Monday, November 25, 2013
Pastor Who Worships And Preaches With The Use Of Deadly Snakes [PHOTO]
A snake handling preacher has vowed to continue worshipping with deadly rattlesnakes despite the threat of jail - and being bitten four times.
Andrew Hamblin, 22, is a pastor at the Tabernacle Church of God in the Appalachian mountains outside La Follette, Tennessee. The church is part of century-old Pentecostal tradition in the region that takes literally an instruction in the Gospel of Mark that 'they shall take up serpents.' But the defiant preacher faces up to a year in prison after being charged with illegally possessing 53 venomous snakes seized from his church by Tennessee wildlife agency officers earlier this month.
Under the laws of the state anyone owning venomous snakes, even zoos and circuses, must apply for permits and comply with specific requirements to guarantee public safety.
His devotion has left him crippled as he is unable to make a fist following a snakebite on the knuckle which almost killed him in 2010.
'I was at death's door,' he said. 'Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together.'
He believes his recovery is a direct result of God's will and cites another serious bite - this time to the neck - sustained soon after as proof that he is protected from harm by his faith.
The incident left his shirt soaked in blood but he says he escaped serious injury adding: 'I never swelled, I never itched, I never suffered nothing but bleeding.'
And despite the physical threat and appearing in court Mr Hamblin has continued worship with the huge rattlesnakes thrust above his head after his followers helped smuggle in new creatures after the previous batch were confiscated.
They claim that they are victims of a state crackdown after another preach Jamie Coots had two copperheads confiscated after being stopped while driving home through Tennessee earlier this year.
During the raucous services, worshippers dance, bang tambourines, speak in tongues and handle the 3ft long animals believing that they are protected from danger by God.
Speaking to the Telegraph he said: 'I'm willing to fight this, because here in the United States we're supposed to be guaranteed our religious freedom under the first amendment of the constitution.
'We're Christians who believe in being saved by the blood of Jesus Christ just like any other - it's not like we're part of some different religion. I do feel it is an attack upon our religious freedom.'
Mr Hamblin said he was called on by God to handle the creatures, and that their appearances were shows of divine power. He has also likened the practice to 'Catholics using wine.'
However these claims have been dismissed by authorities who maintain that the practices constiture a serious 'public safety hazard.'
Matthew Cameron, a wildlife agency spokesman said: 'We treat him just as we would anyone else found to be storing venomous snakes in their home.
The presence of children at the services, including Mr Hamblin's own five, only adds to safety concerns but Mr Hamblin maintains that only over 18s ever handle the reptiles.
He added: 'I can understand not wanting to endanger another's life. That's perfectly understandable. But in 100 years, there have been only 10 deaths in Tennessee from serpents.'
Despite this a number of pastors in recent years have met their demise because of their unorthodox methods of worship.
Mack Wolford of West Virginia, who led one of the best-attended snake-handling churches out of an estimated 125 in the region, was killed by a timber rattlesnake in May last year.
His own father, also a snake-handling preacher also died from a rattlesnake bit in the 1980s.
But while dozens of his fellow pastors hold their services in secret and close their doors to outsiders, Mr Hamblin is determined to bring his sect into the mainstream and hopes to found America's first snake-handling mega-church.