17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
So having read those verses, a few believers have thought to themselves, “Gosh, what a jolly god idea”, and so have introduced the handling of deadly snakes as part of their church services.
Yes, apparently so, and this is so quirky that a 16 part reality TV show entitled “Snake Salvation,” concluded at the end of last month. Ah but since it was on TV, the US wildlife services saw it all and thought to themselves a phrase that rhymes with “clucking bell”, then promptly rushed out and conducted a raid. I’m not quite sure if their goal was to rescue the religious nutters from the snakes, or rescue the snakes from the religious nutters, but as you might expect, the religious folks were not only upset, but things have also ended up in court.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency raided his church on Nov. 7.
They allegedly found 53 venomous snakes in a storage room at the Tabernacle Church of God, a church Hamblin has pastored for two years. They charged Hamblin, 22, with 53 counts of possession of class I wildlife, which includes poisonous snakes. This has been illegal in Tennessee since 1947 when five people died of snake bite in a church over a two-year period. Each count could mean a year in jail.
No conclusion yet on this, but from this we now learn the following…
Hamblin says that snake handling is essential to his faith
I guess if your belief involves demonstrating that you are a complete twat, then yes I guess it is a rather essential means for verifying that.
Unlike neighboring Kentucky, Tennessee doesn’t allow practitioners like Hamblin to get a permit to handle snakes.
Ah, so being a complete twat is legal in Kentucky, but illegal in Tennessee.
Hamblin’s church and others like it do not permit anyone under 18 to be near the snakes.
“This is my God-given right in the United States,” he said on the courthouse steps before the hearing. “If God moves on me to take up a serpent, I take up a serpent.”
Er .. no, not really, “God” has not given any rights … ever.
OK, on a slightly more serious note, there are a couple of additional points here.
Handling such snakes is dangerous (a rather obvious point) and since this happens on a regular basis, do people actually die as a result of this madness?
Yes they do.
- July 1955, Florida – George Went Hensley, founder of the Church of Jesus With Signs Following, possibly the first snake handling church, was bitten on the wrist by a snake draped around his neck. He died several days later.
- August 1960, Georgia – Lloyd B. Hill is killed by a rattlesnake in an illegal snake handling ceremony. Clergy involved are arrested.
- November 1973, Kentucky – 72-year-old Shirley Wagers is killed by snakebite at the Pentecostal Holiness Church.
- August 1985, Tennessee – Charles Herman Prince of the Apostolic Church of God gets attacked by a rattlesnake after drinking strychnine. He refuses medical attention and dies 36 hours later.
- Oct, 1999 and 1995 Alabama and Kentucky – John Wayne “Punkin'” Brown was bitten on the hand by a yellow timber rattler during a worship service. Having suffered previous snake bites he preached for fifteen minutes then suddenly fell over dead. His wife, Melinda Brown, met a similar fate several years prior. His five children were subsequently turned over to the custody of their grandparents, who also run a similar snake church in Tennessee.
- April 2004, Virginia – Reverend Dwayne Long of the Arthurs Chapel Church of Rose Hill was killed by a rattlesnake during Easter services.
- May 2012, West Virginia – Pastor Mark Wolford sat near a recently handled Timber Rattler and received a fatal bite to the leg. His father was also a pastor and died from snake bites 39 years earlier.
This entire ludicrous fiasco is based upon verses 17-18 within Chapter 16 of Mark’s gospel. These verses were not in the original manuscripts for Mark’s gospel, that ended at verse 8. Verses 9 through to 20 were added in later in the 2nd century long after the original version.