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. Nicole mcdowell

    Thank you for this! I am a Christian who has strayed away from the lord but am currently eagerly seeking him and this message helps! Thank you!

    May 19, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  2. John Baker

    The Kingdom will not come when you expect it. No one will say, "Look it is here!' or "See, it is over there!. Instead, the kingdom of the Father is spread out over the whole world, and people do not see it. [ the gospel of Thomas} I am an early Christian believer. The world has a long ways to go to become like the Christ. There are many like Christ, but the literal modern Christian is blind to the Knowledge of the truth. They are just like our young Islamic friends who are followers of the Al Qaeda who just don't understand. Let the blind lead the blind!

    May 19, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  3. Forrest Turman

    The bible is a work of fiction based on the life of a real man (In this case Jesus). Actually it's one of the best works of fiction every written,it is also a best seller for that reason. The point I am trying to make here is the bible is pure entertainment nothing more nothing less. If you want to live your life as Jesus did then stop judging everyone who doesn't believe as you do and start loving everyone and everything here on earth. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

    With love,

    Forrest Turman

    May 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  4. Name*adamfromaz

    Hit it right on the dot. Scaring people into heaven isn't what God's about... OK maybe with eternity in hell which is enough fear for me... but if your heart is right there should be no fear so relax and wait upon the lord and not on what 1 man says.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  5. Mike

    I always feel sorry for people that are intolerant for which they do not understand.

    I will pray for those people...

    May 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  6. Sara

    I love how CNN thinks this is harmful the christian religion. A few people in the christian religion believing something equates to every christian believing it. They are quick to condemn Christianity, while quickly coming to the defense of the Muslim religion when they murder women and children. Saying that these beliefs are only practiced by a few Muslim extremists and do not represent the Muslim community as a whole. I forget when it come to Christianity they are hypocrites.

    May 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Satan

      So if they say "All Muslims believe crazy stuff," it's true, but if they say "all Christians believe crazy stuff," it's false? You are a huge hypocrite and I have a sauna warming up for you.

      May 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Disciple

      In reply to 'Satan,' I think Sara was referring to the double standard that exists. Judgements should be made on the content of the Bible and the Quran, not on false prophets and terrorists. Try reading them with an open mind and see the truths for yourselves.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  7. Skapanza

    How is saying "rapture is coming, but we never know when" really more harmful than this crackpot saying it's coming on Saturday? In many ways, the view of a far-off undetermined day of judgement is a much more insidious idea. Mainstream religion knows that doomsday prophets are harmful because the prospect of a looming end brings out the crazies, but that the specter of a far off doom is what keeps the rank-and-file sheep in the fold. It is critical that the fear of a day of judgement (someday, but not today) linger on the horizon to implant fear and enhance the power of religion over the individuals who are infected with such fear. A doomsday coming Saturday scares crazy people. A doomsday coming a long way off that cannot be disproven is a far more effective vehicle for fear for the mainstream masses.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Skapanza

      should read "really _less_ harmful"

      May 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  8. cpo5

    This pastor is correct 100%. I am a Christian and definitely NOT a harold camping follower. This is all bologney and a waste of money. Those people who quit their jobs thinking that they can know the date and the hour of the Lord's return. It may not even be in our lifetime. The "endtimes" having been going on for over a century now. They could continue for a while. I am so thankful that this columnist was able to write something read-worthy on this topic. Now if only foxnews did the same...

    May 19, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  9. GC

    All religion is harmful. One group of gullible fanatics pointing at another and calling them crazy is absurd hypocrisy.

    You both believe the same noxious garbage, he just picked a different day.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Disciple

      I'd be interested in why you believe all religion is harmful.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • GC

      Religion is harmful because it is false and divisive. It is an antiquated system of man-made societal control that results in a gullible, fearful, and xenophobic culture – every time. It's a trick – the "easy way" to control and explain – and like all fraud, it causes harm.

      May 20, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  10. mino pavlic

    The unbelievers are just as ignorant as the so called believers. 2 Corinthians 5:8 clearly says; absent from the body present with the Lord!!! There is a rapture, but it's a personal one. Tomorrow as of yet doesn't exist, and MANY around the world may never get to see it. If you don't believe that, tell it to the one's that perished in these horrific disasters.

    I don't care what you believe, it's given unto every man to die once, and we will. However, it could be ten years from now, or it could be ten minutes from now. All of us need to be organ donors today and give our hearts to Jesus.

    We're either going to hell or heaven for ETERNITY when we die!!! WHERE WOULD YOU RATHER BE? Without the baptism of Jesus, NO ONE is seeing heaven...

    May 19, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Slava Bogu !

