Snakes Alive and the Preacher Goes Free [Video]

Snakes Alive and the Preacher Goes Free

Snakes alive! Snake handling is still practiced in the hills of Appalachia.  Nestled into the nooks and crannies of everyday life, some small Pentecostal churches practice their beliefs in a blood curdling way.  Rattlesnakes and copperheads take center stage in the worship service of these devout Christians.  Recently, the capture of over 50 snakes made headlines as the animals were taken alive and the preacher goes free without charges.  The tradition continues despite questions about safety and religious rights.

Andrew Hamblin, the young twenty-something preacher at the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee had to say goodbye to the creatures he used in his place of worship.  Hamblin, who grew up in the tradition of snake handling had made his presence known through the National Geographic Channel’s show Snake Salvation.  The show featured pastors and preachers practicing the century-old way of worship with snakes.  The authorities in the state of Tennessee were alerted and the snakes were confiscated.

In adherence to law and public safety, 53 snakes were captured from the small church and delivered to the Knoxville Zoo to be cared for.  Unfortunately, over half of the snakes perished due to parasites and the rest are ailing in poor health.  Hamblin was facing up to a year of jail time and a $2,500 fine, but was not indicted in a recent trial held in Campbell County, Tennessee.  The snakes are alive and the preacher goes free of charges.  Hamblin is not worried, as he will continue to practice his faith using snakes he soon will find again.

Churches house the snakes they actually hunt for in the hills of Appalachia.  Storing snakes in back rooms in boxes and cages with heaters, feeding and caring for them properly is all a part of the duty of the preacher and the church that practices the long time tradition.  Worry from neighbors of the deadly serpents escaping is a real and present fear.  Being bitten by their own wards of worship does happen to the preachers from time to time, and is sometimes overcome, however, there have been multiple cases of preachers dying from snake bites. A recent case involved both a father and son who both died while preaching after falling victim to the snakes’ venom.

Religious rights of all churches is protected to an extent, but when it comes to rattlesnakes and copperheads, it is a different story.  Snake handling is not looked at kindly by the general population and is a law that is broken by churches housing and using the snakes in their worship services.  The regular law abiding citizens that attend such churches do not fear, as they only go by the law of God in their minds.  The tradition is based on the Biblical scripture from Mark 16:18 stating:

“They shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”

Snake handling in churches was banned in 1947 after five people died from snake bites within a two year period.  Worshippers trust God and their faith to protect them and often deny anti-venom when a bite occurs.  Relying on prayer for healing, snakes have continued to be a part of many small churches in Appalachia and across the country.  Religious freedom takes on many dimensions as snakes are alive and preachers go free to practice their faith in bizarre ways.

A West Virginia preacher, Mark Wolford, age 44, who led the Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, West Virginia, died in 2012 due to a yellow timber rattlesnake bite during an outdoor worship service.  He had been bitten numerous times before and always recovered, never seeking medical attention.  As he confidently handled the rattler that fateful day, he eventually was the victim of an attack that proved deadly.  Even witnessing his own father’s death from a snake bite years before, the preacher went on to practice the tradition until the very end.

Snakes are alive and preachers are free to worship as they please.  Practitioners believe that danger is not an option when one has enough faith to overcome the odds and share their faith through trust beyond the natural dangers that abound.  The risks they take seem, to some, to be worth the satisfaction and assurance of doing the Lord’s work through the practice of handling snakes and enduring the consequences they may encounter.

By: Roanne FitzGibbon

National Geographic Channel  

NBC News  

ABC News   

One Response to "Snakes Alive and the Preacher Goes Free [Video]"

  1. Donnie Campbell   January 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Hamblen’s papaw did not raise him in that way of handling snakes, so that is false when you say he was raised in that way.

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