The Pentacostal Church - Serpent Handling as Sacrament

Essay by hibanks24University, Bachelor'sA+, December 2002

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God, Man, and the Serpent

It was with fascination and horror, and a bit of revulsion, that I watched the video in class concerning the snake handling in a Pentecostal church in West Virginia. I could not understand why these people would risk life and limb in the handling of these poisonous snakes during a church service. It was the first time I had observed such a thing in a religious gathering, I wanted to know why these simple Americans showed such, what seemed to me, outrageous behavior. What did this risk -taking have to do with the services they were attending? The first thing I wanted to know was the background of these people and what thinking led them to do the things I saw on the tape. With the classroom discussion following the video, plus the reading we had on this subject, Serpent- Handling as Sacrament, by Mary Lee Daugherty, I was to find the reasons for this behavior.

The area of the country these people come from is coal mined; rugged mountains, most of them are poor and uneducated. They live in a rural area were there is not much contact with the surrounding communities, in other words these people are culturally isolated. They are also an offshoot of the Pentecostal church and they take what the Bible says literally. The verse in the Bible they use to incorporate the use of snakes in their faith is in the passage of Mark 16: 15-18 were a portion of it states, "In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly; it shall not hurt them..." So it is a test of faith that led them to this behavior. If they get bitten...