Snakes on a plane? Maybe. Snakes in a church? Uhhh … 6

It’s not unusual to read that Americans don’t worship the way they once did, or about declining church populations, or the growing number of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” (which, BTW, actually means, “I once read the dust jacket of an Eckhart Tolle book but ended up buying the new Harry Potter.”).

snakebiteThese demographic shifts leave those who pay attention to this sort of thing scratching their heads. I’m no expert but I’ve recently read a couple of things that could account for the declining populations of two churches in particular.

The first involves the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church. This Kentucky congregation is – or, until very recently, was – led by Jamie Coots, a Pentecostal Holiness pastor and a snake-handler.  Last week, Coots  (who had previously survived a bite that cost him most of the middle finger on his right hand) was bitten during a service. He refused medical attention and – as one often does under these circumstances – died.

Coots and his cohort take very literally a passage from the Gospel of Mark that says: “In my name shall they … take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” They take this to mean that they can handle poisonous snakes and, if it’s God’s will, they won’t be bitten.

However, the same passage also says, “They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” So, you might think that when one of them did get bitten, the others would lay hands on him (after he’s put down the freaking snake, I mean). And when that turned out exactly the way a not-crazy person would expect, maybe they’d revisit the whole viper-juggling deal.

Anyway, you have one church in Kentucky that’s killing members off, and then you have another in Virginia that’s scaring them off.

White Tail Chapel is on the grounds of the White Tail Resort in Ivor, Va. The resort calls itself a “family nudist community” and invites visitors to enjoy all sorts of activities – including worship – in the buff.

White Tail pastor Allen Parker said, “If God made us that way, how can that be wrong?” The good pastor has clearly never been to a nude beach. If he had, he wouldn’t have to ask. It’s been my experience that people who will take off their clothes in public probably shouldn’t, and let’s don’t even start on people who would do it in a church.

Defending the nudity thing, Parker said that many of Jesus’ most important moments happened while he was naked. “When he was born he was naked, when he was crucified he was naked and when he arose he left his clothes in the tomb and he was naked.”

OK, you can’t argue with the first one, but the other two? I’ve seen a lot of depictions of the crucifixion and Jesus was naked in exactly none of them. He may not have been wearing much, but you can see more skin at Barton Springs Pool (gnarlier beards, too). And as for the resurrection, I can’t imagine sitting around bare-assed in a cold, drafty tomb waiting for someone to roll away the rock so I could be about my (or my father’s) business.

Apparently, not everyone is as uncomfortable as I am with the idea of a naked church. Indeed, at least one couple has gotten married at White Tail Chapel. The only advantage I can see to a naked wedding is that there’s no question about who’s the best man.


  1. I’ve always felt something went awry in the translation of that “taking up serpents” quote. Many of us have done a fair amount of (figurative) snake handling with no perceptible harm – sometimes invoking the name of Jesus and God when things were going really well. But of course, no venomous pit vipers were involved. Some Hebrew scribe clearly put way too much faith in a pre-beta version of Google Translate.

  2. Praise the lord and pass the….holy crap that’s a frigg’n snake!?!

    If I ever had any real thoughts of joining a snake handling congregation it ended when Bob Jenni, famous Oklahoma snake guy, got bit by a rattlesnake and had to go to the hospital. At that time I decided to stay with my halfhearted (at best) Catholicism as they went in more for wine and bread which seemed a hella lot more safe not to mention tasty. Plus the incense was cool.

  3. Russell is correct, of course. As a scholar of Aramaic and Biblical Greek, please allow me to explain. The Apostle Mark was a righteous surfer. The correct translation of the relevant section of Mark 16:18 is, “And in my name, they shall take up surf pants (you know, like baggies or boardies) and if they ride any gnarly wave, it shall be awesome and not hurt them and chicks will lay hands on them.” Other than that, your piece was consistent with Scripture and effin’ hilarious.

  4. Funny how people who take the Bible so literally, don’t seem to understand that it’s been through so many translations and so much editing over the centuries. And it’s funny that they can just ignore all the contradictions in it.

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