Tuesday, February 18 2014, 03:10 PM EST
Friend of Snake-Handling Preacher Speaks About Practices
A Snake Handling preacher in Kentucky passed away this weekend after being bitten during a service. Jamie Coots died after refusing medical treatment for the bite. Coots recently starred in a national geographic reality show called "Serpent Salvation," which shined a light on the 4th generation preacher's beliefs and practices.
"They believe you should die being obedient to God," said Dr. Ralph Hood, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
Hood focuses his studies on religious psychology. He's also a close friend of Jamie Coots.
"I've seen him get bit before and refuse medical treatment," said Hood, "and he refused medical treatment this time too except this bite was lethal."
Hood has studied Coots since the late 1980's. He gained an understanding of his belief's and practices.
"I saw him emerge as a young preacher, very charismatic, dynamic preacher on the circuit," said Hood.
These Christians, like Coots, focus on the 16th chapter of the gospel of Mark, which describes believers as being able to drink poison, speak in tongues and handle serpents.
"They believe you should identify people's religion by the way they behave, by the way they act," said Hood.
Over the years, serpent handling churches have retreated to small towns in the hills.
"As people began to handle serpents more and more, people began to get bit, people began to get mamed, so the mainstream denominations backed away," said Hood.
Reality shows like "Serpent Salvation," and believers with large families have brought serpent handling back to the forefront.
"I think it's in a period right now that it's beginning to grow again," said Hood.
Hood says people opposed to the practice call it dangerous, sometimes illegal, and foolish, but Hood offers a counter to those argument.
"As long as their consenting adults and are knowledgeable about what they are doing, they have a right to their religious practices, not only their religious beliefs," said Hood.
Hood will be traveling to Kentucky on Tuesday for Coots' funeral. It's expected that Coots' son, Cody, will take over the preaching duties at the Middlesboro church.