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Tribute to Paster Coots of 'Snake Salvation' on NGC

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Pastor Jamie Coots, who starred in "Snake Salvation" is being remembered in a special episode airing National Geographic Channel (NGC) on Thurs., Feb. 20, 2014 (10 p.m. ET/PT), according to a media announcement emailed by National Geographic Channel on Feb. 19. "Snake Salvation: They Shall Take Up Serpents" will examine the life of Pastor Jamie Coots, who died after being bitten by a rattlesnake on Sat., Feb. 15.

Snake Salvation" was a series that followed Pastor Coots and his fellow pastor, Andrew Hamblin, as they led separate churches of congregations referred to as the “Holiness” faith, an offshoot of Pentecostalism. They believe that handling snakes is nothing short of a commandment from God, literally taken from the Bible. They have been determined to keep their tradition alive, no matter what the cost.

“To me it’s as much a commandment from God when he said ‘they shall take up serpents,’ as it was when he said ‘thou shall not commit adultery.’”
-Pastor Jamie Coots

Pastor Coots was bitten by a poisonous snake during a church service and died that evening. In accordance with his wishes and beliefs, his family refused medical attention. In practicing his religious beliefs, Pastor Coots’ unfaltering dedication to his faith was often tested by health and legal risks.

Pastor Coots led the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, which was founded by his grandfather, in Middlesboro, Ky. The doctrine of the faith is based on is a passage from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:17–18) that says, “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.”

Of the dangerous snake handling practice, Coots said: “This makes our church an easy target for mistreatment by authorities. It’s also why protecting worshipers like me and my congregants from religious intolerance is essential.”

“Holiness” followers have been handling deadly snakes for more than a hundred years in the United States. Since its founding there have been close to 100 reported deaths from church-related snakebites.

The special episode will show that one of Pastor Coots’ biggest obstacles in maintaining his struggling church was finding and sustaining the snakes to use in his services. Coots traveled to Texas to acquire deadly western diamondback rattlers

Pastor Coots was stopped by police while transporting three rattlesnakes and two copperheads at a routine traffic stop near Knoxville, Tenn. Coots was ultimately prosecuted by the state District Attorney’s office for illegally possessing and transporting the venomous snakes.

“Pastor Coots was a lovely, kind man who was good to our crew during the shooting,” stated David Lyle, CEO of National Geographic Channels. “And while it may be hard for some to understand the choices he made due to his deeply held convictions, one cannot help but admire his dedication and bravery. We wanted to air this episode tomorrow night as a way to give perspective to the world-wide discussion his death has caused.”

Pastor Coots recently commented is an op-ed piece published in The Wall Street Journal, “In many ways, serpent-handling churches are no different from other religious communities. Members of my church gather to seek guidance, give thanks, share in the company of fellow believers and, more than anything, worship God. While the snakes attract the most attention, serpent handling is just one aspect of our services — and a tradition that has been observed in churches throughout Appalachia, from southern New York to northern Alabama, for more than a century.”

Snake Salvation is a National Geographic Televisio (NGT) production executive produced by Jerry Decker and Matthew Testa. Ted Duvall is senior producer. For National Geographic Channels, Madeleine Carter is executive producer and Kevin Mohs is the vice president of production and development

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