Kentucky snake handler death doesn't shake belief

Pastor's son to take over duties.
Associated Press
Feb 26, 2014

Three days after pastor Jamie Coots died from a rattlesnake bite at church, mourners leaving the funeral went to the church to handle snakes.

Coots, who appeared on the National Geographic Channel's "Snake Salvation," pastored the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church founded by his grandfather in Middlesboro, Ky. The third-generation snake handler was bitten during a service on Feb. 15 and died later at his home after refusing medical help. Now his adult son, Cody Coots, is taking over the family church where snakes are frequently part of services.

"People think they will stop handling snakes because someone got bit, but it's just the opposite," said Ralph Hood, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, who has been studying snake handlers for decades. "It reaffirms their faith."

The practice of snake handling in the United States was first documented in the mountains of East Tennessee in the early 20th Century, according to Paul Williamson, a professor of psychology at Henderson State University who, along with Hood, co-wrote a book about snake handlers called, "Them That Believe." In the 1940s and 1950s, many states made snake-handling illegal (it's currently illegal in Kentucky), but the practice has continued, and often law enforcement simply looks the other way.

The basis for the practice is a passage in the Gospel of Mark. In the King James Version of the Bible, Mark 16:17-18 reads: "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."

Snake handling gained momentum when George Hensley, a Pentecostal minister working in various Southern states in the early 1900s, recounted an experience where, while on a mountain, a serpent slithered beside him. Hensley purported to be able to handle the snake with impunity, and when he came down the mountain he proclaimed the truth of following all five of the signs in Mark. Hensley himself later died from a snake bite.

Today the practice is most common in Southern Appalachian states, and snake handlers often use native rattlesnakes and copperheads. Such churches are independent, and often call themselves "signs following" churches.

Andrew Hamblin, who co-starred on "Snake Salvation," said he was with Coots when he died.

"I held him in my arms when he took his last breath," said Hamblin, who is pastor at the Tabernacle Church of God in the nearby community of LaFollette, Tenn.

He believes that Coots, 42, would have died Feb. 15 no matter what; If not by a snake, then a stroke or some sort of accident.

"God's appointed time of death trumps everything," Hamblin said.

Williamson said believers describe the feeling they get when they are handling snake, "Like a high, but a greater high than any drug or alcohol. It's a feeling of joy, peace, extreme happiness."

He said that many snake handlers believe that when God anoints them, they will be protected, but they still recognize there is danger. For instance, if the spirit leaves them and they don't put down the snake quickly enough, they could be bitten.

Coots had handled snakes many years and had been bitten several times, always relying on prayer, and not medical help, to heal him. In "The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith," a book focusing on prominent snake-handling families, Coots is interviewed and describes a bite that took part of his finger, saying he had done something he shouldn't have done (he doesn't say what) and God was punishing him. Describing another painful bite, Coots says he was bitten after the spirit had moved out of him but he continued holding the snake for egotistical reasons.

Hood knew Coots well, and attended his standing-room only funeral service last week. At a gathering at the church afterward, some mourners were handling snakes, he said.

"At the service, what everybody recognized and accepted is that he died obedient to God and that his salvation is assured," said Hood.

At church service on Saturday, a week after Coots died, both Cody Coots and his mother handled the rattler that killed his father, said Williamson, who attended the service. Calls to the Coots family have not been returned.

Williamson said he has documented 91 snake bite deaths among serpent handlers since 1919; Between 350 and 400 people die from snake bites in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Williamson said questions of why a snake-handling believer dies from a bite are no different from the questions believers of various faiths have about why bad things happen to good people.

Coots' death was the second snake bite death at his church, which was founded in 1978. Melinda Brown, a 28-year-old mother of five, died in 1995, two days after she was bitten by a rattlesnake during a service.

Coots was then a 23-year-old pastor, and Brown spent the two days it took her to die at Coots' house. At the time, Coots told reporters that Brown had decided to put her fate in God's hands rather than go to the hospital.

"Everything that happened, where it happened, was the Lord's will," Coots said.

Brown's husband, John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, continued to handle serpents after his wife's death. He was killed by a snake in 1998, at the age of 34, while preaching at an Alabama church.

His last words to the congregation were, "No matter what else, God's still God."

 

Comments

deertracker

You cannot tame a snake! IDIOTS! Sooner or later you are going to get bit. No sympathy from me. You knew it was a snake when you started messing with it Leave GOD out of it.

Darwin's choice

Democrats! Think they can do anything...

Peninsula Pundit

This site really needs a thumbs up/down function.

mikeylikesit

i have more trust in the snake than i have in the man..

castaliaman

I've watched this show and these "ministers" are just plain NUTS!

starryeyes83

It's a reptile for Chris'sake, You think a reptile gives a crap about any god at all? I'm pretty sure they don't.

How stupid, oh well.... it's just thinning out the herd a bit more, I guess. Then again , maybe we could use this method for the druggies and thug criminals. , just a thought.

kURTje

The same stuff happens in West Virginia.

OneLocalVoice

Matthew 4:5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, `HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and `ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.' " 7 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, `YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.' "

Peninsula Pundit

+1

candleburner

Mikey I agree with you in most sense but what bothers me the most is that most people any more will pick and choose sections of the Bible to fit what they want to believe instead of the whole Bible. That way they can decide that that one verse validates what they're doing. Now it may be in there elsewhere as a condemnation but it doesn't matter because in that one verse that it's ok and that's all that matters.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

[Disclaimer that what I say is in neutral observation/conversation as faith is a personal decision that sometimes just can't be understood by others. I won't assert a superiority nor derision as there are some who may find my own beliefs different. Plus as I serve people of many faiths, what would that speak of me?]

Selective sourcing serves its purpose to what the group wants to accomplish, but it does seem disingenuous for sure. Is it a case of "The whole Bible is true but some parts are truer than others?" I believe that a similar instance occurs within the Jehova Witness sect as it relates to them refusing blood transfusions because it is considered consuming blood - a no-no according to a verse.

I can have an opinion on what I see as foolish or confusing, but I won't stop those people from practicing what they believe. But I do have to wonder when given the cure for leprosy (and household mildew which shares a name similar to the implement used to supposedly cast it out) why we aren't using it actively as a religious sect or medicine?

Leviticus Chapter 14
“3. ‘And the priest goes out of the camp and the priest looks, and beholds that the sore of the leprosy of the leper is healed.’ 4. ‘And the priest commands, and takes, for the one healed, two unblemished live birds, cedar wood, Coccus scarlet, and hyssop.’ 5. ‘And the priest commands, and slaughters the one bird in a pottery vessel upon living water.’ 6. ‘He takes the live bird and the cedar wood and the Coccus scarlet and the hyssop and dips them and the live bird in the blood of the bird slaughtered upon the living water.’ 7. ‘And sprinkle seven times upon him purified of leprosy, and he is purified, and sends the live bird upon the face of the field.”
“Of the cedar wood, hyssop, clean bird, and scarlet wool or fillet, were made an aspergillum , or instrument to sprinkle with. The cedar wood served for the handle, the hyssop and living bird were attached to it, by means of the scarlet wool or crimson fillet. The bird was so bound to this handle, as that its tail should be downwards, in order to be dipped in the blood of the bird that had been killed. The whole of this made an instrument for the sprinkling of this blood, and when this business was done, the living bird was let loose, and permitted to go whithersoever it would.” Adam Clarke, 1831, vol. I p. 529

EDIT: The explanation of the verses Jehova Witnesses cite. ***The more you know!***

http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-wi...

queenjhb

Amen & pass the plate...