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. Otto

    A day in the sight of man, maybe a million years in God's sight. These people professing they know the end are nothing but a joke; you are right that on man knows, not even the Son of God.

    We can look at the people who constantly call themselves Christians and see the are worst than a serpent. Take Newt for instance, after all the wickness he has done; he has the balls to say he sought repentance. Oh come now! The most hateful people are those who constantly take about their Christian values; they are all criminals and doers or evil.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Mike


      I predicted that the end of the world will come shortly after the 7000 millenium... BECAUSE I believe the book of revelation is not speaking in metaphor but in a literal sense. How long will it take for Earth to devolop gene splicing to create 10 headed creatures??? I think in the 7000 millenium is my best estimate.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  2. Hilikus00

    The non-believer is not the person that needs to be worried about. Sure, I've poked a bit of fun at this, but in no way associate it with mainstream Christianity. Anyone who would say "the bible was wrong again" is someone who clearly does not know what they are talking about. It's the same as when anti-evolutionists ask me "why aren't monkeys still popping out humans?" It's ridiculous, and shows a total lack of personal thought and research.

    The danger for Christianity here is the highlighting of a deeply religious nation showing it can't be bothered to look into it's "own religion". That is the embarrassment, if any, that I believe "educated" Christians should feel here. This isn't a different interpretation of scripture, a new translation, or even a divine prophetic vision...this is complete (willful) ignorance of a very important part of these peoples' religion.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  3. dr.turi

    This is Dr. Turi belief.. the future is nothing else than the reincarnation of the thought...

    May 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Interesting epistemological assertion.


      May 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  4. SSampson

    Apart from the humour about all this in general... There are enough wackos out there with religious beliefs that will 'try' to make the end come through their own hand...

    Why is there so much fear of death that so many people need to beleive in imaginary things to soothe their fears??

    May 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  5. Aaron

    Doomsdayers are the least worry for Christianity. The religion has gotten way too immersed in politics and condemning anyone who doesn't follow the self-serving Bibical interpretations of the hypocritical "leaders." Most people don't have a problem with God, it's the other self-described Christians who are hard to stomach.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • sshaffer77

      Just to add more confusion to the pot...There is speculation that the end of times the Bible talks about is not so much the end of the world, but a warning to those who try to alter what the Bible says. It was a way to scare translators into not adding their own views and values through the ages.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  6. EricZ

    The world will come to an end one day. It is very likely to be about a billion years from now.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  7. Mike

    Thanks Rev. Jeffress for a much more balanced Christian perspective. The whole idea here is that the Bible *does* teach about Jesus' return...and there's no need to equate Camping's outlandish predictions with anything the Bible predicts.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  8. RobertH

    I would bust a gut laughing if somehow Camping kicks the bucket May 20, 2011 and misses all the rapturing. He wasn't right in 1994 and 17 years later I doubt his math, or his interpretation of the Bible, is any better. Besides, I have tickets to a baseball game on Saturday night and I would rather be left behind with the sinners so I can go to the game.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  9. Jack

    I've read the Bible a few times. The word "rapture" doesn't appear in it – not even once.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  10. mike

    You said it best when you said that "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."

    Its the BOY WHO CRIED WOLF... and the real sad part, is next time, we could be eaten by the wolf.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Norman

      nope-the wordl will keep on spinning for a few more billion years then eventually die when our sun burns up-thats how it will happen

      May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • mike

      Norman, the EARTH will last millons years longer yes, BUT WE NEED A PHYSICAL PUSH to FORCE US to USE OUR MINDS, only during a time of survival will humanity listen to themselves and concentrate inwardly enough to reach higher levels of consciousness and thought (like Telepathy)... Yes the earth will always be here.. but we COME AND GO... and soon, MANY WILL GO, we NEED the push.. Think about it ... just really stop and think about it. Really stop listening to all the garbage outside and listen to yourself for once

      May 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  11. maens

    Every second a person dies. The world comes to an end for that person. I do not believe that the rapture will happen on May 21, 2011. I am a Catholic.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  12. Voice of Reason

    Put simply: We get to believe what we believe. No one can take it from us. If this preacher believes that 'The Day' is next week, then that's what he believes and who are we to tell him otherwise? If only Americans really did value their freedom of religion... Instead we are perfectly willing to villify and stigmatize people who think differently than we do.

    Gee thanks, Big Brother. In America, I guess 2 and 2 really DO make 5.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • mike

      how do you pray and listen???? Pray THEN Listen??? you can not listen while praying because if you a praying you are making sound/vibrations and not allowing them to come in. think about it....

      May 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Ondoher

      Do not mistake Freedom of Religion (government noninterference) with automatic respect of any position labeled religion. I support anybody's right to believe anything they want, and to practice their religion (in as much these practices do not violate any laws) how they see fit. However, I also support my right to call them loons, or to pick apart their arguments, or generally treat their ideas with contempt (and some beliefs are deserving of contempt even if labeled religious).

      Too many people think that criticism of religion is supression of religious freedom. It isn't. It is, itself, an expression of the freedom of speech. If you put an idea out there, I am free to criticize it.

      Believe what you will. And I may believe you a fool for it.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  13. Ron San Bruno, Ca

    Christians are whats wrong with christianity. You all fight for first place at a table that eats bread and wine,but it doesn't give you carte blanche to pass judgement on others. I consider all religions on the verge of rediculous.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  14. Trex

    Carl LaFong
    I am a Christian (for about 20 years now)and I do not hate non-Christians or Gays. My friend Steve who is both could tell you that we do not have a relationship based in hate (I have known him since grade school). Jesus commands us to Love all people. Many people who claim to be Christians are imperfect and that would be why they need redemption just like non-Christians need redemption. Jesus does not hate and did not even hate the people that were killing him on the cross. His example is what Christians are supposed to emulate.... Unfortunately so many fall short of his example..... I can only hope to be just a little like him and I pray that my failures as a Christian do not push people like you away from Christ who came to save you. I cannot give any excuse for the terrible actions and terrible words of so many who call themselves Christians.. I can only offer the truth as I understand it.... Christ died so that we may live. What Christians do will always fall short of what God can and will do if you only believe in his Son.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  15. Mikie

    “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), Interesting; I thought you people say that Jesus was GOD in the flesh.(Trinity Doctrine) If Jesus was GOD He should know everything. Don’t you think you should give up on that doctrine and find the truth....

    May 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  16. Paul

    Oh brother... it's not the rapture that scares me – it's these people who believe in it. This guy is no better or worse than Harold Campings. On the bright side, after the rapture, those of us who are left behind can finally live peaceful lives filled with joy and love (for at least 6 months...).

    May 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  17. guest

    Imagine a wonderful day when there is no priest, no rabbi and no mullah on the planet Earth. No church, no synagogue and no mosque.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • mike

      ya its called December 22nd 2012 hehehehehe

      May 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  18. Mikie

    “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), Interesting; I thought you people say that Jesus was GOD in the flesh.(Trinity Doctrine) If Jesus was GOD He should know everything. Don’t you think you should give up on that doctrine....

    May 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      If you read their book you will see that they can hold many conflicting beliefs at the same time.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  19. Badger Bob Of The Mounties ! ! !

    My Christian delusion is better than your Christian delusion, so there!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  20. iShane

    Attn CNN! Twitter is just not that relevant stop hocking it.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:42 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.