      May 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  11. MB

    The Lord could come back any minute, no one knows. The bible says the Lord will come like a theif in the night. No one will be expecting it, but say that judgment day was Saturday, what would you be doing differently. Most people would be out partying knowing it would be their last or would you be like the few trying to tell as many people about the beautiful word of God and about His love. There are so many comments on here degrading Christians because so many people have it wrong. I can promise you that all Christians aren't lunatics and trying to shove religion down your throat. Because it's not our place to so so. It's His. We plant the seeds. I hope none of this stirs controversy or gets rude comments. I'm just voicing my opinion. 🙂

    May 19, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Carlton

      Thank you for inspiring me to witness to other people. Jesus is coming back and that will be a very glorious day. The bible says that even the righteous will barely make it into Heaven so remember to live Holy. The Harvest is many but the Laborers are few. God Bless anybody who reads this, in Jeses Name...Amen.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Satan

      It's even worse than that: Jesus wandered in the wilderness for years, and He was above time and space. There is nothing to prevent Him from coming forward in time and posting His own comments. He could have wandered the universe for thousands of yearsand gone back to the instant He left. If you believe in Him, you should be prepared to meet Him any time.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      "I hope none of this stirs controversy or gets rude comments. I'm just voicing my opinion"

      Friend, Jesus knew HE will stir controversy, and HE told Hi disciples if they(the world) hated Him, they will hate them too.
      And we should NEVER say that it is JUST MY OPINION, when we speak the Word of God and His truth! We drag His truth to man's level. Man's opinions come dime-a dozen. God's truth is ONE, and it is unchangeable reality!

      May 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Disciple

      Wow, it looks like 'Satan' gets it after all!

      May 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Spirit in the Sky

      Yeah, it's not a stupid worthless human opinion, it's the opinion of an imaginary bearded ghost in space!

      Seriously though, you only get one shot in life, and the choices we make in the short time we have on earth does matter. Rather than shopping fear-mongering religion, we should focus on improving the lives and conditions of people on this earth. No Heaven or Hell awaits us, the only legacy we have is what we do on earth to improve it.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "the only legacy we have is what we do on earth to improve it."

      Sounds like you have a faith there. Who are you to say aything about our legacy. We live, procreate and die. That is the legacy of our species. No different than any other on this rock that one day will either freeze or burn...maybe both in the end.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  12. Jamie

    What kind of "God" would end the world 3 days before the Glee season finale and a month before the season 4 premiere of True Blood? That would be just cruel.
    All I have to say is they better not be using my tax dollars to help pay for these crazy people who gave all their money/materials away for this "rapture" that is not going to happen.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Ahhh Bob Saget

      you forgot about Dexter and Weeds

      May 19, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  13. JMH88

    You know what I hate? The argument you have with an extremist that claims we are the only living planet in the universe....to that I must call BS....its just another example of why I reserve the right to change my mind at any point, but nonetheless believe in evolution, and all that other science stuff....every religion seems to think the other is wrong....

    May 19, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Disciple

      I dare you to read Lee Strobel's book "The Case for a Creator" and see how many former scientists/evolutionists have decided that it's evolution that's the faith and creation that's the fact.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • GC

      I have read it. Ignoring for a second Lee's dubious methods and motives as a "journalist", your point is irrelevant. Evolution has the support of evidence. Creation does not.

      The supposed "number of scientists" renouncing evolution as reported by Strobel is of course irrelevant as it has no bearing on the evidence. It's a logical fallacy that the number of detractors would have any bearing on the validity of evidence. Strobel is quite handy with those fallacies, but that doesn't make them true – or good journalism.

      Science questions evolution consistently – through the scientific method. So far, the system has been continually validated under all scrutiny. The universe doesn't give a crap what you believe – things are what they are. Evolution is what it is – the evidence suggests it works – irrespective of your, or my, opinion.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  14. Ann

    People like you won't believe in the Devil until you actually see him. And I will be very sorry when you do.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Sophie

      "People like you won't believe in the Devil until you actually see him."

      So you have seen the devil and can prove his existence? How do you know it's a guy?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Jamie

      You do realize Rosemary's Baby was just a movie, right?

      May 19, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Tom Servo

      I believe in the Devil! I've seen his Food Cake!

      May 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Satan

      You'd have to see Ann to believe her. I'm not kidding.

      May 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  15. Carl Drews

    Creationists are not defending the Bible from the very first verse. They are defending the human interpretation of Bishop James Ussher from 1650.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  16. Bro. Murez

    HAROLD CAMPING – "YOU ARE WRONG" In the process you have done an injustice to true Christianity. Not that it hurt us but you've made it difficult to get people to believe the truth. The end will come and we're indeed in that time BUT MAY 21, 2011 IS NOT IT.To all – note the following Scriptures which are true.

    Matt 24:3 – 14 (KJV) the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
    And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • One of few

      What ever he studied it was not the bible. Matthew 24:36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

      May 19, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  17. RdclCntrst

    "Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return."

