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Snake Handlers: People think they will stop handling snakes, wrong

Days after James Coots' funeral, family and friends, returned to their church custom of snake handling.

James Coots Snake Handler
James Coots Snake Handler

Coots, who died February 15, was bit by a rattlesnake while 'snake handling' during church service. He refused medical treatment and died later at his home.

The late pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church, founded by his grandfather in Middlesboro, Ky, was a third generation snake handler. His adult son Cody Coots, is taking over the family church where snakes are a common part of church services.

"People think they will stop handling snakes because someone got bit, but it's just the opposite," said Ralph Hood, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, who has been studying snake handlers for decades. "It reaffirms their faith."

Hood knew Coots well and attended his funeral. The professor stated mourners were handling snakes after the funeral at a church gathering.

"At the service, what everybody recognized and accepted is that he died obedient to God and that his salvation is assured," said Hood.

Snake or serpent handling dates back to the early 20th century in Appalachia. This is a common practice in a small number of rural Pentecostal church . This religious ritual is believed by the practitioners to be based out of the Bible from the Gospel of Mark and Luke.

James Coots had been bit several times by snakes in the past prior to his death and each time refused medical assistance.

He was not the first to die at Full Gospel Tabernacle where he served as Pastor. Melinda Brown, a 28-year-old mother of five, died in 1995, two days after she was bitten by a rattlesnake during a service.

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