Andrew Hamblin handles poisonous snakes every Sunday in the name of Jesus. At just 22, he leads Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., a Pentecostal church that practices a rare, century-old Christian tradition of worshipping God with venomous snakes like timber rattlers, cottonmouths, and copperheads. He plays mandolin, loves zombie movies, receives food stamps, has five children, and now is he is a star in a new 16-episode National Geographic reality series, Snake Salvation, premiering Tuesday about Appalachia’s serpent-handling churches.
The show is bound to stir interest in the unique—and mysterious—Christian sect. There are about 125 snake-handling churches in the United States, and almost all of them are found in Appalachia. Snake handlers like Hamblin do not worship snakes. Instead they use snakes to show non-Christians that God protects them from harm. In church services, when they feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit come upon them, these Christians reach into boxes, pick up poisonous snakes and hold them up as they pray, sing, and even dance. The belief comes from a literal reading of Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of Mark: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Spiritual signs like speaking in tongues, holding venomous snakes, and even drinking poison or playing with fire may seem radical to many Christians. All Appalachian states except West Virginia outlawed the snake-handling ritual when it first emerged because it too often left people maimed or dead. But for Hamblin, the practice is a part of Jesus’ teaching as much as the Sermon on the Mount. “As we say down here when we preach, it is written in red letter,” he explains, referring to Bibles that print the words of Jesus in red ink. “It is in my King James Bible, and that is what I go by, the King James Bible.”
Written By: Elizabeth Diascontinue to source article at swampland.time.com