Tennessee law enforcement authorities recently seized approximately 53 snakes, most of them poisonous, from the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee. The young pastor of the church, Andrew Hamblin, was arrested for violations of Tennessee Code § 39-17-101, which makes it an offense “for a person to display, exhibit, handle, or use a poisonous or dangerous snake or reptile in such manner as to endanger the life or health of any person.” The offense is a Class C misdemeanor.
The Pentecostal pastor and his flock believe that an oft-neglected passage of Scripture, Mark 16:15 – 18, instructs followers of Christ to handle poisonous “serpents” as a part of their worship, as a confirmation of their faith. Specifically, the verses read, “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
“I believe in the power of God and that it’ll let you heal [the sick] and it’ll move and it’ll cast out devils. It’ll move in tongues, it’ll move and take up serpents,” said Hamblin. “Here I am I’m getting snakes took, I’m facing jail time, I’m facing being taken away from my wife, my children, I’m facing being pulled out of my church just simply because I went out in the woods and caught a rattlesnake and I brought it to a service because I believe the Bible said they shall take up serpents.”
Hamblin is scheduled to appear in court on November 15. The charges carry with them fines of up to $2,500 per count and 11 months and 25 days of jail time for each of the 53 counts. He vows to fight the charges in court, arguing that his religious liberty has been violated. Does he have chance in Hell of prevailing?