Tennessee Preachers in the United States who during church service worship using venomous snakes will feature in a new reality TV show on National Geographic Channel.
The new program, scheduled to air in September on the National Geographic Channel, takes a look at the lives and deadly worship practices of Pentecostal Pastors Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Jamie Coots of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky. Coots is reportedly a mentor to Hamblin, 22.
As described by the National Geographic Channel:
“Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep an over-100-year-old tradition alive: the practice of handling deadly snakes in church. Jamie and Andrew believe in a Bible passage that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them as long as they are anointed by God’s power. If they don’t practice the ritual of snake handling, they believe they are destined for hell. Hunting the surrounding mountains for deadly serpents and maintaining their church’s snake collection is a way of life for both men. The pastors must frequently battle the law, a disapproving society, and even at times their own families to keep their way of life alive.”
The Bible passage that Coots, Hamblin and other Christians of the Signs Following Holiness communities take their cue from is found in the King James Version of Mark 16:17-18.
Snake handlers believe the New Testament passage includes a command or prophecy from Jesus that his followers “shall take up serpents” without fear of harm. Those who practice this form of worship insist believers must be under God’s anointing, or led by the Holy Spirit, if they choose to handle snakes during services.
“My job as pastor is to kindly keep myself and my flock in line, and to do what we feel is right according to the word of God,” Coots explained in a press release. “To me it’s as much a commandment from God when He said ‘they shall take up serpents,’ as it was when he said ‘thou shall not commit adultery.'”
SNAKE HANDLING IN PENTECOSTAL CHURCHES
Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia. The practice plays only a small part of the church service of churches that practice snake handling. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote theGospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke to support the practice:
And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17-18)
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19).
George Went Hensley (1880–1955) introduced snake handling practices into the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), circa 1910. He later resigned his ministry and started the first holiness movement church to require snake handling as evidence of salvation. Sister-churches later sprang up throughout the Appalachian region.
Another key scripture used to support their belief is Acts 28:1-6, which tells that Paul was bitten by a venomous viper and suffered no harm.
Most religious snake handlers are still found in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of the southeastern United States, especially in Alabama,Georgia Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio. However, they are gaining greater recognition from news broadcasts, movies and books about the non-denominational movement.
Some of the leaders in these churches have been bitten numerous times, as indicated by their distorted extremities. Hensley himself, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains, died from fatal snakebite in 1955.
In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne “Punkin” Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattler at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama. Members of his family contend that his death was probably due to a heart attack. However, his wife had died three years previously after being bitten while in Kentucky. Another snake handler died in 2006 at a church in Kentucky.
In 2012, Pentecostal pastor and snake handler Mack Wolford died from a rattlesnake bite he had received while performing an outdoor service in West Virginia, as did his father in 1983.