They are called snake-handling churches. They don’t worship snakes but instead “use snakes to worship God.” They believe it’s biblical.
There are about 125 snake-handling churches in the United States, and almost all of them are found in Appalachia. Snake handlers like do not worship snakes. Instead they use snakes to show non-Christians that God protects them from harm, writes Time.
This practice was popular among evangelical churches in the US in 1940s.
In church services, when they feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit come upon them, these Christians reach into boxes, pick up poisonous snakes and hold them up as they pray, sing, and even dance.
The belief comes from a literal reading of Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of Mark: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Time also explains that even within Christianity, the Bible passage in question is a point of controversy. Most scholars agree that the Bible’s editors added those verses to the original gospel text several centuries after it was written. Chronologically, the Gospel of Mark was the first of the four gospels, and the last twelve verses of Mark are absent from the two earliest manuscripts. Early third-century theologians like Origen and Clement of Alexandria also make no mention of them.
This view does not deter devoted serpent handlers. “For scholars of religion, the questions surrounding the Mark 16:9-20 passage are extremely important for questions of canon formation and scriptural authority,” explains Yolanda Pierce, scholar of religion at Princeton Theological Seminary. “But for those who believe that the version of the Bible that they physically hold in their hands is the true, literal, and unchanging word of God, it’s pretty irrelevant if that particular Mark passage was added later than the other chapters.” Source: Time
Snake handling as a religious right in the United States is still practiced in a small number of isolated churches, writes Daily Mail Online.
The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia and plays only a small part in the church service. Participants are Holiness, Pentecostals, Charismatics and other evangelicals.
Many writers say George Went Hensley (1880-1955) invented Appalachian religious snake handling and popularized it, but his role in initiating the practice has been disputed by academic studies, writes Daily Mail Online.
Snake handling as a test or demonstration of faith became popular wherever Hensley travelled and preached in the small towns of Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana.
In July 1955, Hensley died following a snakebite received during a service he was conducting in Altha, Florida (Daily Mail Online).
The practice has not been without risks and tragedies e’en in modern times.
Former pastor of a snake-handling church, Cody Coots, vowed to carry on handling serpents – despite almost dying after being bitten by a rattlesnake in 2018. Cody Coots is the ex-leader of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name church in Middlesboro, Kentucky, one of America’s only remaining snake-handling churches.
(Watch horrific moment deadly rattle snake bit Pastor Cody Coot during Church Service)
The same rattle snake bit and killed his father, Jamie Coots (in 2014) at the age of 42. Jamie was the former leader of the church before his son, Cody took over and almost died from a deadly bite by the same rattle snake.
What is your thought on this practice?