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. Paul

    Doomsday "prophecies" have been a part of Christianity for pretty much it's entire lifespan.

    In the end, a few days from now it will become May 22nd, and someone will make yet another prediction for their Armageddon-to-come, and the process will repeat once enough people forget how idiotic they were for believing the guy who said "May 21st, 2011 FOR SERIOUS!"

    Of course, since the Bible supposedly says we can't know the day of judgement, perhaps we should have people predicting it constantly. That way, it never happens lest someone actually gets it right...

    May 18, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  2. georgert

    So, the author says that Camping's apocalyptic prediction is baloney, but he argues that there will be an apocalypse, just not his? Unless you're talking about humanity losing its collective mind and pushing the launch buttons, a big asteroid smacking us or the sun evolving into a red giant, these religious doomsayers can all just shut their piehole.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Reality

      As per Family Stations' IRS Form 990, Camping is paid no salary. There, however, is a "loan" to party X for $175,000 noted on the 2009 Form 990. The 2008 Form 990 was sent back to Family Stations because of many errors. Looks like Camping false prophecies extend to his dealings with the IRS!!! It also appears that Family Stations/Camping uses a lot of the money they/(Camping) receive in donations for investments in the the stock and bond market. "Non-profits" do not pay taxes on dividends, interest or capital gains. Another dodge by Camping to cheat the IRS and the US taxpayers?

      What else do we know:

      1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

      2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

      3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

      4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

      5. Most contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

      Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE.

      May 19, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  3. DoodleSheep

    The lack of credibility harms Christianity. The fact it's based on fairy tales and Egyptian and other mythologies harms Christianity.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  4. azmie


    May 18, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  5. Dallas

    Wait didn't Jesus say to not live your life like it's the end of times and that only god knows when the world will end? If you would like to be taken in the rapture I suggest all you theorists and conspricists start living without Judgement Day looking over your shoulder.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  6. michelle

    this is plain insane if anyone believes this they need to get their bible out read it AGAIN!! It was not meant for us to know when he will return. If it was meant to be Jesus himself would know!! The bible states that he will come in the hour ye think not it also says to be patient!!! Live Day by day as if it was ur last when he comes everyone better be ready!

    May 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  7. Helen K

    Why does Family Radio organization still takes donations, if the world is going to end on May 21, 2011 at 6 PM?
    What are they going to do with all that money? WHATSUP?

    May 18, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  8. Religiously Confused

    I read the the news about the end of the would, and it scares me....Understandable right? I'm not religious, heck you could say I'm a bit religiously confused, but these headings informing non-believers of rapture day almost makes me want to convert. As far as I can see it I'd rather sit and wait for the end. If the overly-zealous are wrong, good more living space, if not....hopefully i survive. In the possible end of the world, still just a theory, I kinda want to partake in it, i'm fine with going to hell (i'm sure there will be fairly populated), at least it will be warm, right? Seeing as i've never been a follower of Christianity and don't understand what the big deal is about (might read the bible, if time permits) I kinda feel sorry for them (paradise probably gets boring after a while lol) they'll miss all the fireworks....

    May 18, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  9. eric Castello1

    colsians(Spelling) declares that all things were made by him through him and for him(Jesus paul was talking about)
    My question is for all those who believe in science and evolution and stuff: Why?...
    Why did the big bang happen, Why did evolution happen, Why?....
    Do you think that inaminate objects would just turn themselfs into things?...
    You think cavemen just happened? And the iceage just happened?... You think all of the earths elements and atmospheares just happened?... You think the sun is just their for no reason, And night and day just decided one day to happen?...
    You think humans just came out of nowhere and decided to make up laugagues and music and fire and figured out how to eat sleep and drink crap pee and then created society? I'll give you your answer, Theirs a creator and his name his GOD Almighty. Do i believe may 21? of course not, Harold camping is straight from satan himself, And this fourm and discussion here is exactly what he wants, So bottom line god created everything, Weather people believe him or not, Theirs a jesus and he's ready to recieve you whenever you ready...

    And another thing, About noah, Whats so hard to believe about it. Cavemen are more believable? Or the iceage? or the fact that stars just magically came together and formed exsitance? The bible is true just accept it people, If you read it with a receptive heart then god wil reveal himself to you...

    May 18, 2011 at 11:05 pm |

      Glenn Beck will host continuous 24-hour Saturday coverage. Aluminum tin hits required for proper reception.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  10. Tego

    Mark 13:31-32 (New International Version)

    31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

    The Day and Hour Unknown

    32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

    If the bible it self says that the son (Jesus) himself doesn't know when he's coming what makes you think that you know?

