Snake Handling Pentecostal Believers Calling on Doctors and Jesus after Death
Updated: Feb 8
ETN - Seven years after snake-handling Pastor Jamie Coots of National Geographic's popular "Snake Salvation" television program has died after he was bit by one among his snakes during a church service, he officiates at the Appalachian Pentecostal. Now the snake-handlers are looking to doctors and Jesus for help with venomous snake bites and understanding the tragedy.
Coots, who starred alongside Pastor Andrew Hamblin from Lafollette in 'Snake Salvation,' died in 2014 after turning down medical assistance to treat his venomous snake bite.
In a report from National Geographic published Monday, Hamblin, 29, who now pastors the Free Pentecostal House of Prayer in Gray, Kentucky, together with his new wife, Taylor, shows that the group of Pentecostal snake handlers are increasingly calling on doctors for help once they get bitten while handling venomous snakes rather than simply praying that they don’t die.
They are also taking more precautions. “Since Jamie died, I’ve offered a rattler to nobody. I’m the shepherd, and that I am liable for what happens during this building,” Hamblin said within the report during which he reveals he only now occasionally pastors with snakes.
A group made up of about 125 snake-handling churches, including Hamblin’s church, believe their practice is supported by the “signs” described in Chapter 16 of the Gospel of Mark, which says, in part, that “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 that they shall recover.”
They often reject medical assistance after a snake bite to demonstrate their faith in God’s healing power, but Hamblin group are slowly evolving in their theology.
Ralph Hood, a University of Tennessee professor who focuses on the psychology of faith, including serpent handlers, said refusing to call 911 for assistance is now considered old fashioned. Younger pastors argue that no verse within the Bible forbids seeking help for serious bites.
A year after Coots’ death, his 28-year-old son, Cody Coots, needed medical help after he was bitten by a snake and was lucky enough to survive.
Jimmy Morrow, 65, a snake-handling pastor, of the Edwina Church of God in Jesus Christ’s Name, in Newport, Tennessee, believes in holding on to his faith.
“I’ve been bit twice by a copperhead, and that I didn’t go to a doctor,” he said. “I just stayed home, and therefore the Lord healed me. I do know tons of excellent brothers and sisters who say that once they die, they need to die while practicing the signs of the Gospel.”
Jason Stone, a 40-year-old father of three boys who preaches from a one-room church in Marion, North Carolina, told National Geographic that he has never been bitten before, he wouldn’t wait in seeking medical attention if it were needed.
“For me, handling a serpent is like being totally absorbed within the spiritual experience,” he said. “You become unaware of everything around you. It’s also a release from all negative emotion, which may be a part of why I roll in the hay .”
Coots reportedly suffered bites that endangered his health before his death in 2014. He said he nearly died within the early 1990s when an outsized rattlesnake bit him on the left arm. In 1998, a rattlesnake he was handling also bit the center finger of his right. Both Times, he refused medical attention and was able to survive.
"It's a victory to God's folks that the Lord has seen fit bring me through it," he noted the day after he was bitten in 1998.
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