Photo: National Geographic

There is some sad news coming from Middleboro, Kentucky. Pastor Jamie Coots and reality star of National Geographic’s, Snake Salvation, died Saturday, February 15 when bitten by a rattlesnake he was handling during his church’s service. The 42 year-old was bitten during the day’s service but refused treatment from paramedics. It has been rumored that the pastor had been bitten eight times before.

In May of 2012, another pastor, Mack Woldford also died of a rattlesnake bite. While considered a bold pastor, Wolford has also been characterized as a “daring man of conviction” who truly believed that the Bible actually mandates Christians to handle serpents to test their faith in God, and if they should get bitten, God will heal them. Ironically, Wolford’s father was also a snake-carrying preacher, who also died the same way years ago.

Snake handling (or serpent handling as some would rather call it) has been a ritual a number of smaller churches in Appalachia since the early 20th century. Unlike what some would think, that actual handling of snakes is only a small part of each service. Parishioners often quote Mark 16:17-18:

“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.”

Or Luke 10:19:

“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.”

According to an article in USA Today reporting Woldford’s death it stated that, “Those who die from snakebites are never criticized for lack of adequate faith; it is believed that it was simply the deceased’s time to die.”

Jamie Coots and ministry partner Andrew Hamblin had struggled to keep the over-100-year-old tradition alive and saw things a little differently. According to the  National Geographic show website, the two believed that if they didn’t practice the ritual, they would be 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.”

National Geographic offered their condolences to the family today: “In following Pastor Coots for our series, ‘Snake Salvation,’ we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced. Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.” The network went on to say that they would air a tribute special to Coots, although they have not stated when that would air.

So, what do you think? Do you think God mandates that Christians are supposed to handle snakes or serpents? What about the time that Satan tried to tempt Jesus as it written in Matthew 4:5-7:

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

(Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:15-17 by the way.)

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