SnakehandlingAmong the oddest forms of Christianity practiced in the U.S. are the so-called “snake-handling churches.” Theirs is an odd wing of Pentostalism; many of them go by the hifalutin’ name of “Church of God with Signs Following.” The “signs” this name refers to, are the five listed by Jesus almost at the very end of the gospel according to Mark (emphasis mine):

“These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

Pentecostal churches tend to take the final 12 verses of Mark very seriously, even though most other Christian sects view them with skepticism, since the earliest manuscripts of that gospel end at 16:8.

That said, while Pentecostals are serious about the “five signs following,” the snake-handlers take it a step further: They actually hold services in which the officiant handles poisonous snakes. Most of the “signs following” churches are in Appalachia, and while a lot of those who attend them consider their practices to be age-old, this weird sect-within-a-sect has only been around since the early 20th century.

As one can imagine, theirs is a rather dangerous business. One “signs following” preacher — who was featured on a National Geographic channel “reality” show — found this out the hard way, as CNN reports, just a couple days ago (WebCite cached article):

A Kentucky pastor who starred in a reality show about snake-handling in church has died — of a snakebite.

Jamie Coots died Saturday evening after refusing to be treated, Middleborough police said.

On “Snake Salvation,” the ardent Pentecostal believer said that he believed that a passage in the Bible suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God. The practice is illegal in most states, but still goes on, primarily in the rural South.

Coots was a third-generation “serpent handler” and aspired to one day pass the practice and his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, on to his adult son, Little Cody.

Coots’s insistence on not getting medical treatment is not unusual for devout Pentecostals, especially of the “signs following” sort. They believe strongly in God’s healing power (as noted above, the last of the five signs is healing by laying on hands), and consider it profane to get medical treatment in place of that. What’s more, they often view a “snake handling” preacher getting bitten as a test of faith, so very often, getting medical treatment is the last thing they’ll want.

Oh, and … before you ask, yes, snake-handling is not the limit of the extremes these churches go to. Some of their adherents also ritually ingest poison.

I’m sure NatGeo will enjoy a ratings spike for Snake Salvation. Millions of Americans will, no doubt, tune in to see this oddball sect and its all-too-lethal rites. It’ll be a nationwide form of rubbernecking! But most Americans also will not learn the lesson here, which is that faith and metaphysics can, indeed, be taken too far. And while some southern states might decide to crack down on them (as CNN noted, these churches’ rites are illegal in some of them), the “signs following” churches will continue doing what they’ve been doing for a century … and more people will die needlessly. My guess is, Coots’s congregation will decide that he simply didn’t have “enough faith” and that his dying was justified because of that.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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3 Responses to “Snake-Handling Preacher Dies Of Snakebite”
  1. God called Mr. Coots to his heavenly reward, it seems. Amen, brother! 🙂

    • PsiCop says:

      Yep, that’s what his followers say. “The good Lord-uh called ‘im home.” That’s the way these things work; no matter what happens, God gets all the credit. Pick up a snake, don’t get bitten: “Just like the Bobble said. It’s a miracle! Praise God!” Pick up a snake, get bit, but survive: “He survived the bite, it’s a miracle, praise God!” Pick up a snake, get bitten, then die: “He’s gone ‘home,’ it must be God’s will. Praise God!”

  2. God is a jealous god, so they say. I guess that's one of the reasons he gets to take credit for all the good stuff. However, when it's starving children in Africa or people dying of horrible diseases, well… that's the Devil's fault there. Amen! Hallelujah!

  3.