Snakes and Faith: Snake handling in churches

JACKSON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - While definitely in the minority, snake handling churches have dwindled over the years as states have passed laws making it illegal to possess poisonous snakes. But a few of these churches remain.

Just off Jackson County Road 415 in Macedonia, sits the Rock House Holiness Church where snake handling is alive and well in Friday and Sunday evening services.

Pastor Billy Summerford declined a request to attend church services as well as an on camera interview, but a Tennessee snake handling pastor did speak go on camera.

At the age of 20, Andrew Hamblin pastors the Tabernacle Church of God in La Follette, a snake handling church.

"We're not up here throwing snakes across the church house and things like that," said Hamblin. "I know the world.  They think we're crazy, but that's what I want to show the world. We're Christian people. We are part of the Pentecostal movement."

Hamblin grew up speaking in tongues but didn't handle snakes until he saw a documentary on snake handling.

"You can take up serpents. A four, five foot deadly rattlesnake. You can lay its head in the palm of your hand under the anointment of God and there will be no harm come to you," he said.  

Snake handling in churches is never staged, rather it comes naturally. Hamblin said he never plans what happens in church and he said church members are led by the spirit. But sometimes people can get bit. Hamblin has been bit four times.

"Now I've got a crippled finger to prove that they are not defanged," said Hamblin.

In 1998, John Wayne Brown, a Tennessee pastor, died after being bitten by a rattlesnake at the Rock House Holiness Church. Six years earlier in 1992, Pastor Glenn Summerford was sentenced to 129 years for the attempted murder of his wife when he forced her hand into a cage of rattlesnakes because he wanted to divorce her and marry another woman.

Over the years, some churches have fallen to the wayside as states like Tennessee have outlawed possession of poisonous snakes.

In Alabama, possession of poisonous snakes is still legal as long as they are indigenous to the area.

So snake handling churches continue to practice and Hamblin said you're welcome at his church anytime.

"We want to love everybody because that's what god is," said Hamblin. "God is love."

Reverend Glenn Summerford will have his sentence completed on February 6, 2021, but a tentative parole hearing date has been set for April 2015.

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