    Um, wrong. The Old Testament never says anything about the "lord's" return; the Old Testament view is that the Lord never went away...and that Jesus isn't Him. Mentions in the books of the prophets that refer to the Messianic era have been mistranslated–dozens of times–with an eye towards Christianizing the Old Testament. But as anyone with a working knowledge of Hebrew knows, the Old Testament 1) explicitly claims that G-d is not, in any way, shape or form, a man; 2) there is no split or differentiation in G-d's unity, thus no trinity; 3) the biblical messiah is explicitly designated not as a god, or a demigod, or as one third of a godhood, but as a man; 4) the biblical messiah is not resurrected, he's just a man. A resurrection will take place, but after the messiah has already come.
    And so on. There are indeed many passages in the Old Testament that refer to a coming messiah and an end to come. But none of them refer to Jesus. Unless you consider the passages about false prophets and false messiahs to refer to him.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Paul Reese

      Wow... God warns us through the current bible (NIV or NAS will be fine) that the evil one will blind the minds of many. Somehow you took too many humanist college courses which have placed within you a false confidence built upon your own arrogance that you think you have arrived and understand the truth. The truth (God's Word) will set you free. You won't get it... if you choose to remain arrogantly confident in your SELF attainment. Your reporting/ statements lacked truth, therefore, it is obvious that you chose a path other than from the spirit of GOD. Your statements are voiced from the evil one. You are a puppet of foolish talk. (The bible does say that anyone can call on the name of the lord and be saved. ) That is after the Spirit of God first calls you. You still have some tremendous humbling before you will actually hear the truth. It's a shame, because most people who are so earnest to find the truth and stumble as you have, will never let their own ego out of the way.... I'm trying to save your life dude. You've missed the mark and are talking foolishness...

      May 19, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Ignorance

      Yeah, take your stupid education and get out! Don't you know the only real truth is unprovable and based on anti-science?

      May 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Disciple

      Just a couple of questions for clarification – it appears from your writing that you are Jewish, is that correct? I was under the impression that Jews only read the first five books of the Old Testament. Or perhaps I should say the first five books of the Bible are the Jewish Torah. Is there actually more to it? Thanks.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Disciple

      As an Atheist Jew (sounds like a contradiction but really I'm atheist religiously, jewish culturally) I can say that Jews study the first five books of moses, or as you put it the Jewish bible as well as the Gemara and the Mishnah. The books of moses is the written tradition and the others are the oral tradition that was passed down through generations and finally written separately. it's in that that tells us who the messiah is and what he (sorry but judaism, along with all other religions are pretty bias towards guys) will do to prove he is the one. It's actually outrageously specific and at no point does Jesus fit what the jews expected the messiah to appear as, which is why there is still Judaism and why there wasn't a mass conversion to become a christ follower when he first arrived on the scene.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  18. savedvet

    This breaks my heart to see that people are either misled or just don't read Gods word. Jesus told us that we would see the signs of the end, but nobody except His Father God would know the day of His (Jesus) return and only He knows the day the world will come to a end. Now He also said if any man says he has seen Me (JESUS) he is a liar. This blows Joseph Smith's vision of a new book to the bible out of the water also. Do I think these people are sincere, yes, but many are sincere and wrong. May God reveal His truth to these people and may He reveal His truth to our world live in.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Bible Clown

      "but many are sincere and wrong" And you, of course, are the ONLY ONE who can see the truth? Get a grip and start trying to get that beam out of your eye, brother. I can take care of the mote in mine myself.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  19. illuminati

    It is fine to make predictions about the end time, because one of these days it will really happen.
    Of course, no one will be around the next day to report it. There is nothing that can be done to prevent it and
    nothing we can do to prepare for it.
    Who knows perhaps we are all dead now and do not know it.
    No matter what happens or what reality is Christianity is the only one right way.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Boy, I can really see what comfort it's giving you. Cheer up! Even with crazy people in it, it's a great world!

      May 19, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Carlton

      Yes, I agree that this are the Last and Wicked Days. Gos said that we live in this world but we are not of the world. If we are hated, like Jesus was, by the world then we are doing something right. The more that they desecrate Christianity, the more that we need to witness. May God Bless anybody who reads this, in Jesus Name...Amen.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  20. Michael

    The tragedy here is not that these nut jobs are giving Christians a bad name – they are only giving extremist lunatics a bad name.
    The tragedy here is that all these people who have given away their possessions in anticipation of a non-event will now be recipients of welfare. Our tax dollars will be supporting them and their innocent children, not because of natural disaster or predatory banking practices or a stagnant job market, but because of sheer massive stupidity.

    May 19, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Bible Clown

      "these nut jobs are giving Christians a bad name" You think that's just started? Burned a witch recently? Death Panels, WMDs, Birth certificates? White sheets, crosses burning? Picketing soldiers' funerals? You have a lot to answer for.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Michael

      Now now, Bible Clown, you know you are generalizing. To say all Christians are Tea Partiers or KKK members (not much difference) or Spanish Inquisitioners is like saying all atheists are KGB agents or all Muslims are terrorists. It's just not even close to the truth. To a well-informed, open mind, religious faith is simply a way of living that addresses metters of non-science such as making sense of life or finding happiness. By the logical standard in your post, all Buddhists would be running around blowing sarin gas into subway cars just like some Falun Gong nutjob did a few years back; but most folks know Buddhism is a pretty peaceful and harmonious way of life.
      That said, I understand your position and got a kick out of your posts.

      May 19, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Bible Clown

      "To say all Christians are Tea Partiers " I didn't say ALL, just that the hay's in the barn as far as 'bad reputation' goes. By the third or fourth crusade, non-Christians were definitely a bit concerned.

      May 19, 2011 at 12:54 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.