The Death of Jaime Coots, and the Important Question it Leads us to Ask

Shelley Mays

Shelley Mays

Cassie Zuzek, Writer

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Singing, shaking tambourines, prayer, and throwing venomous snakes around, were just a few of the worship techniques practiced by Pastor Jaime Coots at his Pentecostal church “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name” in Middlesborough Kentucky, before his death by venomous snake on Saturday February 15th. This practice is surprisingly common in American Pentecostal churches, especially in the South. The pastors of these churches fully admit the activity is dangerous, but still see no problem doing it. It is a common belief among these pastors that if they are to be bitten while snake handling, God will heal them, and that if (like in the case of Jaime Coots) they die, then it was God’s will. Handling venomous snakes without proper training is dangerous in the first place, but the danger is exasperated by a prevailing attitude that in order to show true faith, one must deny any and all medical treatment in the event that they are bitten.

Coots and many others in his field have argued that they are well within their rights when they perform these rituals. Coots has cited the bible verse Mark 16:18: “They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover,” to support his claims. Before his death, Coots argued that snake handling was an important part of his faith, and that enforcing laws that banned such practices would be religious persecution. This is a common thought pattern among the pastors who practice snake handling. No one can stop them, because no one can stop their faith. But an obvious question is posed, when someone’s religious practices have proven to be so dangerous. What is more important, someone’s freedom to practice their religion in the way they see fit, or the safety of themselves and those in their congregation?

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