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Pastor dies after poisonous snake bite

Refused medical service, but should people be derided for following their religion?

By Alex Farmer
On February 19, 2014

Snake handling began near Chattanooga in 1910 when Pastor George Hensley said that he was told by God to take up serpents. He claimed the Bible confirmed that with the book of Mark.
This religion became so popular that most states in Appalachia had banned it by the 1940s.
The ban was due to the large number of deaths that had occurred from handling snakes.
The first article I wrote this semester was about this religion.
If you read the article or watched the show "Snake Salvation," you know it had 16 episodes that featured Pastor Andrew Hamblin leading his congregation, following this belief system.
Something that was not mentioned in that article, however, was that Hamblin had a mentor, Pastor Jamie Coots.
Coots ministered a church in Middlesboro, Ky. His church also handles snakes. This religion is difficult for most to understand.
However, those who practice it are very proud of it and know there are risks involved.
Those risks came to light this past Saturday as Coots was bitten by a snake and died that evening.
According to police, the pastor denied medical treatment and died at his home.
One of the differences in Hamblin and Coots was that Coots believed that if bitten, God would protect him.
However, if it was his time to pass, he would pass according to God's will. This is why Coots denied the treatment. He left it in God's hands.
There has been a lot of talk about this over the last few days.
Most of the talk, as I mentioned, is because some just don't understand why people partake in this religion knowing that they could die from it.
According to Coots himself, it is "an absolute command of God."
That is just the way people who practice this religion feel.
They say that God made it very clear that "they will pick up snakes." So they do it.
They believe very strongly that this is what God wants them to do.
Now, that reason may not be enough for some people.
However, according to Maryville College religion professor Brian Pennington, those who practice the religion are not "irrational" people.
Even though the religion is being called an "Appalachian phenomenon," Pennington claims that people are just doing what they believe to be right for God.
He also thinks that the death of such an important figure like Coots will cause people to "recommit to the tenets of their faith," rather than causing them to quit.
Pennington's theory could be correct if history repeats itself.
The reason for this is because aforementioned Pastor Hensley also died of a snake bite.
Interestingly enough, reports show that he had been bitten nearly 400 times prior to his fatal bite. Also, it has been cited that 92 people have died from snake bites during worship services. So, death has not been a deterrent for practicing snake handling.
There is no doubt this religion could intimidate people. However, let's not overlook that these people are doing what they believe to be right for God.
I am not saying that I think the religion itself is right or wrong.
What I am saying is that I support practicing the religion you feel is pleasing to God. All of the talk about Coots and others who handle snakes are "out of their minds" or "idiots" just isn't fair.
The point I am making is before you pass a negative judgment on the people of this religion, think about how you would feel if someone called you crazy and wrong for practicing your religion.
After all, Hensley was bitten nearly 400 times before he died. Who's to say God wasn't protecting him all those times?
Maybe he was and it was just his time to go on that last bite.
Follow me on Twitter @GatorZ25 and let me know what you thought about the article or what you want to see in future issues. Stay safe and God Bless!

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