Snake-Handlers? In 2013?

For goodness sakes
I need my snakes
Or God won’t know I love Him!
I have to show
Or He won’t know
There’s no one else above Him!

I know my sect
Is more correct
(As well as more exciting);
Among my clues,
We fill the pews
When rattlesnakes are biting!

Though some have died
At least they tried
To do as God commands
It may seem sick–
One serpent’s prick…
Their fate is in His hands

Middlesboro, KY–A pastor wants his snakes back. Middlesboro’s Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name has been in the news before, also for snake-handling. Today’s story is simply that a pastor had some $800 worth of venomous snakes confiscated in Tennessee, and wants them back… in the name of religious freedom and simple property ownership. The story from years ago was of death by snakebite. Actually, in searching for the case I knew was there, I found several others; it seems snake handlers have a tendency to get bitten and die.

The one that springs immediately to mind (I may have found that link, but it might be a different case), which my parents (who lived in the area at the time) told me about, was of a child custody battle between grandparents. Both parents were dead from snakebite, and the grandparents were fighting over the kids. One set of grandparents were snake-handlers, and argued that since the parents were snake-handlers as well, they were the obvious choice to raise the kids as the parents wanted. Honestly, I didn’t have the heart to look to see who won the battle. (They are not the only case of multiple generation snake-handling deaths in one family.)

Thinking of those kids, I am not even tempted to say “give the preacher his snakes back and let nature take its course”. I am glad this is only a fringe sect, but it is outrageous that such a deadly ritual is protected as religious free speech.


  1. grumpyoldfart says

    Such lovely people, and so family orientated:

    In October 1991 Glenn Summerford, pastor of The Church of Jesus with Signs Following, in Scottsboro, Alabama, got drunk. He beat up his wife, Darlene, put a gun to her head, forced her to stick her hand in a cage full of rattlesnakes, drove her around while her hand ballooned and blackened, and then compelled her to write a suicide note to their son. After dictating the note — “Daddy’s asleep,” it said, “he don’t know what I’m doing” — Summerford dragged her back out to the snake cages, made her stick her hand in again, and, after a canebrake rattler bit her for the second time, kicked her back into the house. There he poured himself another drink turned on the television, and waited for her to die. But he passed out first, and she staggered out to the kitchen and called her sister, who called an ambulance. Darlene was saved; Glenn was tried for attempted murder and sentenced to 99 years.

  2. zackoz says

    Praise Jesus!

    I must live a very sheltered life, but this is utterly mind-boggling.

    What is the connection between snakes and religion? There must be a PhD thesis here somewhere.

  3. nothere says

    Mark 16:18

    They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

    Doesn’t seem to work all the time.

  4. says

    @nothere – You will notice that these cults prefer to handle snakes rather than drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Might die is better “proof” of faith than will die, apparently. And if their faith will heal the sick, how much time do they spend working in local hospitals, I wonder.

  5. Joan says

    Last year a snake handler pastor himself died from snake bite. There was a handwritten sign on his church wall which stated the following:

    “The Paster and Congregation are not Responsible for anyone that handles the Serpent’s and get’s bit. If you get bit the church will stand by you and pray with you. And the Same goes with drinking the poision.

    Paster Harvey Payne. “

    I was inspired to write the following:


    I’m handling snakes for goodness sake
    Cause Jesus said I should.
    And no great harm will come to me
    I don’t believe it could.
    Been doing this for many years.
    I know just how to do it.
    I’m confident that God will be
    The one who sees me through it.

    I’m handling snakes. It is a precious
    Gift I have received.
    I’m showing you how safe it is
    If you will just believe.
    You say you will not do it?
    Are you really sure you won’t?
    You can truly make it through alive
    Excepting when you don’t.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Except, steve84, these people aren’t crazy. They are taught by their experience in their community, just as you or I are. The system is wrong, and the people pay the price.

  7. rq says

    Just make sure he never gets his hands on any of these. What miracles he could work with them (By the power of the holy spirit, I command you to fly! – As his audience runs screaming from the room.)!

  8. komponist says

    Except that these snakes are only mildly venomous rear-fanged snakes and are for all practical purposes harmless.

  9. Azuma Hazuki says

    Is it worth knowing that most every Bible scholar considers Mark after 16:9 to be a later addition, “pseudepigraphical,” which is a fancy way of saying “pious fraud.”

    The bitter, dark irony here is that these people aren’t even following an original teaching: some schmuck ADDED those verses later!

  10. Cuttlefish says

    Josh, if you are having troubles clicking the links (say, the first one, where it says Middlesboro, KY), you have bigger problems than an F in social studies! Even Wikipedia has a good number of links to specific articles about specific states where these folks are found.


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