Transcript for Snake-Handling Pastor Dies From Rattlesnake Bite
Tonight a pastor is dead from a poisonous snake bypiety. The 10th time he'd been bitten and the 10th and final time he refused medical treatment. He's one of the community of Christians who say vipers are as vital to their services as the bible itself. Tonight we revisit ABC's juju Chang's encounter with pastor Jamie Coots, where he discussed religion, risks, and even how he'd want to die. Reporter: This was pastor Jamie Coots three months ago doing what his father and grandfather did before him in this tiny church in rural Kentucky. ♪ risking his life to praise the lord with poisonous snakes. I know it's life or death every day. I realize that. I choose that. I believe this is what the bible means. Reporter: Coots and his followers believe they are called by god to handle venomous serpents. It comes from a passage from the bible that they take literally. "They will take up serpents and if they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them." By the time we met him Coots had himself sustained nine separate snakebites. A rattlesnake bit me here. Rattlesnake here. Reporter: Including on his middle finger. Each time refusing medical treatment in a demonstration of his faith. It was the most pain I guess I've ever felt in my life during the time it was rotting and I knew something was going on, I just didn't know what for the first month. That much of the bone was exposed before it broke off. Reporter: That's crazy. Not so much as an advil. No. Reporter: Not so much as an aspirin. No. Reporter: Why keep it? My wife told me when this broke off in the yard, she said I want to keep this. I said why would someone want to keep that? I said why? She said, I'll always have a piece of you no matter where you go. Reporter: In another small church, of fervent believers we saw the pastors lay hands in healing prayer and dance to the collective adrenaline. Pastor Andrew Hamlin appears almost possessed by the holy spirit as he handles poisonous snakes. [ Speaking foreign language ]. I am in the United States of America, and I have a constitutional right as a, you know -- at my right mind adult that if I believe so strongly that the spirit of god moves in me to take up serpents that I should have my constitutional right to do it. Reporter: But local authorities see the snakes as a reckless, dangerous menace to public safety that's already taken lives and will take others. He admitted that he had snakes and took us to the church, and our officers went in, picked the snakes up out of his snake room. Reporter: Last November the state of Tennessee seized 50 poisonous snakes from pastor Andrew Hamblen and cited him for illegally possessing them. The list just goes on and on for qualifications that you have to meet to possess these species. Reporter: How on Earth is handling a snake a religious expression? Just the same way -- to me taking up serpents in our religious ceremonies is just like the catholic who use wine in their communion on Sundays. People has their right to do things that maybe I don't agree with. And maybe I don't uphold. I'm not going to judge them. ♪ Reporter: Using snakes during services is a long-standing tradition, one that took root here more than a century ago. So this is quite a collection of photos. Yeah. This is pictures we've taken, had taken down through the years. This one here is dad. It was probably in 1991, '92, maybe somewhere along in there. This is a black timbarella. Reporter: It's estimated that 125 churches use poisonous snakes during services in the U.S. Many clustered in the south. Both preachers offered a rare glimpse inside this extreme branch of the pent costal tradition. For the nat geo show "Snake salvation." Good lamb of god. Reporter: The Tennessee law banning ownership was passed back in 1947, after five worshippers were killed over the course of two years. Pastor Coots even had a parishioner die in 1995 after refusing anti-venom following a bite from a timber rattlesnake during service. No charges were ever filed in Kentucky. If someone gets bit in my church and they're not immediate family, I will call 911, have the paramedics come out, and let that person tell them I don't want medical attention. So you don't think you're taking the bible out of context or too literally? No, ma'am. Not at all. I mean, to me that's what god taught us -- or taught me to be right. I'm not telling people to go out here and handle snakes. To me a cult is somebody that stands up and says if you don't do this you're hellbound. Are you a cult? No, we're not a cult. We're Christians. We're just look any other Christian on the face of this Earth. Reporter: Do you see yourself handling snakes in the future? Honey, I see myself as long as there's breath in my body taking up serpents. If they're lying, cheating, stealing, fornicating -- Reporter: Coots says they live by a stricter moral code than most. Holy ghost ain't there no more. Reporter: And their way of life along with the way they choose to worship sets them apart. They believe it brings them closer to god. It's an inner peace. You don't think about nothing else. You have a love for everybody. There's no ill feelings, nothing in your mind except, you know, god has honored me to let me feel his spirit. Some people feel that that is the presence of god. And some people think it is a biochemical reaction that your body is having to fear, to danger, to life and death situations. If the bible told me to jump out of an airplane, I would. Reporter: Last Saturday night in a scene much like this one, the rattlesnake pastor Jamie Coots was handling turned on him, biting him on the hand. I was just standing there, and I seen him get bit. And he dropped the snakes. And he picked them back up. Reporter: Cody Coots, the pastor's son, then brought his stricken father home. When paramedics arrived, they examined Coots and pleaded with him to receive medical treatment. But the family declined. Everybody that knows Mr. Coots knows what his belief is in this. And he had no intention of going to the hospital. And he refused treatment. If he woke up in a hospital he'd have blamed every one of us. Because he was a firm believer he would not go to hospital. He always told me you get bit you either die at home or god brings you through. Reporter: Pastor Jamie Coots lost his life but held strong to his faith. If this is the way god means for me to die, fine. Let me say I don't wish to die of a snakebite because it's excruciating pain, it's suffering, and it causes persecution to be brought upon the church. But I had rather die by a snakebite at home with people praying.
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