Snake-Handling Preacher Jamie Coots Open Up About "Snake Salvation", Worshiping God With Serpents (VIDEO)
By James Lam
Snake handlers dwell at the edge of the spiritual frontier - a community of people who are willing to die for their faith three times a week in church. Members of the Pentecostal Holiness Church take up venomous serpents to prove their faith in God. The practice is still widespread in Appalachia, though mostly hidden.
Pastor Jamie Coots warns about the scent in the snake room behind his house in Middlesboro, Ky.
"It's strong, so I'll go ahead and tell you that," he says as he unlocks the squeaky door. We're greeted by the rattles of dark-complexioned pit vipers lying about in glass cages. The air in the snake room is warm, musky and malevolent.
"Got rattlesnakes: the timber rattler and the canebrake," says Coots, inventorying his reptiles. "We have northern copperheads. And that's the only two cottonmouths we have."
Coots is a well-known snake handler here in southeastern Kentucky. He's 41, stout and bald, with a Vandyke beard. He's the third generation of Coots to take up serpents; his 21-year-old son, Little Cody, is the fourth.
"Takin' up serpents, to me, it's just showin' that God has power over something that he created that does have the potential of injuring you or takin' your life," Jamie Coots says.
Coots' church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, is a white, rectangular affair located on a hilly lane in the coal-mining town of Middlesboro. Like most snake-handling churches, the congregation is small - about two dozen, and most of them are family.
Coots says they're really not that different from other churches.
"We sing, we preach, we testify, take up offerings, pray for the sick, everything like everybody else does," he says. "Just, every once in a while, snakes are handled."
(see full text on NPR )