Thursday, 7 June 2012

Snake-handling pastors

In some of the more bizarre strands of the pentecostal and charismatic Christian movements in North America, there is a surprising tradition of preachers dicing with death, handling venomous snakes as part of their ministry.  The tradition of snake-handling began in USA only about a hundred years ago and it has been made illegal in several states because of the danger posed to members of the public, attending a service.  Amazingly it is still permitted in West Virginia.

A deadly practice - Mack Wolford has met his maker
(Picture by Lauren Pond for the Washington Post).

The precedent comes from the words of Jesus himself.  In the story of his ascension into heaven he is said to have specified five signs by which true believers can be recognised.

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. 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. (Mark 16:17-18)

Snake handling preachers are sometimes bitten and suffer the consequences.  For many of them, it is a matter of faith that they shun medical intervention and rely on God to heal them (or not).

In the news last week, it was revealed that flamboyant Pentecostal pastor Mack Wolford died in West Virginia after being bitten by one of his own snakes.  His own father had died in the same way in 1983, and he himself had survived several previous injuries.

Three of the other signs from those words of Jesus can be recognised in many churches around the world, but I wonder whether there are other pentecostal traditions that encourage the drinking of poison in order to complete the set.
preacher Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, who was one of the last serpent-handling preachers of his kind in the U.S., passed away on Sunday after being bitten by one of his snakes
preacher Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, who was one of the last serpent-handling preachers of his kind in the U.S., passed away on Sunday after being bitten by one of his snakes
Source: Raw Story (http://s.tt/1d7z1)flamboyant


What a strange world we live in!

4 comments:

RosaRubicondior said...

Well, whatever bit him, it wasn't the non-venomous young Indian python he's holding in that picture :-)

Plasma Engineer said...

Maybe it sucked him to death? :)

I think it was a rattle snake that got him by the way. Presumably he handled non-venomous snakes as often as possible, but sometimes for the sake of his own credibility he had to take the risk.

John Chapman said...

Actually I don't think we should discourage these Darwin candidates from removing themselves from the gene pool. As to the drinking of poison There have been several religious communities who have tried that. They usually don't try a second time. perhaps their 'faith' isn't strong enough?

Melbourne kidman said...

The result tells us a lot...
In summary the priest may have benefitted from a few snake handling courses and then would have probably had the good sense to deal with the reptile and it's potential bites more appropriately.