The passing of the Rev. Jamie Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Jesus Name in Middlesboro-Bell County created a national interest in the practice of snake-handling.
The issue of snake-handling and their use in a public worship service is not a new discovery for the people who live in southeastern Kentucky or east Tennessee.
His passing due to a snakebite was not the first for mountain folks.
While the death of those who practice snake handling is rare, his death nevertheless created many questions for pastors of every denomination and every church.
News of the event created debate on every social media venue, conversation among family members and discussion within communities of faith and those who profess no faith in Jesus Christ at all.
The conversations involved asking questions as to where this belief and practice originated to individuals who expressed sadness and prayers for the family to personal opinions of their thoughts and beliefs that were also critical and sadly remarks that were hurtful and demeaning toward the practice.
Rev. Coots became well-known as a snake-handling preacher because of the National Geographic series that aired on television, “Snake Salvation.” It should be noted that the name “Snake Salvation” appears to imply that salvation is associated with snake-handling. This is not the situation.
Snake-handling is a practice that comes from Mark 16. It is possible that when you look up this chapter in the Bible it might not even be in your copy of the scriptures of the Holy Bible. This information alone is enough to cause questions, but the practice of snake-handling is a demonstration of faith that God is in control.
Jamie Coots believed this and his personal faith also believed that God was in control in life and in death. A fact that is true, no question at all for most Christians. It is the refusal of medical treatment that creates another question and discussion for people as they attempt to understand the practice and belief.
Churches have many practices and beliefs. Communion holds an important and significant value in practice to many. If we were to begin a discussion regarding communion you might be surprised as to the different views, what it means and what occurs when you practice communion. Some churches practice communion every Sunday, others monthly, quarterly and some not at all.
Foot washing is another practice of belief for many churches. Certainly it is in the Bible and a practice that Jesus himself demonstrated in John chapter 13. Many Christians no doubt have never even seen a foot washing worship service.
Baptism is another church practice that has created much debate among people. Infant baptism, immersion, sprinkling, all different practices but another example of different beliefs held by Christians and practiced as an example of their faith. Each of these practices are grounded in belief and the importance varies. Snake-handling is a practice that most individuals cannot even imagine.
I shared that this moment in time created by this event is one that offers a unique opportunity for discussion as people ask the question what does it mean to be a Christian.
When asked to answer that question myself I shared that the hallmark of a follower of Jesus Christ is quite clear in the Bible. Scriptures reads in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 that the three greatest gifts are faith, hope and love.
The greatest gift is love and the practice of every believer should be a demonstration of love.
Some of the comments made by individuals and even leaders seem to be void of the practice of love in their statements made regarding the Rev. Coots passing.
Not sure how that could be seen as appropriate in this or any other situation, but love seemed to be missing from their responses. Agree or disagree Christians should be clearly identified by their actions.
Jamie Coots, as a believer in Jesus Christ, was clearly identified as a follower with or without mass public understanding. Snake-handling was one of his ways to demonstrate what he believed about Jesus and mountain people respected his right to do so and respected his position.
Mountain folks regarding this practice are like many reading this column. They might not agree, or they might think his death could have been easily avoided had he agreed to medical treatment too, but that decision was made by Jamie alone and it was a personal decision that his family respected too.
In America, we have a tradition of allowing people to make personal decision. We have a tradition of religious freedom that includes all faiths. There could be a discussion about this fact because we generally practice this as long as those “other faiths” are similar to ours. Sadly, we often discredit faiths we don’t know much about.
As a minister of over 30 years, I cannot find the reasoning to expect you to appreciate my faith and practice if I am not willing to respect yours.
Again, there are plenty of examples where Jesus himself afforded people respect to believe or not believe. This practice should never be dismissed by Christians if we expect to impact the world with the message of God’s love and His plan for our individual lives.
There is one fact that must be shared regarding the Rev. Jamie Coots, his life and his death.
Acts 4:12 teaches that there is only one name given among men whereby we must be saved, the name of Jesus.
In February 2000, I served as the chaplain of the Kentucky House of Representatives. At the end of my prayer I ended by saying “in the name of Jesus I pray.” A member of the House objected to me using the name of Jesus then, but as a Christian minister there is no other name to which I could pray because of my practice and belief.
Rev Jamie Coots practiced his belief and respect for all faiths and practices should be a hallmark of not just a region or a state, but we as a people everywhere.
Contact Tim H. Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @THMills.