Some Christian Churches Still Handle Venomous Snakes Even After Recent Death and the Law Banning It

Back in the remote section of the hills southeast of Manchester, Kentucky, Holiness Church meeting was held. James Estep demonstrates his faith by handling four rattle snakes without fear, July 5, 1959. The meeting was held in the home of Forester Asher at a community called Blue Hole on the Clay and Leslie County line. (AP Photo/H.B. Littell)

Snake handling churches have long been a fascination for the public, the majority of whom consider the practice rash and dangerous. The media has also been shedding light on this form of worship by some Christian churches for many years as well.

After the death of the well-known snake-handling pastor Mack Wolford from West Virginia in late May though, the controversial practice is being spotlighted again.

(Related: Should This Photojournalist Have Intervened to Save the Life of a Dying Snake-Handling Pastor?)

With the risks of snake-handling and some states even making the tradition illegal by banning ownership of venomous snakes, Anderson Cooper’s 360 went inside some of these churches to find out why they still do it. Watch the clip:

In this report, CNN’s Gary Tuchman speaks with 20-year-old Andrew Hamblin, a pastor in an East Tennessee snake-handling Christian church. Snake handling is illegal within the state, so why does Hamblin and others within his church still do it? In the interview, Hamblin acknowledges that if someone were to get bitten and die, “the authorities would probably come in on us and shut us down, but that’s why I stress so much to my people to make sure.” By this he means, make sure they truly believe they’re appointed by God to take up the snakes.

Some Christian Churches Still Handle Venomous Snakes Even After Recent Death and the Law Banning It

Pastor Andrew Hambling handling snakes during a service. (Image: CNN screenshot)

“If it’s their point in time to die, there’s nothing I can do to prevent it,” Hamblin said though.

Some Christian churches use venomous snakes as part of their worship drawing from the the gospel of Mark 16:18, which states “They shall take up serpents…”

When asked how he feels about the life-threatening situation he himself faces when he handles snakes — already being bitten four times in two years — Hamblin said that he thought about it and this is why “it pays to be ready — spiritually.”

Earlier this month, WMBF News, an ABC affiliate, also featured Hamblin and his church, the Tabernacle Church of God. Here’s more on what he had to say:

“We’re not up here throwing snakes across the church house and things like that,” explained Pastor Hamblin. “I know the world thinks we’re crazy. That’s not what I want to share with the world, we’re Christian people, we are part of the Pentecostal movement.”

[...]

Pastor Hamblin said you do not pick up a snake unless the spirit moves you.

“You don’t set at home and say, ‘When I go to church, I’m gonna sing one song, I’m gonna pray for brother so-and-so. When I get finished praying for brother so-and-so, I’m gonna handle two rattlesnakes and a copperhead. I’m gonna put them up then I’m gonna shout a while and go home.’ You don’t do that. We’re led by the spirit of God,” explained Hamblin.

WMBF reports owning venomous snakes within the state is illegal, but Hamblin said that if Bible reading someday became illegal, it doesn’t mean people would stop doing it. Hamblin does point out that those under the age of 18 are not allowed to handle the snakes.

Watch WMBF’s report:

WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather