Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be snake-handlers!
A man handles snakes in church.
Misery loves company. And to all my Muslim friends, I feel your pain. For all those times after 9/11 when you had to say, "That isn't in our religion", followed by someone scoffing, "Well, they quoted your holy book when they were doing it!" and you retorting, "That was out of context!", and then they roll their eyes and you're left feeling totally misunderstood- remember that? Well, now I really sympathize with you.
In fact, I'm sure whenever some loony blows themself and others up, followed by a video of quotes from the Qu'ran to justify their 'jihad', you find yourself scratching your heads, saying, 'Seriously?!!" Recently, I had that same cranial itch.
Pastor Jamie Coots was the third in a generation of preachers who encouraged their followers to get wild, poisonous snakes and handle them while worshipping in church. He just died from, you guessed it, a snakebite.
Having grown up going to church, when I heard about this pastor who convinced his flock to grab a handful of asp, all under the premise that, “the Bible says so”, my first thought was, “Seriously?”
One may ask how in the name of Mary and Joseph this guy can call himself 'Reverend' and then lead his flock into a lifestyle that led to three deaths, the most recent being his own? I have a few theories.
Let's examine this simple logic that if ‘the Bible says it, than it must be true’. Like any sect, the Coots clan had their own selective filter. I wonder if the men greeted each other with a holy, wet kiss or if all the teens had gouged their eyes out because they were peeking at Dixie’s tush? For some reason, these commands by Jesus were to be taken in the context of their 1st century authorship, but the verse about playing hot potato with a Timber rattler is an eternal truth to be flung down from generation to generation.
The craziest part is that even if this verse were to be taken literally, it is not a command from God. Read if for yourself:
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will … pick up snakes with their hands.”
It simply says these 'signs will accompany them' not 'be performed by them'. Picking up puffed adders to prove one’s faith is like getting butt implants to prove that you’ve been working your core at the gym. Seriously folks!
A second reason for this insanity is most likely due to the power and authority that comes to a person who feels their faith is so strong, it defies nature and keeps boas at bay.
Perhaps this is just enough of a drug to make them want more.
Perhaps their lives are so dull and impoverished that the only high they can get is that weekly dance with the slippery devil. Throw in a charismatic leader who promotes this thrill as an eternal seal of God’s approval and, for a time, that 9 to 5 at the coal plant doesn’t seem so bad.
The sick feeling many of the church feel when they hear about these extremist Southern ‘faith’ pastors is not specific to Christianity. My friends Mohammed or Jamaal feel that exact nausea when a fatwa is issued against giant phallic shaped vegetables or when some bumpkin in Pakistan forces his neighbor to convert to Islam under the threat of a knife. Seriously?
Just like the reptile wranglers, some simple religious people find that the best way to rise above the pain of real life is to snort what they see as divine truth and then beat everyone else over the head with it- they are so ‘right’ that they’re wrong.
When that serpent bit Rev. Jake the Snake, he did not want any treatment. Coots was as sure as the sun shines that God would protect him. Suicide bombers or Jewish settlers who attack Palestinians have this same raw, unwavering conviction that what they are doing is the Almighty’s will and that's good enough for them.
Is there a way to channel this surreal, unwavering passion into lifestyles that promote life, rather than death? Perhaps these people are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. Maybe it is a lost cause.
Or maybe it’s time for these magnetic spiritual leaders to quit talking about how to get to heaven and rather, how to make life here on earth less like hell. Look, it's a lot easier to love your neighbor than to strap on a bomb or play patty-cake with a python. And guess what? Helping out a person in need is the essence of God.
When it’s all said and done, is God concerned with our outward expressions of ‘uber-faith’ or our inner faithfulness to and celebration of His love? Leaders, zealots, extremists- God is love. Teach that. Seriously.