The co-star of National Geographic Channel’s reality TV show, “Snake Salvation,” was bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake as he led services at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name in Middlesboro, Ky. He died less than two hours later after refusing medical treatment.
Coots and his followers represent a sect of Christianity that incorporates snake handling into worship, relying heavily on Mark 16:17-18 for support. The beloved pastor, having survived numerous snakebites in the past, is not the first to die in this manner since George Went Hensley introduced snake handling to Appalachian churches in 1910. Coots died the way he lived, faithful to his beliefs.
Some people classify snake handlers like Coots as cultists, but that is neither fair nor gracious. In defending the Christian faith we need to draw a distinction between cults and sects.