Snakes in a Church: National Geographic brings you inside a bizarre American cult
by Ed Farnan
September 07, 2013
Serpents have gotten a bad rap throughout history. In Genesis, the serpent beguiled Eve to lure Adam into taking the fateful bite of the apple.
In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation makes use of the Serpent several times to identify Satan the Dragon, as an ancient Serpent.
The absence of snakes in Ireland gave rise to the legend that in the 5th century patron St. Patrick, had chased them all into the sea.
Lets face it, many people are very afraid of snakes because they slither, hiss and can strike you with sharp fangs that deliver lethal poison. To bolster that reputation and fear, snake bites kill at least one hundred thousand people per year and injure perhaps another million.
The Bible has many archaic passages, if you search you can take one and create a religion with it…some would be called cults:
“They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
This is the basis of the 100 year old Christian Pentecostal sect known as the “Holiness.”
National Geographic takes us inside this bizarre world of cult religion to reveal the strange practices that most people would recoil from. “Snake Salvation” Premieres Tuesday, September 10, at 9:00 and 9:30 PM ET/PT
These true believers feel their only salvation and way to heaven is to handle and dance with deadly snakes while speaking in strange tongues, even quaffing down a chaser of strychnine to add a bit more excitement…..But they also believe, not participating in their religious practice will destine them to hell.
To understand this obscure religion practiced mainly in the back country of Appalachia, executive producer Matthew Testa follows the exploits of 2 pastors and their adherents as they pursue their beliefs and maintain their churches.
Testa said: "They firmly believe they are commanded by the Bible to take up serpents as a sign to non-believers, and feel strongly they are exercising their religious freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution. They often say, 'God's law trumps the law of man. "
One of the Pastors is 9 fingered Jamie Coots, (lost his other finger to a rattlesnake bite). Coots has lead the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name for nearly 20 years, which was founded by his snake handling grandfather in Middlesboro Kentucky. See family tradition here
The other Pastor is 22 year old Andrew Hamblin, who used to be a member of Pastor Jamies congregation. Hamblin is struggling to provide for his wife and 5 children and must rely on food stamps as he tries to maintain his church.
Episodes of Snake Salvation will follow these two Pastors as they find and sustain their collection of venomous snakes to use in their services. They head out on snake roundups, racing to find dens of their coveted cold-blooded reptiles before winter starts and the snakes go into hiding.
With both pastors too financially strapped to purchase their supply, they are often forced to get creative to keep their stock thriving,( See the snake room) be it snake trading at “Repticon,” the reptile convention, or illegally transporting venomous reptiles from warmer climates across state lines. Even if they can keep their snake population thriving, and stay out of jail, they’re also challenged to find and retain followers to their unorthodox faith.
Many community members scoff at their bizarre practices, members of their own families teeter on faithfulness and reformed criminals use it as their best defense against backsliding into sin. Viewers will even see occasions when church members were bitten by the venomous serpents as National Geographic cameras were rolling. But the pastors’ own faith never falters that they’ll be able to inspire their masses to seek their personal Snake Salvation. See a trailer here
FYI to Pastor Jamie and Pastor Andrew: There is also a passage in the Bible that says“Do Not Tempt God”