Snake Salvation

COMMENTARY: Jamie Coots' Snake Theology Was Not that Crazy

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, Ky. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel / RNS

The death of Jamie Coots could be read as just another bit of evidence that the universe doesn’t much care what you believe. Physics, biology, geology — all perk along with or without our assent.

Coots may have been the most famous of America’s snake-handling Pentecostal preachers. He was featured last year in a reality show called Snake Salvation. He died after being bitten by a rattlesnake during the regular Saturday service.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, this was the ninth time he’d been bitten.

Jamie Coots, Co-star of 'Snake Salvation,' Dies of a Snakebite

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, Ky. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel / RNS

The Rev. Jamie Coots, a serpent-handling pastor and co-star of the Snake Salvation reality television show, died Saturday after snakebite during a church service. He was 42.

Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., was found dead at his house around 10 p.m.

Coots had been bitten at the church, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe told WBIR television in Knoxville, Tenn. Sharpe said emergency workers went to the church and to Coots’ home but he refused medical care.

Serpent Handler-TV Star Has New Cause: Religious Liberty

Pastor Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn. holds up two snakes. Photo: RNS/by Shelley Mays/USA Today

A Tennessee pastor’s dangerous spiritual practices made him a star of a reality TV series.

Now they may make him a religious liberty crusader.

Officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency raided the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollete last Thursday and seized 53 venomous snakes — including timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, and several exotic breeds.

They cited the Rev. Andrew Hamblin, the church’s pastor and co-star of the National Geographic series Snake Salvation, and plan to charge him with 53 count of violating a state ban on possessing venomous snakes at a court hearing on Friday. Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

I’ll Take my Salvation Without the Snakes, Please

If there were such a thing as “spiritual hazard pay” for columnists, I would be filing a claim after watching the first two episodes of the new series “Snake Salvation,” which debuts Tuesday, Sept. 10, on the National Geographic Channel.

God, I hate snakes. I find them utterly repellent; always have. When I was a toddler, my parents had to carry me out of the snake house at the zoo so I would stop screaming as if someone were trying to kill me.

Were it not for professional obligation — you’re welcome, by the way — you would sooner have found me shaving my head with a straight razor than watching a couple of hours of television dedicated to snake handling and its (alleged) spiritual import.