. Grant of Oz

    This May 21 fairy story is the nonsense of a Christian mob called Family Radio.
    If Jesus returns on May 21, 3 days from now, why does their website http://www.familyradio.com still seek MONTHLY DONATIONS ??? http://www.familyradio.com/english/admin/

    May 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  5. Carl Malden

    I agree with you on some points. ie no one knows except the Father.

    But I disagree about your believe in the rapture and Christ's return.

    If you notice @ Matt 24:3-21; Jesus replied to his disciples question as to how they would know when he had returned.

    (Matthew 24:3) 3 While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”

    Next Christ our Lord said they would see woe after woe and a global preaching campaign. This would be the sign of his PRESENCE.

    So, what so many don't realize is that he is already here!

    The four winds of destruction are held back by his angels until he is
    ready to execute judgment on mankind who dwell in darkness mentally. (Rev 7:1-5)
    They are blinded by Satan as to what is really going on. (2 Cor 4:3&4)

    What most people also do not understand, is that Satan is the God of this world. (Eph 2:1)

    Further the teaching of the rapture is false. The word rapture is not found in the bible. (Revelation 22:18-19)
    18 “I am bearing witness to everyone that hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll:
    If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll;
    19 and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy,
    God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city,
    things which are written about in this scroll.

    Therefore anyone that tries to teach a doctrine not based on the bible, but tries to insert it into the Bible,
    are actually doing the will of Satan the Devil.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • CM

      "they would see woe after woe and a global preaching campaign. This would be the sign of his PRESENCE.
      So, what so many don't realize is that he is already here!"

      I don't know where you learned history, but if THIS is the sign then the rapture should've happened every day for the last 1500 years or so. There's nothing new going on today in terms of woe or global preaching.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  6. Me

    "55 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture"

    I knew there were a lot of really dumb American's but I would never would have guessed 55% were that stupid.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Monk E. Poopflinger

      60% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, and there there Iraqis amongst the hijackers, despite very public CIA reports to the contrary.

      75% of Americans can name at least two of the seven dwarfs, while not quite a quarter can name two members of the Supreme Court

      41% believe in extrasensory perception.

      Basically, there are a hell of a lot of morons out there.

      20% of Americans are sure the Sun revolves around the Earth.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  7. CM

    Sorry dude, but it doesn't take Camping or Whisenant for me to know that whole rapture thing is a joke.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  8. GAW

    One of the negative byproducts of the obsession of end times thinking is that it takes people away from the responsibilities they should have in the here and now Issues such as Global Warming, poverty, and advancing the care for the sick often go unaddressed because they are convinced all will be made right in their lifetime or by a date in the near future (May 21st)

    Perhaps the most distressing issue for me is that Harold Camping and his gang of Chicken Littles will never apologize to us when May 21st comes and goes with no end in sight. But anyone who knows history is aware this has happened again and again and again. As the baseball great Yogi Berra once said "It's deja vu all over again".

    May 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • CM

      I find it more distressing that when he's wrong again, none of his followers will stop believing whatever he tells them and continuing throwing money at him. It's living proof that faith makes people act like idiots.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • GAW

      Like others before him he will no doubt make another prediction. June 21st and then July 21st and so on... Someone may need a new calculator soon.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  9. C

    I'd rather be in hell, far away from silly Christian idiots any day. I guess you could say I'm prepared for the rapture. Yeah, you can say it's eternal fire and burning flesh, yada yada, but lets be honest with ourselves, would that really make sense? Would God really give a rats ass if we did or did not want to lick his toes for eternity? I doubt it, but I'm willing to bet there has been a few pharaohs that would have. Christians are sheep – grow up and think for yourself. The universe is a LOT more complicated than a Christian would have us believe.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  10. imrational

    Camping was born in Colorado and raised in California although I doubt many Californians listen to his radio talk show – More likely the vast majority of his listeners/followers are from the bible-belt

    May 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  11. RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

    So, who is this Jeffress character, claiming to represent Baptist beliefs? How is the Doomsday cult any different from his own? How is it any more detrimental to Christianity than, say, Rev. Terry Jones and his Dove Church, which as of April 2010 became affiliated with the Rev. Fred Phelps Westoboro Baptist Church? When extremisits of any faith begin criticising one another, isn't it a little like the pot calling the kettle black? The public should be aware that none of these extremists represent Christ or Christianity; if they did, they sure wouldn't be called "Baptists." And they wouldn't teach a different gospel that centers around hatred and division, contrary to that one which Christ and his Disciples taught.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  12. My 2 cents

    The end of the world WILL happen, it is a scientific fact. In some 5-7 billions of years, the Sun will exhaust its nuclear fuel and will turn into a Red Giant. The Sun will expand so much that it will engulf and incinerate the inner planets – Mercury and Venus, and most likely the Earth too. Life on Earth,however, will have been long gone before that. The rising temperatures will cause the conditions on Earth to be increasingly hostile towards life. The complex life forms will be gone first. Microbes will be the last living organisms on the planet. If we advance enough (which I doubt), we may be watching the demise of the Solar system from a galaxy far, far away...

    May 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  13. Alex

    Hurt Christianity? All religions are a joke! The May 21st hoopla is just one more of those jokes you preach.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • RealityChecker

      You sound identical to Harold Camping. Certain of your beliefs, even though there is ZERO evidence to back your beliefs up.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  14. delano j sheffield


    When He does return whenever that day occurs, there will be no need to post comments about His not existing. Its intriguing how much energy is spent to debunk the message of someone that you conclude does not exist. But then to turn around and push science to the point of almost having a personhood. And wrap all of that in banter towards peple who really want to know God.

    The date calling missing the purpose of the spokepeople of Christ. But good scienctific analytical intelligent folks would not draw their final conclusions about a religion from those following. They'd look for the source.


    May 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  15. Al

    "First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible."

    Don't worry, even without all the end of the world predictions there's a mountain of other reasons to discount the Bible.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  16. Miguel

    BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. Control through fear.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  17. Darth Cheney

    55% believe in the rapture? Then all I can say is these doomsdayers' only sin is making the idiocy of most religious belief transparent, which is why many Christians disdain them,

    May 17, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  18. Al

    "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."

    Hmmm... How's about everyone take turns predicting a day so as to cover every conceivable day, thus preventing the end of the world altogether?

    May 17, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  19. seeingthelight2011

    People will believe anything, I am absolutely shocked than any human would be dumb enough to believe this. I saw the billboards, while driving to the Bay area, and I was just in disbelief. These people honestly believe that of all the human beings on earth, they are the new chosin ones, comparing themselves to the likes of Noah. Thank God that suicide bombing is not part of the Christian belief, or we'd all be in trouble!

    May 17, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  20. Pyrrho

    I wonder if Harold Camping will be ready for the possible deluge of lawsuits that might be (maybe should be) filed against him by people that truly believed him and divested themselves of all their worldy possesions or did other inane actions. By the way if Harold reads this, I am willing to take all your worldy goods since you won't be needing them anymore. I wonder if Harold has closed his lucrative bank account – if not he can transfer the funds to me. Harold! Please respond to me by May 21, 2011 at the latest – I could use the money to promote my "End of The World" promotion for say July 16, 2011 which just happens to be exactly 6435 years 235 days 16 hours 27 minutes and 33 seconds since God scared the Hell out of me by saying "boo".

    May 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • GAW

      Some people have quit their jobs in anticipation of May 21st. Sad

      May 17, 2011 at 7:33 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.