In the King James’ Version’s Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, verse 18, it is stated that, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” This reading has been looked at under many different shades of light. This speculation has led to many different ideas about the seriousness of the translation of the word of the Lord. For over a century, people of Appalachia have taken this line of the bible and turned it into the focus of the Christian worship services. How strictly should these Pentecostals take the word the bible? What makes these snake-handlers so different from other Christians? What can the serpent-handlers do to make their worship practices not get such a bad rep from the outside? I believe that if the serpent handing Holiness Pentecostals can create a centralized authority for their worshiping ways that displays their behavior as welcoming and friendly, they will be able to better educate the public about what their mission is all about, and become a stronger and more respected group.
Appalachians have been scrutinized by several outside sources as being inbred, uneducated, wild, violent, drunk, crazy, and the list goes on and on. However, one of the negative stereotypes that tend to stick out more prominently than others is that people in Appalachian folk are crazy, serpent handling, Christians. In order for the people of the Appalachian Mountain region to figure out a way to get over this stereotype and move forward in their quest to be no longer considered “outdated”, they must first break down and fully understand what they are going up against.
The region’s religion is characterized by the people’s sense of independence from strict religious structure. Several churches stand as independent from a larger group or diocese, meaning that they do not have to abide by any certain rules when it comes to praising the Lord. This independence allows some churches to praise the Lord in ways that are a little different from what many mainstream Christians find as proper in giving God thanks. Before snakes are thrown into the mix of stereotypes, people already find it strange for worshipers to put their hands up during songs, speak in tongues, jump up and down, and yell “hallelujah” at the top of their lungs. People already had expectations of Appalachian Religion, so when people began to take up serpents in the early 1900’s, it started to add fuel to the fire of pigeonholes.
Before one can actually break down the prejudices that surround snake handlers, one must learn the importance of snakes in the bible. Serpent handling churches tend to be built off one verse in the New Testament, but what about the Old Testament? People of the Holiness Pentecostal Church- the most common sect for serpent handlers- are known for heeding to the literal word of the bible more than other denominations of Christianity. The actual word serpent is used 31...