published Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Chambers: Faith Matters: Handling the passing

By Mike Chambers

Let me say up front I believe the best way to handle a snake is with a 4.10 shotgun — and I have protected my chickens several times by doing so. I am not a fan of the reptile. If there is an earthly manifestation of evil, the slithering snake has my vote. No surprise — such loathing goes back to the story of Adam and Eve.

But should we condemn pastor Jamie Coots and his practice of handling poisonous snakes during worship? Although bitten numerous times over the years, the Tennessee preacher believed God saved him each time — until Feb. 15, 2014.

Hundreds turned out for his funeral in Middlesboro, Ky. Many were supporters, others gawkers (by inference, reporters are included on that list) and the curious who ask the simple question: “Why would a man or woman tempt death to worship a loving God?”

Pastor Coots died with his faith intact, simply believing it was his time to go. He told this newspaper, “… your faith doesn’t come in until you actually get bit.”

Historians, biblical scholars and believers will argue over the Gospel of Mark, which is said to refer to God’s protection from poison, speaking in tongues, healing the sick — and handling snakes.

But has it not always been so? Is not our history rich with those who tempt fate and fight dark forces in the process by handling things most would not touch with the proverbial 10-foot pole?

Think back to Paul – whipped, shipwrecked, tormented. But his faith was strong, and he spread the Word. Or the thousands of Christians across the globe today who are raped, tortured and killed for their belief. Did they not, and continue to, handle the snakes of tyranny, bigotry, ignorance and hatred?

Do we forget theologian Jonathan Edwards (famous as the author of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), who died in 1758 from a smallpox vaccination, a bite that killed him as he was trying to encourage fellow citizens to inoculate themselves against that scourge?

Or what of Madame Curie, who handled the snake of radiation from the mobile X-ray units she created for WWI — and died from her efforts?

Jonas Salk held the snake of polio but lived to tell the tale and beat the illness down.

Joan of Arc died at the stake for liberty — along with any number of American founders, servicemen and women, and other patriots over the life of our nation. Did they not handle snakes of evil and tyrannical powers?

Do we consider law enforcement, emergency responders and the thousands of others who face the snakes of everyday life?

In the end, many Christians will probably agree God indeed gives protection but do not want to “tempt the Lord thy God.”

I would offer divine protection is not only given but ends at an appropriate time — his time.

Christians believe God’s son met his earthly death after being bitten on a cross. They believe Jesus handled the ultimate snake of sin, allowed it to bite him billions of times for all of the history of mankind — and died a gruesome death for the ultimate prize of salvation and eternal life.

No, I will not judge pastor Coots. All who knew him called him the proverbial “good Christian man,” who threatened no one (other than himself, you might argue). His family and flock supported him to the end, refused earthly help and relied on a higher power, a power who apparently said it was time and that his mission was complete, his journey over, his message complete.

We may not worship as he did, but we have no place to condemn it any more than the more practical leaps of faith taken by mankind before him.

Rest in peace, Jamie. May we learn from your fervor.

But forgive me if I still handle snakes in the chicken coop with a shotgun.

Mike Chambers resides on Lookout Mountain.

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Rickaroo said...

Mike Chambers, you might make comparisons between Jamie Coots' carnivalesque spectacle of snake handling and the creative minds of people like Jonas Salk or Madame Curie or those who fight heroically for freedom and the betterment of their country and fellow citizens, but, sir... it doesn't wash. His irrational compulsion to test his faith and put it on display for all to see did nothing whatsoever to improve the lot of humanity or ease anyone's suffering or make things better for anyone in any way. All he did was to expose the backwoods mentality of a small cult of people still lost in the ignorance of the Dark Ages.

Those who make the case that he was steadfast in his faith to the very end are acting as if he were some kind of hero or saint. But he was neither. He died a senseless and needless death due to sheer ignorance. Television and the internet and the print media have transformed and elevated Jamie Coots and his snake-handling cult of wackos into near-celebrity status, and most journalists, in their shameful attempt at being politically correct, are falling all over themselves with obsequious and undeserved praise for him.

It has been said that he was a kind, giving, decent man about whom nobody could utter a bad word. If there is praise to be sung for him, let it reside there. But it's a shame that his goodness of character was not sufficient testament, in his own conscience, to his faith in a loving God. Instead he gave in to an irrational need to make a spectacle of his faith in a way that benefited no one really. Christians die each and every day, going to their grave clinging to a strong faith in their silent invisible God. So why is Jamie Coots any more deserving of all this attention? Because he was nutty enough to play with rattle snakes and drink poison and then be stubborn and stupid enough to refuse medical treatment that could have saved him? And you really have the audacity to compare him to the likes of Jonas Salk or Madame Curie or a soldier fighting in the trenches for his/her country? Shame on you and all of the spineless politically correct journalists for not exposing the idiocy of snake handling for what it is, and talking about how needless the death of Jamie Coots was.

February 22, 2014 at 4:40 a.m.
LibDem said...

And sometimes you just have to acknowledge that a showman is a showman.

February 22, 2014 at 7 a.m.
jesse said...

Roo pretty much summed it up!!

February 22, 2014 at 8:25 a.m.
hotdiggity said...

Great post Rick, my sentiments exactly. There is no reason to glorify or encourage ignorance simply because it has the appearence of sincerity. Also, to compare Jonas Salk or Madame Curie in any manner to Mr. Coots is ludicrious. Their contributions to mankind have saved millions of lives through rational scientific exploration and the rejection of superstitious belief as practiced by Mr. Coots. Shame on you Mr. Chambers for making any comparison between these individuals.

Celebrate Mr. Coots as a kind caring individual, but please don't perpetuate or encourage irresponsible superstitious behavior.

February 24, 2014 at 7:20 a.m.
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