'Snake Salvation' Reality Television Star Handles Last Poison Snake

The Right Wing

Jamie Coots, a third-generation snake-handling Pentecostal preacher, has handled his last snake. Coots, one of the stars of “Snake Handlers,” a reality show on the National Geographic Channel, died Saturday night after being bitten by one of his serpents, and then refusing medical treatment.

According to Christianity Today, “Emergency workers tried to convince the minister's family to let them take him to the hospital, but his wife and son refused.”

"He always said, 'Don't take me to the doctor,'" his son Cody Coots told the Herald-Leader. "It was totally against his religion."

Coots who was 41, was a pastor at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky. He had been bitten nine times over a period of 22 years and he claimed to have recovered each time through prayer.

Last year he told NPR that "I feel in my heart, because God opened it up to me, if I stopped taking up serpents I would die and go to hell. It is in the Bible, and we tell people because it's in the Bible you must believe it."

The National Geographic Channel promoted the show by describing it thus: “In the hills of Appalachia, Pentecostal pastors Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep an over-100-year-old tradition alive: the practice of handling deadly snakes in church. Jamie and Andrew believe in a bible passage that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them as long as they are anointed by God’s power. If they don’t practice the ritual of snake handling, they believe they are destined for hell. Hunting the surrounding mountains for deadly serpents and maintaining their church’s snake collection is a way of life for both men. The pastors must frequently battle the law, a disapproving society, and even at times their own families to keep their way of life alive.”

Christianity Today reported that “Snake handling has seen a small-scale resurgence among young Pentecostals in Appalachia, spawning a reality show and a religious freedom case. The New York Times even noted how Hamblin and his supporters hoped to become a ‘new front in the battle for religious liberty.’”

In mid-November of last year, the New York Daily News reported that Tennessee’s Wildlife Resources Agency seized 53 venomous snakes Hamblin: “Some were old and sick. Others were young, as tiny as 4 inches and easily capable of slithering out of their containers and into the pews. Some snakes that the officials found were already dead.

Hamblin and his followers called the seizure “unconstitutional.” "To me, telling someone what they can or cannot have in a worship service is no different than telling someone they can or cannot have a Bible," Hamblin told WDSU.

In September of last year I pointed out that there were at least 125 snake-handling churches in the U.S. Time magazine reported that while preachers like Coots and Hamblin “do not worship snakes … they use snakes to show non-Christians that God protects them from harm. 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.”

Last year, I wrote: “The producers of “Snake Salvation” may be wary that a snakebite could actually result in someone dying during the filming of the show. However, it may be the possibility of something going horribly wrong that might attract viewers who would not likely invest their time watching a program about a fringe religious sect.”

According to tmz.com, “A rep for the show says the "Snake Salvation" finished filming last year ... and they never intended to film a second season.”

In a statement Sunday, National Geographic TV said: ”In following Pastor Coots for our series ‘Snake Salvation,’ we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced. Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship.  Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

Meanwhile Coots’ co-star Andrew Hamblin continues his snake-handling, religious-freedom crusade.

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