    May 18, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Free

      Again, isn't Jesus also God? Does this mean that only 2/3 of God is omniscient? Jesus can't be omniscient if he doesn't know this, right?

      May 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  11. kenneth swedroe

    silly, silly silly. amazing people still believe in this fantasy and myth. unbelievable! astounding. amazing. you just shake your head. they would probably follow Jim Jones, desperate for something, anything to believe in.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  12. VegasRage

    Christianity hurts itself, these lost balls are just another example of that.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  13. lacton

    We had a saying at Submarine School....."The stupid shall be punnished." I'll be saying it again when I wake up on Sunday.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  14. soporifix

    "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."

    Proving that the only difference between Camping and every other Christian is just a matter of degree. It's all the same baloney.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  15. Mariozng


    May 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  16. One of them

    Survivors! Get the t-shirt! http://www.cafepress.com/JudgeThis_5_21_2011

    May 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  17. Wes

    It's so sad that so many of you have such a negative view of Christianity. I really wish that the Christian folks you meet would actually love their neighbors and love their God with all their hearts, souls and minds like the Bible tells us to do. This religion would be where it's supposed to be, and not a mockery like so many make it out to be. Please understand that the Christians who discouraged you so much and turned you away from believing what the Bible teaches by forcing what they believe down your throat and making you feel bad for not following (to make themselves feel like better people and that they are doing "God's work"...) are not what God intended Christianity to be. God is real and loves you and I enough to forgive us for being us (sinners). There's no greater love than for someone to lay down their lives for you and that's what was done for all of us. I am thankful that our God loves us even when we are WAY off track..

    May 18, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Mike

      Christianity is all about the $$$. When the church has a lot of members and is powerful it can have very strict rules. When the attendance at the pews drops (and the money flow slows down), they will dial back those strict rules to encourage more members to attend, hoping to increase the income flow. All it takes to realize what a scam Christianity is, is research. Read up on when priests were allowed to marry, and when they were prevented from doing so (hint: it was about money).

      May 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • amma maw

      the Christianity you speak of is based on BELIEF, FAITH. In a story that can never be proven. The bible was written by MEN – two of whom were not even alive when Jesus was. I grew up a Christian, I understand very clearly. Just because you choose to believe, does not make it true. And it is completely condescending to act like you are going to have some glorious future in some fantasy place with a bunch of angels, as Christians generally believe, and the 'poor' rest of us are going to be 'left behind' to some horrid fate. It's rubbish Wes. Your choice if you wish to accept it as truth. But rubbish nonetheless.
      Life is lovely and can be filled with just as much kindness, love and compassion for others without it.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  18. Sandbur

    6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 But what time zone? Don't want to miss CNN's coverage.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • JOregon

      All time zones. They are saying it begins at the east and moves around the world as the world turns.

      May 18, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  19. Former Marine

    I find it disturbing to see all the comments from people wishing death on these people because of bill boards and pamplets. I find it disturbing that they consider themselves normal, by wanting these people to kill each other in a "bloodbath", but these are likely the same people who talk about wanting peace. " I can't wait to live without religion" they say. "We would be better off without it" they say. Ok, if religion (Christianity as the target in most responses here) were gone and the murderers, rapists, psychopaths and tyrants, who are "non-religious", were still committing acts of violence and in the name of "nothing" that would be normal? See, I just don't see where the atheists can actually qualify as not religious either. They devote their lives to believing in nothing. They study the believers books to mock them and make a case for themselves, but really have nothing to contribute to the furthering of society. Their belief is in nothing, but it is still a belief, is it not? I can respect a born and raised fanatical terrorist, that believes they have a purpose, more than I can an atheist.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Mike

      "See, I just don't see where the atheists can actually qualify as not religious either." If you have a car, and I don't, you would be considered a car owner, whereas I would NOT be considered "The owner of a non-existent car". In other words, the absence of belief if not a belief, no matter how much you want to think so.

      "They study the believers books to mock them and make a case for themselves, but really have nothing to contribute to the furthering of society." Actually, we study them to educate ourselves, and then, educate you. Each of you religious groups are segregated in your belief and communities due to sanctimonious arrogance. We seek to bridge the gaps so there's less of a chance that you'll try to impose your divine will on us (or even worse, get us killed in one of your holy crusades).

      "I can respect a born and raised fanatical terrorist, that believes they have a purpose, more than I can an atheist." This is why you still need more education. You've likened "purpose" to religion, which shows how ignorant you truly are. Visit your local inst-itution of higher education ASAP.

      May 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • N.

      I would love to meet you. Very good point there. So hypocritical of people

      May 18, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  20. Turtlehead

    Christianity is doing just fine harming itself...doesn't need any help from these nut balls.

    May 18, 2011 at 8:19 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.