Snake Handling Religion
They [the church]once had an evangelist for revival. He was very unlearned. He had to have someone to read the scripture. But what I remember most was how he kept asking for someone to bring him a poisonous snake.
The next day we were working in the tobacco field and a man we knew came by. He saw a copperhead sunning itself on the rocks, so he put a plank on its neck and called my pappa to come and hold it so he could take out his shoestring and make a halter. This he did, slipping the noose over the copperhead's head.
My pappa told him he should not, but he said the preacher wanted it. He took the snake to the nearest farmhouse, got a fifty-pound lard can, put the snake in it, and took it to the church.
Two or three days later, the preacher called for a time of snake handling. Everyone living close enough to get there went. Well, that night the members sang very loud, played guitars, danced in the spirit, and spoke in unknown tongues for some time. There were about 15 or 20 people on the stage.
By now, the snake on the pulpit in the can was scared to death, I suppose. So when the preacher danced up to can, opened it, and grabbed for the snake, it bit him in the palm of his hand. He flinched a little. By this time we were all up on the pews.
We thought the next lady who grabbed it by the tail and slung it around would surely let it loose. But it did not have time to coiled again when she got it, so it did not bite her. By now it was evident that the preacher, who had said the snake would not bite, or if it did would not hurt him, was mistaken. His arm was swelling fast, and he became very ill. He asked his wife to close the service.
My pappa was the only one there with a car. He offered to take the preacher to the doctor, Doc Martin, as we called him. But the preacher said, "no." He had to prove that he would not take medication. He went to our next door neighbor's home where he was staying.
Of course, we had some Baptist skeptics. Several young men went home with them to see what he would do. He was very ill. They reported that he laid on the bed with his hand hanging off and poison dripped from his hand. I suppose this helped some. He did not go to the doctor or take any treatment.
What he said was the Lord would take care of him. And maybe he did, because the preacher did not die or take treatment, although he was very sick for about two or three weeks. He continued his revival with his arm swollen too large to go in his coat sleeve.