NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Andrew Hamblin's Facebook page is filled with snippets of his life.
Making a late-night run to Taco Bell. Watching SpongeBob on the couch with his kids. Handling rattlesnakes in church.
Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., is part of a new generation of serpent-handling Christians who are revitalizing a century-old faith tradition in Tennessee.
While older serpent handlers were wary of outsiders, these younger believers welcome visitors and use Facebook to promote their often misunderstood — and illegal — version of Christianity. They want to show the beauty and power of their extreme form of spirituality. And they hope eventually to reverse a state ban on handling snakes in church.
Pastor Mack Wolford — an eccentric snake handler and Pentecostal minister — was bitten by a deadly rattle snake at an outdoor service (or “evangelistic hootenanny”) at Panther Wildlife Management Area in West Va. He died shortly after, surrounded by friends and family, which, coincidentally, is the same way his father (also a pastor and snake handler) passed away nearly thirty years ago.
According to The Washington Post, “Wolford [like his father] believed that the Bible mandates that Christians handle serpents to test their faith in God -- and that, if they are bitten, they trust in God alone to heal them.” As the article points out, Wolford comes from a niche tradition in where the gospel words in Mark 16 are taken literally (and somewhat peculiarly), to “take up serpents and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them…”